Norman Geras’s piece on the rights and wrongs of Israel’s military action in Lebanon and elsewhere is hard to fault, while his conclusion that much criticism of Israel reveals pre-existing hostility towards that nation and its people, demands exploration. Norm even provides a useful checklist by which we can tell if a critic of Israel is acting in good faith.
But Norm doesn’t explain from where such prejudice arises. Many will assume anti-Semitism or a belief that the state of Israel is illegitimate. But that lazy thinking is unlikely to win anybody over and is hard to substantiate when so many have called for an immediate ceasefire.
Many critics feel genuinely disappointed by Israel, in way that they could never be disappointed by Hezbollah. Israel is the only open, democratic, secular (despite its origins) state in the Middle East. And it’s stable too. There’s an expectation that it will uphold these values, even in the face of grave provocation. Today’s Israel is comparatively strong and strength brings temptations to be resisted and responsibilities to live up to. It’s right to be shocked and distressed when Israel bombs a UN position.
Inspired by the values of the Iranian revolution, Hezbollah rejects liberal democratic values. And only last night BBC2’s Execution of a teenage girl (on which I blogged sometime ago) revealed how this value system’s extreme misogyny endorses the most barbaric practices.
When both sides are accused of war crimes, Hezbollah meets our expectations. Israel disappoints.
Israel is expected to demonstrate that its values – our values – are not only superior to those held by its enemies in theory, but also in practice. Israel must not fail on this score. If its critics are ever able to legitimately claim that both sides are as bad as each other, we will have lost our reason to call Israel a friend.