Prime Minister Shimon Peres (Nobel Prize Winner for Peace)
said it all back in 1996: "In a Middle Eastern feast you have a
simple choice: either you are one of the diners, or you end up as
the dinner itself." He said it when he sent the Israeli army to
bomb Lebanon (known as Operation Grapes of Wrath), killing hundreds
and forcing half a million civilians to flee from their homes. You
cannot blame Peres: blame the Middle East.
Luckily, there are better places on earth. Benjamin Netanyahu
was very aware of that. Asked whether he believed in peace in the
Middle East, Bibi always answered: "We are not in Scandinavia."
Scandinavia is different. There, people are polite, peaceful and
friendly. They don't smoke the hookah and they don't stab you in
the back. And they don't fight each other. Never in history was
there a war in Scandinavia. Trust Netanyahu on that: his father,
whom he is said to consult daily, is a well-known historian. He
Ask every Israeli: Israel's geographic location is a historic
mistake. One old theory blamed Moses' bad ears: God told him to
go to Canada, but he heard Canaan instead. But nowadays, most Israelis
would be more than satisfied with a location in the North Sea, next
to Scandinavia. Good neighbours, plenty of room in the ocean, lots
of oil underneath. Culturally speaking, this is the right place
for peaceful, civilised, modern Israel not in the midst of those
warlike, barbaric and primitive Arabs. If we were there, we would
have no troubles whatsoever.
But now the world is going crazy. Israel sends a new ambassador
to its natural environment, Scandinavia and not to Norway, cursed
forever for its capital Oslo; and not to the suspiciously neutral
Sweden; but to Denmark (to wonderful Copenhagen), the only Scandinavian
country that bravely saved all its Jews from the Nazis. It's Scandinavian,
it's peaceful, it's not anti-Semitic the ideal place for an Israeli.
But those silly Danes, what do they do? Instead of giving Ambassador
Carmi Gillon the warmest welcome, as the lost son who returns from
the backward Levant to his true home in the civilised West, the
Danes warn him that he may be arrested upon arrival and put on trial
for the crime of torture!
Israel seems to be extremely embarrassed
by those accusations. So embarrassed, that little has been written
about it. Eitan
Haber, journalist and Rabin's mythological spokesman, came out
with a column (in Hebrew only) claiming more-or-less that Gillon
was just obeying orders. Sounds suspiciously familiar from another
(27.7) an extremely nationalistic newspaper with the very
opposite image published a uniquely confused editorial, trying
to anchor Haber's embarrassing argument to the principle of state
sovereignty. Interesting: a so-called "liberal" newspaper,
committed to undermining the State's politico-economic sovereignty
in favour of globalism, patriotically defends its legal sovereignty
when Human Rights are at stake. Not protecting Human Rights: protecting
torturers and war criminals who breach them.
Such poor arguments can almost be forgiven, considering the
intensity of Israel's shock. Imagine: on the one hand, the country's
long-cultivated, arrogant self-image as Western, modern and just,
with the implied mirror-image of the Arabs as primitive, untrustworthy
and evil: Edward Said's Orientalism
is Israel's manual. On the other hand, Israel's growing notoriety
in the West: Prime Minister Sharon is facing a war crimes trial
in Belgium for his part in the massacre of Sabra and Shatila. Carmi
Gillon, former head of Israel's security service, may be arrested
in Denmark for torture. Haaretz
(26.7) also reports that Israel's Foreign Ministry "has begun
"mapping" the criminal justice systems of European countries, trying
to identify "problematic states" where prominent officials in the
Israeli security services might face legal action because of wide-ranging
local authority to prosecute suspected human rights violations.
How can Israel cope with the cognitive dissonance caused by
this contradictory image?
In a way, the tension has always
existed. The Jews saw themselves as God's Chosen People, but were
treated by the Christians as pariah. Imputations of "anti-Semitism"
are therefore one of the very first weapons invoked.
Sometimes it's utterly absurd. Elderly relatives of mine were
in the Netherlands several months ago, when Israel captured a boat
carrying weapons from Lebanon to Gaza. The Israeli army organised
a solemn press conference, exhibiting all the weapons in Haifa's
seaport with the captured boat in the background, like an open-air
museum. The Israeli media celebrated the occasion for weeks. The
Dutch media seems to have been less impressed. "Anti-Semites!"
my relatives said. "They did mention it, but showed pictures
of a tiny dinghy!" One can only wonder: Did Dutch television really
cut out the actual boat from the film, putting a 17th century Ruisdael
dinghy instead? Or had the Israeli propaganda-machine turned the
actual dinghy into a formidable destroyer, in my relatives' minds?
certainly exists on the right, on the left and in the centre.
It must be fought wherever it is found. But this does not mean that
Anti-Semitism causes every criticism of Israel. Using accusations
of Anti-Semitism as a fig-leaf is morally and politically wrong.
Europeans (and the West in general) may indeed like to find faults
with Israel, to clear a bad conscience for two millennia of dubious
hospitality towards Jews, culminating in the Holocaust. But these
"special relations" between the West and Israel have more than one
side. The West may be looking for opportunities to cast Israel as
pariah, but it also treats it as a nation of Chosen People and
is encouraged to do so by smug Israel itself.
Why can Israeli teams play and win in the European Basketball
League? Why can Israel participate in and win the European
Song Contest? Why can Israel join the European block in the United
Nations? Because Israel is in the Middle East, in Asia, just by
mistake? Did Israel Netanyahu especially ever reject millions
of dollars and political support given by European and, especially,
American fundamentalist Christian sects that believe that the Jews
are God's Chosen People and that once all Jews return to the Holy
Land, Jesus will come (and christianise us all, Alleluia)? If Israel
claims to be European, it cannot bargain for a Middle-Eastern discount.
If it willingly enjoys privileges as a nation of God's Chosen People,
it cannot complain when treated like a pariah. This sword is double-edged.
printable version of this article
was born in the Netherlands in 1964 and has grown up in Israel.
He has B.A. in Computer Science, M.A. in Comparative Literature
and he presently works on his PhD thesis. He lives in Tel-Aviv,
teaches in the Department of Comparative Literature in Tel-Aviv
University. He also works as literary translator (from German, English
and Dutch), and as a literary critic for the Israeli daily Yedioth
Achronoth. His work has been published widely in Israel. His
column appears occasionally at Antiwar.com.
War – Really Imminent?
State of the Army, Part Two
Settlements, Killing Peace
State of the Army, Part 1
Left Sells Out Peace
Fortunately, "anti-Semitism" is
not (yet?) used too often in Israel's diplomatic discourse. Official
Israel prefers to accuse the Europeans of "hypocrisy"; this term
is echoed in each and every reference to the issue. In Israel's
new Book of Law, the capital vice of Hypocrisy seems to dwarf such
minor faults as Torture or War Crimes.
It's not always clear what Israelis mean by "hypocrisy."
President Katzav (Haaretz,
26.7), for example, explained that "the Danish government hadn't
touched off an international outcry in the wake of recent incidents
in which Palestinians [...] beat Israeli soldiers to death in a
Ramallah 'lynching'." Not very convincing: the Palestinians held
responsible for the lynching have meanwhile been kidnapped by Israel
and sent to jail, not to a fjord cruise. One can hardly blame the
Danes for not arresting them.
"Diplomatic sources in Jerusalem" quoted in Haaretz
(27.7) also say that "focusing on Gillon is hypocritical. Denmark,
said sources in the Foreign Ministry, never took action against
two former heads of organisations that conducted torture: Yasser
Arafat and Vladimir Putin."
This argument is true and valid. Justice nationally, and
even more so internationally is selective. Decisions always involve
political considerations, which may be termed "hypocrisy."
The West cannot treat a superpower the way it treats a smaller country.
Sometimes it's wise realpolitik (do we really want a nuclear
world war for Tibet?), sometimes it's hypocrisy informed by political
and financial interests.
The Gulf War was such a case. Its noble cause was ostensibly
to protect Kuwait's sovereignty, but was President Bush senior truly
blind to the oil-fields in the region? Why didn't the United States
attack Indonesia when it invaded East Timor, not to mention Israel
and all its occupied territories? Where was the Israeli outcry when
the US hypocritically attacked Iraq? There was none. Israel supported
Operation Desert Storm and for pure, moral reasons, of course.
It is true: Europe and the West are full of double-standards
and hypocrisy. Dutch people are outraged when Sharon's responsibility
for the 1982 massacre of Sabra and Shatila is compared with that
of their own former Defence Minister, Joris Voorhoeve, whose "peacekeeping"
troops failed to protect Muslims in Srebenica (Bosnia) in 1995.
I wonder when Americans responsible for bombing Iraq and the Balkans
with depleted uranium will be brought to trial for radioactively
polluting the environment for decades. But hypocrisy seems to be
inherent to politics, and Israel is no exception.
In the Name of the
We now know that many of the ideals
of the Enlightenment were contaminated by Eurocentrism, by white
racism, by colonialist interests and you name it. Does this mean
we should throw the baby out with the bathwater and do away with
Human Rights and International Law altogether? For my part, I would
rather live in a world where some war criminals are punished and
others alas get away with it, than in a world where all war
criminals enjoy immunity.
So go for Sharon, Belgium. Go for Gillon, Denmark. Go for each
and every Israeli official, officer, pilot, soldier, and secret
service agent. Go for Arafat if you like, go for Putin if you can,
and don't forget your own European and American war criminals. Make
the world a hell for anyone responsible for murder and torture.
520 S. Murphy Avenue, #202
Sunnyvale, CA 94086
Contribute Via our Secure Server
Credit Card Donation Form
Contributions are now Tax-Deductible