Israel's negative influence on the world
According to a BBC World survey poll, the two countries with the most negative effect on the world are Iran and ... For those readers who did not see the report, or for those who did in consternation, let’s hypothesise a set of criteria that might invite entry into this exclusive “most negative” club.
Let’s see, there could be an active genocide taking place within its borders, and unfortunately there’s plenty to choose from there. How about Darfur? Colin Powell called it a genocide, accurate enough given the UN estimate of a million slaughtered. Guess that conflict must be having a rather negative effect on the world.
In Africa the ethnic militias in the Congo have killed over a million in the last ten years; Chad, Somalia, Sierra Leone, Angola, Mozambique and Ethiopia add to that continent’s deadly tally.
What about North Korea? Surely that October nuclear test was the tremor felt around the world? For many of us the Kim Jong-Il parodied in the South Park creators’ “Team America” is our most vivid impression of the lunatic dictator, probably because we suspect it is close to the truth. But no, it’s not North Korea that heads the “most negative” list.
Perhaps it’s the Saudis? Aren’t they funding international terrorism? Surely all those 9-11 hijackers must count for something? But again no, they do not share this dubious award with the Iranians.
Yes, it’s the Israelis who are having a “mainly negative” effect on the world, and 68 per cent Australians polled agreed with this assessment.
What are the reasons for this overwhelmingly negative view of the only democracy in a region of theocracies and tyrants? It’s too easy to blame antisemitism alone, although it must count for something given the inanity of the result. As important is the antagonism of international opinion makers, state sponsored and institutional, in this damning image so many clearly share.
Certainly there is plenty to look at here. At the UN Commission on Human Rights in Geneva, Israel is the only country to have its own agenda item, and grotesquely over a quarter of resolutions passed have been directed against Israel. This during a period where close to a million were slaughtered in Rwanda alone. By the way, Israel is denied permission to participate in Geneva-based UN activities.
Jimmy Carter’s latest book, Peace Not Apartheid, riding high on the bestseller lists, is emblematic of another kind of malevolent opinion-making, using the incendiary word "apartheid" in its title to lambast Israel. Carter is not the first to draw this odious analogy.
At the notorious UN World Conference Against Racism, held in Durban in 2001, the final declaration contained numerous references to Israel as an “apartheid State”. The comparisons between a racist South Africa and a vibrantly democratic Israel are patently absurd. South Africa legislated against its (vast) majority population in its social contacts, employment, travel, education, freedom of speech and more.
There are today in fact numerous examples of countries that discriminate against their ethnic minorities, but despite the justifiable complaints by its Arab citizens of selective discrimination, on any objective analysis Israel would not rate a greater mention than many other societies facing ethnic tensions (Australia would not escape this accusation either).
Israeli Arabs have full access to education, health, social security, all governmental offices. They can stand for election and take their seats in the Parliament, worship as they please and are totally equal before the law, backed up by a rigorous and scrupulous judiciary. The stain of apartheid in these circumstances is not only unjustified, it is a defamation.
Why are attacks against Israel tolerated in circumstances that would be dismissed with regard to any other country?
Partly, this has come about by those who wish to see Israel removed from the world map using the plausible but indefensible argument that anti-Zionism is not racism because their target is only Israel and not all Jews. Reasoned criticism of Israel is not racism, but no other country in the world is targeted for removal by its critics. Perhaps the Middle East as a whole could be considered the greatest threat to world peace, although there are clearly others too, but there are many candidates for global troublemaking in that region.
British sociologist Dr Paul Iganski wrote that for some, Israel has become the new cause célèbre. "It used to be anti-apartheid, now it's anti-Israel,” he said. This is conspicuous from the BBC poll.
Diaspora Jews do not fear criticism of Israel, in fact they are well aware that Israelis are fully able to speak up for themselves. What they resent is that the language of those attacks, and the disreputable comparisons to other countries, have polluted the attitudes of otherwise fair-minded people towards Israel.
In truth Jews do not fear dispassionate comparisons of Israel with other countries, they welcome them. But the fact that Israel can be labelled the country most negatively affecting world affairs confirms that it is not being judged on a level playing field. Australian Jews do not ask their fellow citizens to turn their support to Israel; all they seek is a fair hearing. Nothing more.
This opinion piece was originally published in the 7 June 2007 edition of On Line Opinion.