As the Obama administration keeps weighing whether and how to act in Syria, one wonders if Israel is looking good—or at least better—to the administration these days. Seemingly, if there was ever a time, now would be the time to start taking note of Israel’s strengths in a bad region.
1. Some ways in which Israel differs from other countries of the region.
No chemical-weapons attacks. In the Middle East this can hardly be taken for granted. Along with Bashar Assad’s use, there was Iraq’s against the Kurds in 1991 and Egypt’s against Yemeni tribesmen in the mid-1960s. Egypt and Iraq are, of course, countries with which the U.S. has been allied or heavily involved, and for decades U.S. diplomats kept coming to Damascus to try and get President Hafez and then Bashar Assad to “make peace” with Israel.
Israel, of course, will never use WMD of any kind except to save itself from annihilation.
No intercommunal bombing campaigns. Along with the carnage in Syria, such campaigns are now being waged in Iraq and, to a lesser but growing extent, Lebanon; they’re basically spirals of reciprocal mass murder.
Israel too, even within its Jewish population, has had intense animosities between groups. The right and left were at loggerheads particularly in the 1980s and 1990s, and there are ongoing tensions between secular and ultra-Orthodox Jews. But violence, of course, has been small-scale and rare. Differences get settled at the ballot box.
No church burnings or other persecution of Christians. In fact, Israel is the only country in the region whose Christian population is steadily growing rather than fleeing.
No mass rapes in public squares.
No bigoted slanders of other countries by national leaders. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey recently pulled that one off when he declared that Israel was behind the overthrow of President Mohamed Morsi in Egypt. Although President Obama has in the past called Erdogan a great friend, this was too much even for the administration, which “strongly condemn[ed]” Erdogan’s words.
Israeli leaders, of course, do not engage in public defamation and conspiracy-mongering.
No journalists in prison. In that category Turkey now takes the lead in the world, surpassing Iran and China. In Israel even Uri Blau, a Haaretz journalist convicted last year of holding thousands of classified military documents that were passed to him by a soldier who filched them, was sentenced to all of four months’ community service.
This is, of course, a very partial list, but it’s enough to point to an essential difference between a democracy and countries very far from democratic standards.
2. Some ways in which, nevertheless, Israel is treated differently from other countries in the region.
No recognition of its capital city. The U.S. embassy is in Tel Aviv, not Jerusalem, and the official position of U.S. administrations (though not of Congress) is not to recognize even “West” Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. No such problem, of course, arises regarding Cairo, Beirut, Damascus, Baghdad, Ankara, and so on.
People told where they can and can’t live. Though the Obama administration made a particular point of it during its first term, U.S. administrations have long objected—often with public vehemence—to Israelis living in lands captured by Israel in the 1967 war, including even “East Jerusalem.” No such problem arises, for instance, regarding Turkish building in Northern Cyprus, even though that really is a case of an illegal occupation stemming from a belligerent act. Israel’s presence in “the territories,” by contrast, is entirely legal.
Constant pressure to retreat from territory. The obsession with Israeli land giveaways, ostensibly to “make peace,” has marked U.S. administrations since the 1967 war. At present Israel is engaged in yet-more U.S.-orchestrated “peace talks” with the deeply hostile Palestinian Authority, the chief Palestinian negotiator claiming a U.S. written guarantee that the talks are based on Israeli withdrawal to the indefensible pre-1967-war borders. This is, again, unique treatment—even though it is Israel that faces ongoing animosity and security threats from the other countries in the region.
This too, of course, is only a partial list, but representative of U.S. exploitation of Israel’s isolation in the region and dependence on U.S. support.
One hopes for a day when a U.S. administration will, instead, show greater respect for Israel’s autonomy, security concerns, rights, and loyalty—and for its unique achievements in an inhospitable part of the world.
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