(/sites/default/files/uploads/2015/05/nh.jpg)The latest round of Israel scandals began on March 17, which was Israel’s election day, when Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu wrote in a Facebook post: “The right-wing government is in danger. Arab voters are coming out in droves to the polls. Left-wing organizations are busing them out.”
It sounded bigoted toward Arab voters. It was atypical of Netanyahu, and just a few days later he apologized to representatives of the Israeli Arab sector at his Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem, saying, “I know the things I said several days ago offended some of Israel’s citizens, hurt the Arab citizens. This was never my intent. I apologize for this.”
Case closed? Apology for an unpleasant, atypical remark accepted? By Israeli Arabs, at least officially, yes. By others—no way.
The Obama White House, and the State Department (among many others), kept raking Netanyahu over the coals for his March 17 statement, even after his apology. Even two months later, in his latest interview to Jeffrey Goldberg, Obama was still talking about it, saying Netanyahu’s words were “contrary to the very language of the Israeli Declaration of Independence” and had “foreign-policy consequences.”
Meanwhile the Israel scandals continued. On May 7 the Israeli government approved the building of 900 housing units in Ramat Shlomo, a Jewish neighborhood in Jerusalem that is 20 years old and has 20,000 residents. The State Department weighed in immediately, calling the approval “damaging,” “disappointing,” and inconsistent with the two-state solution—which, logically speaking, would imply that Ramat Shlomo could not possibly be part of such a “solution” and, from now on, would have to be frozen in place.
And just around that time, another round of Israel scandals began—Scandalous Cabinet Ministers. With the new government finally being formed after difficult coalition negotiations, and new cabinet appointments being announced, the international media took over, shouting to the world that Very Bad People were taking office in Jerusalem.
So much attention to a small country’s affairs could seem flattering. Actually it’s the opposite—almost uniformly derogatory, unflattering, and essentially bigoted, and there are no apologies for it.
It started with the new justice minister, Ayelet Shaked, who was portrayed as a Dark Threat to Democracy. As Daniel Greenfield noted on Frontpage, the Washington Post, the London _Time_s, and Foreign Policy all lambasted her. So did the _New York Times_, AFP, Reuters, and others.
Two main charges were leveled at Shaked. One concerned her Facebook post—last June, right after it was learned that three Israeli teenage boys had been kidnapped and murdered by Hamas—of an article by an Israeli journalist that included nasty words about Palestinians. Shaked almost immediately deleted the post and has called it a “mistake.” But in the Israeli goldfish bowl, a mea culpa—that is, if you’re a conservative politician—won’t get you anywhere.
The other charge was that Shaked, the new justice minister, was out to destroy Israel’s Supreme Court and its judiciary branch in general. Lost in the hostile media din was the fact that distinguished Israeli and foreign jurists, including some who are not on the political right, regard Israel’s Supreme Court as one of the most activist top judiciaries in the world, arrogating roles to itself that belong to the legislature, and hence as in need of reform. But why attend to such details when one could depict Shaked as the latest Israeli scourge of all that’s good and just.
And then there’s the new deputy foreign minister, Tzipi Hotovely. AFP has already darkly intimated that it has seen a video of her instructing Israeli envoys to quote the Bible about Israel’s rights to Judea and Samaria (the West Bank). Hotovely’s religious-historical attachment to these lands, shared by many Israelis, also won’t win her popularity with a world media and political establishment that—with all the fervor of a religious dogma—regards even Jerusalem’s Jewish neighborhoods as a sacred Palestinian trust.
And the new appointee as deputy prime minister, interior minister, and head of negotiations with the Palestinians, Sylvan Shalom? Also no good; as Jonathan Tobin notes, Shalom’s appointment has likewise sparked European and American criticism because he came out against a Palestinian state in the past. As Tobin observes, Netanyahu’s official stance favors a two-state arrangement. But it can also be asked why the recent violent upheavals in Yemen, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, Libya, and other Arab countries do not put in question the premise that creating yet another Arab state, this one abutting Jerusalem, Ben-Gurion Airport, and Tel Aviv, would be a plus for peace and stability. But, again, dogma brooks no doubts.
For a single month of May, the Ramat Shlomo building plans, plus the appointments of three Very Bad ministers, plus the continuing flak from Netanyahu’s March 17 post, might, to repeat, seem like a lot of scandals for a single small—it might be added, democratic—country. But the Israel-bashers were just getting warmed up.
The clincher, of course, came last Wednesday when Israeli defense minister Moshe Yaalon launched a new policy where Palestinians who pass through checkpoints to work in Israel would have to return to the West Bank through those same checkpoints. Since Israelis who live in the West Bank—owing to the fact that they do not pose a terror threat—do not have to go through checkpoints when leaving it or returning to it, the buses taking these Palestinians back to their homes in the West Bank would only have carried Palestinians, not Israelis.
This ignited fury. The internet erupted with shrieks of “segregated buses” and “apartheid buses.” It took just a few hours for Netanyahu, realizing this was a fight Israel was likely to lose, to scotch the new policy. Yaalon explained that its purpose had been to improve Israeli security and protect Israelis from terror attacks. But to say that, for the international Israel-condemning chorus, the security of Israelis is not high on the agenda is a great understatement.
How important is all this reflexive, one-sided, distorted, uniquely disproportionate criticism of the Jewish state? The answer is that it is extremely important and poses a serious threat to Israel’s future. An annual BBC poll shows why.
The poll asks people in countries all over the world to rate the influence of particular countries as “mainly positive” or “mainly negative.” It turns out that, in 2012, 2013, and 2014, with the exception of the United States, Russia (just barely, in one year), and a couple of African countries, majorities (often large) in all countries consistently rated Israel’s influence as “mainly negative.”
Notably, that includes countries like South Korea, China, and India that have no antisemitic tradition, and whose governments have good relations with Israel’s government. If one asks where people in such countries are getting such a negative impression of Israel—a lone democracy in a dark region, a productive and beneficial dynamo in hi-tech, medicine, agriculture, water conservation, and other fields—the answer is, of course, the international Israel-bashing media, with an assist from reflexively Israel-criticizing governments and most of all, lamentably, the current one in Washington, though frequent public State Department criticism has been a feature of all recent U.S. administrations.
Even though Israel’s trade and, to a lesser extent, diplomatic relations with many countries are thriving, the effect of this delegitimization and demonization is seen most clearly when Israel engages in military conflicts with terror organizations and comes under severe, concerted pressures to desist, with TV screens all over the world depicting Israel, not the terror organizations, as the villain. Israel is still engaged in an uphill struggle—not just to survive but to establish that it has a right to survive.
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