Carol Hunt: Why we must challenge double standards on Israel
It is dangerous to dismiss threats to destroy the Jewish state as empty rhetoric, writes Carol Hunt
'WHEN my father was a little boy in Poland, the streets of Europe were covered with graffiti, 'Jews, go back to Palestine', or sometimes worse: 'Dirty Yids, piss off to Palestine'. When my father revisited Europe 50 years later, the walls were covered with new graffiti, 'Jews, get out of Palestine'." Israeli author Amos Oz.
On the slopes of the Mount of Remembrance, outside Jerusalem's Old City, sits Yad Vashem, Israel's Holocaust Museum -- a reminder to the world that evil exists.
When we, an Irish press group, visit on a warm July afternoon, our guide tells us of the recent arrest of members of an extreme Jewish, anti-Zionist group. They had sprayed the museum with slogans such as: "Thanks, Hitler for the wonderful Holocaust you organised for us! Only because of you we received a state." These fundamentalist Jews are not alone in refusing to acknowledge the legitimacy of the Israeli nation -- few of its neighbours choose to do so.
On a trip to the oft-bombarded southern Israeli town of Sderot, retired colonel Miri Eisin tells us of an interview on Irish radio last year, where the "sin" of the foundation of the Israeli state was put to her to discuss, a priori. Irish politicians, we were informed by a senior foreign ministry official the day before, increasingly push an "anti-Israeli line" in the corridors of Brussels and Strasbourg.
We take a helicopter and view the "apartheid wall" between the two peoples. We are surprised to learn that only 4 per cent of the "wall" is concrete, the rest is a thin security fence, which was reluctantly erected by the Israeli government after more than 1,000 of its civilians were killed by suicide bombers coming over the border. The bombings have since been dramatically reduced.
Near the border, a young major points to where one of his soldiers was shot the previous week. He explains the moral dilemmas faced by the Israeli Defence Forces as they struggle to isolate terrorists from innocent women and children. He recalls: "My soldiers were answering a shot from an upstairs window when the front door suddenly opened ... and a child of about four years of age stepped out."
A group of young soldiers at a "simulated guerrilla camp" expand on the moral problem of entering terrorist areas when children are sent to deter and distract. "There are some decisions you can only take in the moment," they say.
Since its conception in 1948, Israel has repeatedly had to defend its right to exist as a place where people of Jewish ancestry can find refuge. In doing so, it has stood accused of being a criminal state, a violator of human rights, a proponent of apartheid and the main barrier to peace in the Middle East. Not just by hostile neighbours, but by western governments, the United Nations,
intellectuals and human rights campaigners worldwide as well as a great many Irish people.
This is despite the fact that Israel is the only democracy in the region (the jury is still out on Egypt); the only country which grants its citizens, male and female, gay and straight, equal human rights; the only state where all religions can practice their faith in safety; the only country where people can openly protest and oppose their government without fear of their lives. And most sinister of all, this is despite the fact that the fundamentalist Iranian regime, after brutally crushing its pro-democracy movement, has been training and funding terrorist groups like Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Hezbollah. Its aims? The total destruction of Israel plus the establishment of a Shiia theocracy in Lebanon and elsewhere.
"But what about the Palestinians in Gaza?" you ask.
Yes, you're right. The people of Gaza are entitled to a decent living, access to their workplaces, and a future for their children. The Palestinian people are also entitled to freedom from an oppressive, terrorist regime. And yes, Israel has sometimes made mistakes, over-reacted and lacked generosity toward its neighbour. Many Israeli citizens would be first to acknowledge this.
It is shameful that Palestine remains dependent on charity from the UN and similar agencies and also, one has to add, that neighbouring oil-rich Arab countries have repeatedly refused to address their misery. Last month Jordon refused to take in Palestinian refugees fleeing Syria. Palestinian leaders have three times rejected the two-state solution -- the most practical and just way to end their woes -- as it requires a recognition of Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state (most recently at Camp David and Taba in 2000, when Israel offered to give up claims to both Gaza and the West Bank). And the terror that their supposed Arab 'allies' inflicts on them far surpasses any actions that Israel has been guilty of when trying to defend its own people.
Surely our concern for the dismal plight of the Palestinian people cannot only be expressed in conjunction with censure of Israel alone? Is this not more of the historical double standard, the unique condemnation that Jews have been subject to for millennia?
Last month Iran -- that haven of human rights -- held a cultural festival here in Dublin, seeking to further ties between our countries. Where were the protests of the pro-Palestinian groups who so energetically tried to close down last year's Israeli Film Festival, who intimidate any musicians or artists who attempt to visit Israel?
It is legitimate and necessary to question this hypocrisy without fear of intimidation or censure from these organisations because the double standard applied to Israel endangers the rule of law and the credibility of international institutions. And now Israel -- which fundamentalist Iran, Hamas, etc, repeatedly vow to wipe off the face of the Earth -- fears that it has little time before Iran's nuclear capabilities are used against it. After Israel, who could be next? The US? The EU?
Meanwhile the atmosphere in downtown Tel Aviv is one of casual cheer; the locals, with their honesty and 'just-get-on-with-it' attitude remind me very much of tough, straight-talking New Yorkers. Young beauties of all races -- Ethiopian, Scandinavian, Romanian, Russian, German, Arab and American, gay, straight, religious and secular -- sit outside the cafes and bars, enjoying the music of nearby musicians and the fading heat from a slowly setting sun.
Tiny Israel is one of the most successful economies in the world. In 2008 it attracted nearly three times the amount of venture capital funding as the US and 30 times the average of Western Europe. In per-capita innovation, Israel dwarfs all nations. What they have achieved in that tiny, arid piece of land is astonishing.
But some of Israel's neighbours have promised repeatedly that they will destroy both the state and its people. Those who insist that this is empty rhetoric; those who are determined to see no right on the side of Israel and no wrong on the side of those who wish to destroy the Jewish state and 'transfer' her population should take a visit to Yad Vashem, where the evil results of ignoring -- or indeed supporting -- the promises and ideologies of radical regimes are laid bare for all of us to see.