Israel is a normal country, but is strained to preserve that status against the rest of the world that is even less normal.
That is not a sentence one would expect from a confirmed social scientist. It does not make sense according to the elemental rules of logic, but it does make sense when viewed through wider perspectives of judging normalcy.
What is a normal country?
Is it Germany, with no practical speed limits on major highways? The United States, with the power of the gun lobby, http://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/13/us/politics/13nra.html?partner=rss&emc=rss the rise of libertarians, God soaked movements against abortion and gay rights, and four to five times the incidence of its population in prison compared to other western democracies? http://rds.homeoffice.gov.uk/rds/pdfs2/r188.pdf Countries of the Third World, where rates of HIV/AIDS range to 260 times those in Western Europe and North America? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_HIV/AIDS_adult_prevalence_rate Mexico, where the rate of killings over drug smuggling to the US has reached 13,000 per year? http://edition.cnn.com/2010/CRIME/01/01/mexico.us.killing/index.html NATO and other countries that have sent troops to Afghanistan and Iraq for tasks able to produce nothing beside the slow drain of outsiders' lives and the more rapid drain of Afghan and Iraqi lives?
All countries have their individual peculiarities, and Israel's hardly seem greater than others. Comparison is more a matter of personal preference than any serious weighing of traits not equivalent to one another. Who can say that the life style and political demands of ultra-Orthodox Jews or Religious Zionists are any less normal than those of committed Christians or Muslims? Is Israel's concern with defense against threats from near neighbors less normal than efforts of the United States, Great Britain, and other countries that send their troops against distant threats?
What is most abnormal is the animosity toward Israel among foreign governments and individuals. There are also Israeli Jews who express severe opposition to their government's activities, but this may not be different from the incidence of Americans or Europeans who act against their governments.
My temptation is to say that Israel is normal, while the rest of the world is crazy.
That may be true, if we excuse the vast majority of individuals who do not know what Israel is, or what it does, and could not care less.
There are several reasons for the animosity. While not all who oppose Israel are anti-Semites, there certainly is anti-Semitism in the mix. Since the Holocaust, traditional Christian anti-Semitism has declined. However, Muslim anti-Semitism has taken over the stereotypes and coupled them with the weight of numbers, votes in international forums, and the influence that derives from energy resources. In several places, a posture against Israel is part of anti-Americanism. Political fashion helps to spread a simple assumption that Israel is evil, while Palestinians are innocent victims. Pictures of deaths and destruction due to Israeli concerns for its security are currently more powerful than pictures showing more deaths and destruction due to the personnel of countries not on the current hit list.
Why have international fashions turned against Israel is a question with no better answer than an old Jewish story, set about 15 miles to the west of here in Emek Elah. Remember David and Goliath? The Palestinians benefit from their image as the weakling going up against the giant. In this case, the weakling is the darling of a billion Muslims and the giant is the size of New Jersey, but who says that fashion is objective?
What to do? There is no magic button.
Claims that Israel does not explain itself are nonsense. There is no shortage of explanations coming from official organs and individual Israelis. Overseas Jews help, at least those who are concerned, and not wedded to the anti-Israel fashion. There is no shortage of non-Jews who identify with the downtrodden. Among them is former Spanish Prime Minister José María Aznar, who is promoting the theme that Israel's failure will condemn western civilization. http://www.weeklystandard.com/blogs/former-spanish-prime-minister-if-israel-goes-down-we-all-go-down A Christian network in Canada is distributing an hour long discussion of international law that claims a firm basis for Israel's maintenance of control over Jerusalem, against counter claims from Muslims and Christians. http://ctstv.com/ontario/player.php?ctsvidID=17133&show=On Subscribers of www.memri.com see that there are Muslim and Christian Arab intellectuals who ridicule anti-Israel diatribes.
Music and humor may help at least as much as the hard sell of speech and writing. We con the world http://www.carolineglick.com/e/2010/06/new-postings-of-we-con-the-wor.php won praise as a cutting parody, but went over the line of politically correctness. Israel's Foreign Ministry initially publicized it, but then timidity prevailed. YouTube pulled it for reasons that critics see as out of step with what it allows to remain on the site. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/We_Con_the_World Only Israel is softer, and may last longer. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OaGHUZ-8DWw
Efforts at explanation generally reinforce those already committed, add to the animosity of those opposed, and otherwise fall on deaf ears. Singing to the choir is useful, but it is important to know the limitations.
Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem