One definition of a hypocrite is an individual who is guilty of faults more serious than those done by others that the hypocrite condemns as intolerable.
Evolving events in northwestern Africa invite another look at Barack Obama's comment that Israelis--and especially Benyamin Netanyahu--do not know what is good for their country.
Even before turning to Africa, it should be asked how the head of a country with such dismal social indicators as the United States (health, life expectancy, criminal violence) could say that the head of a country with much better indicators does not know what is good for his country.
One should credit whatever efforts the American President makes to control the slaughter of civilians by civilians in his country. However, debates about limiting assault rifles, the capacity of magazines, and limiting gun sales to the mentally ill and individuals with criminal records--each of which invites intense political opposition--appear absurd in comparison with what Israel and other democracies do by way of limiting access to weapons and keeping their murder rates at a fraction of America's.
The President's criticism of Israel's relations with Palestinians appears equally absurd in comparison with Israel's decent record of dealing with aggressive Islam against the syndrome of denial by the US and its clumsy failures in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, apparent confusion and ambivalence in high places about what is happening in Mali and Algeria, and the President's nomination of a Defense Secretary with a spotty record in assessing Iran.
The threats to western societies and values from Islam are multifaceted and complex. The variety of extremist movements in different countries, including Europe and the United States, threaten--first of all--the existential western democratic values concerned with freedom of religion, freedom of expression, international trade, cultural exchange, and travel. How to deal with movements that threaten those values without surrendering the same values by efforts to defend them? There is no easy answers, but it is certain that indifference or denial are not among them. If the world learned anything from the battle against fascism, it is necessary to recognize the reality of threats, and to compromise democratic values in order to defend the most essential of those values.
All this is delicate, and demands a great deal of information about Muslims, a willingness to be intrusive in the collection of information, and a willingness to act against groups and individuals when required.
In all probability, this cannot be done well. The point is not to do it so badly as to permit the spread of radicalism through passive Muslim populations, and geographically across more countries.
Israel's record is not perfect, but ought to be valued rather than condemned. The American President overstepped the borders of wisdom and decency not only with his most recent comments about Netanyahu and Israelis not knowing what is good for their country, but with his earlier insistence that Israel not build in Jewish neighborhoods of Jerusalem.
Israel has made numerous efforts to reach agreement with Arabs who have directed their hatred and violence against its civilians. It has a decent record with respect to the 20 percent of its population that is Muslim, and has been forceful but restrained in responding to aggression.
It is common to attack Israel's treatment of its Arab minority, without pausing to compare its situation to that of minorities elsewhere.
We cannot probe all the complexities required by a sophisticated comparison of the relevant traits and countries. However, two important indicators from the national statistics of Israel and the United States suggest that Israel's record with respect its Arab minority does not deserve condemnation.
Jewish-Arab family incomes in Israel are about the same as White-Black incomes in the United States, with a slight advantage (at least for the latest year for which data is available) for the United States, i.e., Black income is 65 percent of White income in the United States, while Arab income is 64 percent of Jewish income in Israel. In a summary measure of health, Israel's minority does substantially better than the American minority. Israeli Arab life expectancy closer to that of Jews. Israeli Arab longevity is 96 percent that of Jews while that of American Blacks is 94.7 percent that of Whites. Moreover, Israel's Arab minority has a longer life expectancy (80.2 years) than the American White majority (78.4 years).
A great deal of the international condemnation of Israel concerns settlements, the government's activities in the West Bank and Gaza, and international law.
There is no excuse for "Jewish terror," or radical religious-nationalists who destroy Arab property and attack individual Arabs at random. However, this is a small fraction of the illegalities of which Israel is accused, and Israeli security and judicial institutions act against those Jews. More to the point is Jewish settlement in neighborhoods of Jerusalem beyond the pre-1967 armistice lines, and other locales further into the West Bank.
Against the common charges, by the White House and others, are Israeli claims that the expansion of Jerusalem and the location of several outlying settlements were selected with an eye toward defending core areas against repeated Arab violence. Moreover, Israel initially delayed constructions beyond Jerusalem against the possibility of negotiations, but was frustrated by the Khartoum Declarations. Then in 2000 and 2009 Israeli leaders made offers to Palestinian leaders that involved a resolution of settlement issues, but were turned down. Both the offer made in 2000 and the unilateral withdrawal of settlements from Gaza in 2005 were met with increased violence.
Israeli justifications are not acceptable in governmental circles outside of Israel, but they deserve a weighing along with other indicators of how Israel has dealt with security over the whole span of its existence. Among the factors to be considered are the incidence of Israeli civilian casualties from Arab terror, the number of Arabs killed by Israeli security forces, the quality of Arab living standards in Israel, and the autonomy that Israel allows to Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. Compared to the incidence of western civilians killed by Muslims, alongside the native casualties and the quality of success associated with western efforts in Iraq, Libya, and Afghanistan, Israel's record does not seem to justify the extreme and repeated condemnation that it receives.
In a word, Israel has succeeded more than others, with fewer casualties to its adversaries, despite a higher incidence of casualties among its own civilian population when compared to other western countries dealing with Muslim violence.
There are many reasons for Israeli policy makers to support, promote, or accept the expansion of settlements. Alongside those who feel they have a God given right to all the "Land of Israel" are secular Israelis who want to expand Jewish control as rapidly as possible. There is also a nuanced motivation, to advance slowly as a way to pressure Palestinians to accept Israel, and stop the expansion, and perhaps withdraw some of the settlements, at a point where Palestinians can create a state on what remains.
International law appears to many Israelis as amorphous and flexible enactments that adversaries use against them for actions less noxious, and more justifiable than what many others do without being charged, including the western and the Muslim populations that are the prominent sources of anti-Israel condemnations.
Mali, and the the Algerian hostage taking beg comment in this connection. Seizing hostages is widespread throughout much of Africa, as well as along the coast of Somalia. Many if not most of the perpetrators are Muslim, some of whom claim to be acting in behalf of Islam. Also involved is simple criminality for the sake of financial gain. Those involved in the Algerian incident identify with Islam, and were well enough equipped and prepared to overcome security at a site protected by armed personnel. Their hostages and those killed include European, American, and other nationals, and the incident suggests the prospect of an escalation in attacks directed against other foreign owned or managed resource sites throughout the Middle East and Africa. In Algeria we have the makings of a miniature 9-11. Along with the escalation of French involvement in Mali, it has the capacity to produce further escalations by European and/or American forces.
The questions to be asked of those who condemn Israel are:
•Will this new phase continue to come with the disclaimer about not fighting Islam? and
•Will it be less bloody and more effective than Israel's efforts to deal with its problem of Muslim violence?
Posted by Ira Sharkansky at January 18, 2013 12:07 AM
Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem