Sixty years after its birth, Israel continues to test the proposition that reality counts for more than perception.
The site www.eyeontheun.org keeps a running tally of all United Nations resolutions, decisions and reports condemning this or that country for this or that human rights violation (real or alleged). Between January 2003 and March 2008, tiny Israel—its population not half that of metropolitan Cairo’s—was condemned no fewer than 635 times. The runners-up were Sudan at 280, the Democratic Republic of the Congo at 209, and Burma at 183. North Korea was cited a mere 60 times, one-third as many as the United States.
Is Israel the world’s foremost abuser of human rights? I would argue the opposite: That no other country has been so circumspect in using force against the provocations of its enemies. Nor has any so consistently preserved the civil liberties of its own citizens. That goes double in a country so constantly beset by so many threats to its existence that its government would long ago have been justified in imposing a perpetual state of emergency.
For reasons both telling and mysterious, Israel has become unpopular among that segment of public opinion that calls itself progressive. This is the same progressive segment that believes in women’s rights, gay rights, the rights to a fair trial and to appeal, freedom of speech and conscience, judicial checks on parliamentary authority. These are rights that exist in Israel and nowhere else in West Asia. So, why is it that the country that is most sympathetic to progressive values gets the least of progressive sympathies?
The answer, it is said, is that as democratic as Israel may be in its domestic politics, it is nothing but bloody-minded as far as its foes are concerned. In May 2002, at the height of the so-called al-Aqsa Intifada, I reviewed Israeli and Palestinian casualty figures, sticking to Palestinian sources for Palestinian numbers and Israeli sources for Israeli ones.
Much was then being made in the Western media of the fact that three times as many Palestinians as Israelis had been killed in the conflict.
But, drilling down into the data, something interesting turned up. At the time, 1,296 Palestinians had been killed by Israelis—of whom a grand total of 37, or 2.8%, were female. By contrast, of the 496 Israelis killed by Palestinians (including 138 soldiers and policemen), there were 126 female fatalities, or 25%.
To be female is a fairly reliable indicator of being a non-combatant. Females are also half the population. If Israel had been guilty of indiscriminate violence against Palestinians, the ratio of male-to-female fatalities would not have been 35-1.
The constant assault on Israel’s morality has had its effect. Beyond Hamas and Hezbollah, beyond the competition between Jewish and Arab numbers west of the Jordan river and the ever-growing number of Iranian centrifuges spinning a nuclear future, Israel is beset by the fear that, being unloved, it’s unworthy.
A sibling notion, seemingly benign but insidious, is that Israel’s right to exist rests ultimately with the acquiescence of others, which in turn is a function of their perceptions. This is also known as “legitimacy”.
THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
Edited excerpts. Comment at firstname.lastname@example.org