Be­ware of bi­b­li­cal analo­gies

The Jewish Chronicle - - COMMENT - Robert Philpot

THE ME­DIA finds its love of Bi­b­li­cal analo­gies near-ir­re­sistible when it comes to the Mid­dle East. So it wasn’t very sur­pris­ing to find a Guardian edi­to­rial last week de­scrib­ing the cur­rent con­flict be­tween Is­rael and Ha­mas as “an­other David and Go­liath en­counter”. This has been the defin­ing nar­ra­tive of much of the com­men­tary on Op­er­a­tion Pro­tec­tive Edge. Two days into it, the Guardian’s Owen Jones ob­jected to a BBC head­line – “Is­rael un­der re­newed Ha­mas at­tack” – call­ing it “as per­verse as Mike Tyson punch­ing a tod­dler, fol­lowed by a head­line claim­ing that the child spat at him”. A week later, his fel­low colum­nist Sea­mus Milne be­gan his paean to Ha­mas’s “de­fi­ance and re­sis­tance” with the line: “For the third time in five years, the world’s fourth largest mil­i­tary power has launched a full-scale armed on­slaught on one of its most de­prived and over­crowded ter­ri­to­ries.”

For­get Milne’s fac­tual in­ac­cu­ra­cies — Is­rael’s mil­i­tary might doesn’t even fig­ure in the world’s top ten — and ig­nore his stom­ach-churn­ing con­clu­sion that the Is­raeli “oc­cu­pa­tion” will only end when the Pales­tini­ans and their sup­port­ers are “able to raise its price to the oc­cu­pier”. Is­rael is los­ing the war of words. In the eyes of much of the world, it has be­come Go­liath to the Pales­tini­ans’ David.

This is, how­ever, not a new devel­op­ment. For the left – which, view­ing Is­rael as the plucky un­der­dog, once con­tained some of the fledg­ling Jewish state’s strong­est sup­port­ers – it is a trans­for­ma­tion which has oc­curred over the past four decades. In the United States, it was lib­er­als most closely as­so­ci­ated with op­po­si­tion to the Viet­nam War – Pro­fes­sor John Ken­neth Galbraith and Sen­a­tors Ge­orge McGovern, Eu­gene McCarthy and Wayne Morse – who were most vo­cif­er­ous in their back­ing for Is­rael, even call­ing for US mil­i­tary in­ter­ven­tion if nec­es­sary. In Bri­tain, polls sug­gested sup­port for Is­rael was even stronger than it was in the US. Ed­i­to­ri­als in the Guardian and the Observer backed Is­rael, while a “sol­i­dar­ity with Is­rael” rally in Trafal­gar Square drew a crowd of 10,000.

The out­come of the 1967 war be­gan the process of re­defin­ing the con­flict. The threat to Is­rael from its neigh­bours – still very ap­par­ent in 1973 – was now down­played. Is­rael in­stead be­came the “oc­cu­pier” and the “op­presser” of the dis­pos­sessed Pales­tinian peo­ple.

Sym­pa­thy for the world’s Davids is one of the left’s more at­trac­tive char­ac­ter­is­tics. And there is much to be sym­pa­thetic to the Pales­tinian peo­ple about. How­ever, im­pos­ing a Manichean David ver­sus Go­liath frame upon the con­flict has led some of the left down a moral and in­tel­lec­tual

The left is be­ing led down a moral cul-de-sac

cul-de-sac. It blinds them to the fact that Is­rael re­mains a lib­eral oa­sis in a desert of deeply con­ser­va­tive, hos­tile neigh­bours, some of whom openly pro­claim their sup­port for its de­struc­tion. It leads them to ig­nore the fact that on the val­ues sup­pos­edly clos­est to the left’s heart – tol­er­ance, equal­ity, sup­port for free­dom and democ­racy – Is­rael ranks among the world’s best and its en­e­mies among the worst.

Two ex­am­ples high­light where such think­ing leads. In 2013, Stephen Hawk­ing with­drew from a con­fer­ence in Is­rael “to re­spect the boy­cott”.

But in 2006 the renowned physi­cist seemed to have no such qualms about de­liv­er­ing a key­note speech in Bei­jing’s Great Hall of the Peo­ple – the seat of the Chi­nese govern­ment – or, the fol­low­ing year, ad­dress­ing a con­fer­ence in Mah­moud Ah­madine­jad’s Iran. And while few would deny the need for hu­man rights groups to ex­er­cise vig­i­lance in the Pales­tinian ter­ri­to­ries, can it re­ally be jus­ti­fi­able for Hu­man Rights Watch to have pro­duced more re­ports on Is­rael than on Syria and Libya com­bined?

The dan­ger to Is­rael of view­ing cur­rent events as a strug­gle be­tween David and Go­liath is ob­vi­ous, im­per­illing as it does its le­git­i­mate right to self-de­fence against ter­ror­ism.

But, for the Pales­tini­ans, too, bi­b­li­cal analo­gies pose a dan­ger: see­ing the con­flict as a re­li­gious one fu­elled by an­cient ha­treds makes the prospect of com­pro­mise, ne­go­ti­a­tion and a man-made po­lit­i­cal so­lu­tion even harder to en­vis­age than it does in these dark days for both peo­ples of the Holy Land.

Robert Philpot is edi­tor of Progress mag­a­zine

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