Crit­ics pay Is­rael an un­in­tended high com­pli­ment

National Post (National Edition) - - ISSUES & IDEAS - Fr.ray­mond de Souza

The 70th an­niver­sary of the mod­ern state of Is­rael was marked by the of­fi­cial trans­fer of the Amer­i­can em­bassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and in­tense vi­o­lence on the Gaza border, with dozens of Pales­tini­ans killed in Ha­masin­spired protests. The diplo­matic protest was re­served on the for­mer and vig­or­ous on the lat­ter.

The in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity prefers not to rec­og­nize Jerusalem as the cap­i­tal of Is­rael. At one time, some 70 or 50 years ago, that might have been a de­fen­si­ble tem­po­rary po­si­tion as the af­ter­math of the 1948 and 1967 wars was sorted out. But to­day it nicely plays into the hands of those in the Pales­tinian lead­er­ship, in­clud­ing on oc­ca­sion Pales­tinian Author­ity Pres­i­dent Mah­moud Ab­bas, who deny that there has ever been any historic Jewish pres­ence in Jerusalem at all.

Once the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity ac­cus­toms it­self to the fact of the Amer­i­can em­bassy in Jerusalem, and gets over its ir­ri­ta­tion that Don­ald Trump moved it, it may well be that claims that the Jews were never in Jerusalem move to the mar­gins, rather than the cen­tre, of Arab pub­lic dis­course.

Nev­er­the­less, the Amer­i­can de­ci­sion to move the em­bassy was met with dis­ap­proval from the diplo­matic class. And on the vi­o­lence on the Gaza border, Is­rael was roundly con­demned by both its al­lies and its enemies.

My friends in Is­rael, and my col­leagues at the Cen­tre for Is­rael and Jewish Af­fairs, where I have long served on the board of di­rec­tors, ex­press frus­tra­tion at what they see as dou­ble stan­dard. It’s hard to dis­agree.

Even if it is stip­u­lated that the vi­o­lence on the Gaza border was both ex­ces­sive and en­tirely the fault of the Is­raelis forces, does not the in­ten­sity of the world­wide de­nun­ci­a­tion of Is­rael seem ex­ces­sive, as com­pared to how lit­tle the world is moved by say, far greater atroc­i­ties in Syria, to take just one nearby lo­cale?

The frus­tra­tion of my Is­raeli friends is le­git­i­mate, but it is also an in­di­ca­tion that Is­rael, though only a mid­dleaged state by world stan­dards — is con­sid­ered to be­long to the fam­ily of re­spon­si­ble na­tions in away that, say, syria or Myan­mar isn’t. When Euro­peans raise their diplo­matic voices against Is­rael’s con­duct, it be­cause they ex­pect a higher stan­dard.

And the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity holds Is­rael to a higher stan­dard than its neigh­bours be­cause Is­rael holds it­self to a higher stan­dard. You may crit­i­cize the Is­raeli forces for their con­duct — and of course many in a demo­cratic Is­rael it­self do just that — but I dare­say there are pre­cious few mil­i­tary forces any­where which sub­ject them­selves to as much pre- and post-op­er­a­tional ex­am­i­na­tion as the Is­raeli armed forces.

None of which gives Is­rael a pass. But friends of Is­rael do not de­sire that Is­rael gets a pass. At its 70th an­niver­sary the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity not only rec­og­nizes Is­rael as a state — if not Jerusalem as its cap­i­tal — but as a state that ought to con­duct it­self by the stan­dards of Lon­don or Paris or Ottawa, not by the stan­dards of Moscow, or Bei­jing or Da­m­as­cus. That is no small ac­com­plish­ment.

My Chris­tian friends in Is­rael and Pales­tine are all ei­ther Pales­tini­ans or sym­pa­thetic to them. I spend time with them when­ever I am in the Holy Land. Their grievances are not with­out ba­sis, and I am sym­pa­thetic to many of them. But it is note­wor­thy that they also ex­pect more from Is­rael than they do from their own Arab lead­ers, whether in Pales­tine or in the neigh­bour­ing Arab coun­tries.

It’s im­pos­si­ble for me to think about Is­rael apart from its biblical vo­ca­tion, even if I do not con­sider the mod­ern state of Is­rael to be a the­o­log­i­cal ne­ces­sity. I would be re­luc­tant to grant any state that sta­tus. It does mean though that I can­not think of the Jews re­turn to the land of Is­rael as some­thing ir­rel­e­vant to the prov­i­den­tial plan of the God of Abra­ham.

To live at time when the Jewish peo­ple are at home again — maîtres chez nous, as they said not so long ago in Que­bec — and held to a high, not low, in­ter­na­tional stan­dard, is to be part of an un­usu­ally blessed chap­ter of his­tory.

That the same chap­ter of his­tory in­cluded also the dark­est days for the Jewish peo­ple is im­pos­si­ble for me to un­der­stand apart of Is­rael’s spe­cial di­vine elec­tion. Seventy-five years ago the at­tempt to ex­tin­guish the Jewish pres­ence from Europe was still un­der­way. To­day, within the life­time of a sin­gle man, the foreign of­fices of Euro­pean coun­tries in­sist that Is­rael be a light unto the na­tions.



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