HARVARD SQUARE COMMENTARY

March 17, 2008
Settlers Moving Over Borders, Through the Land
-- and --
Bombs Hurled Over Borders, Through the Air

James Adler


Are there double standards against Israel?  Or is it the other way around?  Or are double standards going in both directions?  As readers know, I am constantly finding myself probing -- from various angles -- this maze of questions.

And so here is another way into it.

It may be that the world appears to get deeply concerned about a conflict, and even want to stop it, and become outraged and indignant enough to become outright obsessed about it, only when (--- be careful now ! ---)  one or both of the following two factors are involved: 

Either ...  (1) ... western or non-western countries -- any countries -- transgress international
borders and take over other people's land; ... or (2) ... **otherwise-Western-style** countries
practice demographics-based policies at the heart of their political identities.

Perhaps --  let me first give my personal opinion, that probably -- this is not the way it  should be, that it is not the way these attitudes should operate-- or not the way they should *only* operate.

But this still seems to me to be the way these attitudes have been -- nearly always and everywhere -- operating in the modern world. 

The Second World War was not to stop the Axis countries' genocidal world-scale horrific internal policies -- nothing less than the  Shoah-- although I personally strongly believe it should have been -- but instead, very differently, to stop the Axis's foreign transgressions -- its invasions, conquests, and occupations-- in Austria, Czechoslovakia,  and Poland; in Ethiopia; against Pearl Harbor; and in East Asia.

The Cold War and its regional spin-off "hot wars" -- killing 100,000 US soldiers and uncountable others -- were not about internal dictatorships per se -- many of America's Third World allies were harsh dictatorships -- but only about expansionist transgressions over other people's borders and the ideology that proclaimed them -- such as over the borders into Eastern Europe, "from Stetten to the Baltic," as Winston Churchill put it in his famous "Iron Curtain" speech, or in South Korea, South Vietnam, or (near the Cold War's end) Afghanistan.

The most famous part Churchill's speech deserves quoting at greater length:

"From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across
the Continent. Behind that line lie all the capitals of the ancient states of Central and Eastern
Europe. Warsaw, Berlin, Prague, Vienna, Budapest, Belgrade, Bucharest and Sofia, all these
famous cities and the populations around them lie in what I must call the Soviet sphere, and
all are subject in one form or another, not only to Soviet influence but to a very high and, in
many cases,  increasing measure of control from Moscow."  (March 5, 1946)

Similarly and since then international wars have been provoked by Argentina's transgressions in the Falklands, the ambitions of "Greater Serbia" in Croatia and Bosnia, and the Iraq of Saddam Hussein in Kuwait.  But before Saddam's temporarily successful conquest and occupation, America's now-disgraced Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, cordially shook hands with the dictator of Baghdad.  And Saddam's dictatorship never changed in any way.  Instead it was his crossing of international borders that (--to use a precisely appropriate figure of speech--) -- "crossed the line."

Therefore most of the world's conflicts seem not to be about internal democracies and tyrannies, but more simply about crossing and staying on the other side of other people's borders. This is what strikes the world's negative chord and generates its unease and animosity.

Israel calls itself "the only 'democracy' in the Middle East" and accuses the rest of being (internally) 'dictatorships'.

But the world and its responsible international organizations don't seem to care all that much.  First, it would seem, because there are so many dictatorships everywhere -- the world is so full of them.  There are just plain "too many to handle." 

There is "dictatorship fatigue."  If there was ever that much concern in the first place.  Again, for example, the United States has never shown that much concern, and many of its best Third World allies have been dictatorships.

Rather, it is more consistent with the world's general practice, because it appears simpler and more straightforward, and rarer -- and therefore easier to spot and pinpoint and handle -- that the malefactors to deal with are those that transgress across borders.   And again, in addition, to deal with otherwise-western-style countries that practice demographics-based policies at the heart of their political identities.

So that, in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the relevant characterization of Israel to the world is not, first, that it is "the only 'democratic country' in the Middle East, but rather that it is -- "the only 'expansionist  country' in the Middle East."  The only cross-border transgressor and occupier -- and even annexationist.

And it is telling that there used to be one and only one other, Saddam's expansionism in Kuwait.  That also generated an uproar throughout the world.

And then, once again, there is that second factor that tends -- for better or worse -- to attract the world's attention and indignation -- the demographic- and ethnicity-based policies pursued by --and this is absolutely crucial-- the otherwise-First-World and *otherwise*-Western-style countries.

It would appear that, to the world, just as there had been only one another expansionist country in the Middle East, that country being Iraq under Saddam Hussein, and that it was felt-- tellingly -- that it had to be stopped-- so, also, there had been only one other otherwise-Western-style country in the world that had practiced demographics-based policies at the heart of its political identity. It was seen to be in Africa and we all know where.

In viewing how the world looks at things, the striking fact here may be that Israel's conduct is viewed to combine both of these two basic conflict- and indignation-provoking policies--  first, any country's crossing of another's borders and occupation of other peoples' lands; and second, the undertaking of any otherwise-Western-style country's the practice of systematic demographics-driven (ethnic, religious, etc.) policies -- to say it yet again -- at the heart of their political identities.

Therefore, in the case the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, despite all the talk of anti-Semitism, it is not hard to understand the world's real reasons, reasons that are consistent with the way it customarily tends to see things, that, again for better or worse, or for right or wrong, drives much of its view about Israel and its policies.

For better or worse, or for right or wrong -- and indeed perhaps for "worse and wrong" -- internal tyrannies are *not* what drive the world to indignation and outrage, but, instead and again these are, first, refugee-generating, border-crossing, land-taking, and occupying countries; and second, otherwise-western-style countries that practice (--again to use our formula--) demographics-based politics at the heart of their political identities.

And, to much of the world, Israel seems to be an otherwise western-style and First-World country that appears to takes this double-layered ensemble of policies and to forge them into one single united worldview.

It may well be deeply unfair to make this the world's main national-political problem-- especially over that of internal tyranny and despotism, or discriminatory and allegedly apartheid-style policies practiced by non-Western and Third World countries.  Personally I do tend to think it is.  But such an attitude -- and this is no more than an observation about it -- is what seems to have most consistently attracted the world's attention and driven its outrage.  

Let me give an nitty-gritty and concrete illustration-- something that concerns, of course, this same Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

As someone who has just attended the presentation of Israel's Vice-Prime Minister and Foreign Minister, Tzipi Livni, at a Harvard Kennedy School of Government Forum last Wednesday night on March 12th; and as someone who is sympathetic with Israel's self-perception as a tiny and besieged and attacked country -- whose only reward for its withdrawal from Gaza has been unending missiles on its cities and towns --; and as a supporter of the current Israeli government's brave and idealistic vision of Israel and a Palestinian state living side by side together in peace-- ; nevertheless, I wish I could have asked Vice-Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Livni a question at subsequent question-and-answer session.  Unfortunately it ended while a few questioners were still ahead of me in line at the microphone.  My question was to be this:

"Both Lebanon and the Palestinian Authority are justly criticized as being too politically weak
or unwilling to control the terrorist groups Hizbollah and Hamas, which are basic hindrances
to peace.  But as this is so, why isn't Israel also justly criticized for being either too politically
weak or unwilling to control the right-wing and religious fundamentalist Settler Movement
and its 550,000 settlers on occupied Palestinian land - which is a fundamental hindrance to
peace as well?"

I would have asked it with the best will in the world toward Israel, and supporter of her right to respond as she has to terrorist attacks from Gaza, and an admirer of her impressive Foreign Minister.

I would have offered Godspeed to Israel against the bombardments on its civilian towns within its 1967 borders, certainly a violation of human rights and an outrage.  But as to whether Israel's cross-border expansionism contributes to such attacks, this unasked and unanswered question remains very much alive and well -- very much alive and well, I believe, to much of the world.


............................................................................................................................................................................


Comment On This Article
(Please include your name so that we may publish your remarks.)


Return to the Table of Contents



Home           Contact Us           Mailing List           Archives           Books on Sale            Links



Articles may be quoted or republished in full with attribution
to the author and harvardsquarecommentary.org.



This site is designed and managed by Neil Turner at Neil Turner Concepts