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by Myriam Miedzian
IMAGINE A DISTRICT ATTORNEY ADVOCATING that a usually law-abiding citizen be judged much more harshly when committing an illegal act — cheating on taxes? sniffing coke? assaulting a man who attempted to rape his daughter? — than a Mafia don responsible for countless homicides, drug dealings, prostitution. Why? Because the first citizen basically respects the laws of the land, whereas the don couldn’t care less.
This is analogous to Danish Ambassador to Israel Jesper Vahr’s statement last December that Europe does and should apply a double standard when judging Israel’s actions versus those of other Middle Eastern nations. European, not Middle Eastern standards are appropriate. “You are one of us,” he stated.
It has been quite obvious to many — including those of us vehemently opposed to Netanyahu’s ongoing building of West Bank settlements, and opposed to injustices and unprovoked violence against Palestinians — that a double standard is used with respect to Israel and Muslim Mediterranean countries. But this has never been acknowledged by those who abide by it. Now Ambassador Vahr has announced it loud and clear.
The double standard is based on the fact that, however imperfect, Israel is a democracy with an elected government, ruled by law with freedom of speech, and equal rights for women and gay people. Supporting Vahr’s contention is Israel’s ranking by non-profits such as Global Democracy and Democracy Index, who find the differences between Israel and Muslim Mediterranean countries to be huge. The 2014 Global Democracy Ranking places Israel at 24 (U.S. is 16), Egypt 105, Lebanon 88, Turkey 64. The same is true of the 2013 United Nations Gender Inequality Index — Israel is ranked 19, Egypt 110, Lebanon 65.
According to Vahr, it is because Israel’s ranking is comparable to Western democracies while the Mediterranean Muslim countries are not even close that it makes sense to have major protests against the Israeli government for the deaths of over 2,200 people in Gaza but none remotely comparable protesting the regime of Syrian dictator Assad. An August 2014 U.N. report reveals that since March 2011, his regime is responsible for nearly 200,000 Syrians killed.
IN SPITE OF ITS COURAGEOUS ARAB SPRING, Egypt is again under dictatorial rule. According to a 2014 Carnegie Endowment report, in the eight months since President Morsi’s ouster, it is estimated that more than 2,500 Egyptians have been killed, more than 17,000 wounded, and more than 16,000 arrested in demonstrations and clashes. Vahr’s double standard helps explain the absence of major foreign demonstrations against the Egyptian government and the absence of calls for boycotting Egyptian products, academics, and artists.
While Lebanon is considered a republic, major flaws in its democratic process lead to a ranking of 88. This is no doubt why there has been no widespread indignation concerning the treatment of Palestinians living in Lebanon since 1948. A vast majority were born in Lebanon; by 2014, their population had, according to UNRWA, grown to nearly 450,000. An August 17th, 2010 New York Times article titled “Lebanon Gives Palestinians New Work Rights” reports that restrictions have been lifted on employment in the non-professional labor market. However, Palestinians remain barred from professions, prohibited from owning property and sending their children to public schools.
Despite discrimination against Palestinian citizens of Israel, all professions are open to them; they enjoy equal political rights, are represented in the Israeli Parliament, and are admitted to hospitals. (Israel even provides emergency treatment to Syrian refugees — an August 5th, 2013 New York Times article, “Across Forbidden Border, Doctors in Israel Quietly Tend to Syria’s Wounded” documents this.)
Organizations such as Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) and Code Pink and publications such as Mondoweiss support the Palestinian-initiated BDS (Boycott, Divest, Sanction) movement, which calls for boycotts of Israeli goods, academics, and artists. They pressure foreign entertainers and academics not to perform or attend events in Israel while ignoring the far graver violence, lack of civil rights, free speech, and severe mistreatment of women and gays in Muslim Mediterranean countries. Their spokespeople appear frequently on Al Jazeera, which is watched by tens of millions of Muslims. The station even featured an interview with an American Jewish college freshman, Hanna King, a member of JVP’s youth group, who denounced vehemently Israeli violations of human rights and war crimes — music to the ears of so many Muslims.
The imbalance between criticism of Israel versus Muslim countries is also due to Israeli freedom of speech. Ilan Pappe, one of Israel’s harshest, most scathing critics, did not have to fear the fate of a Raif Badawi, the Saudi Arabian blogger sentenced in 2014 to 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes for starting a liberal online forum encouraging free discussion, or Karim al-Banna, the Egyptian student recently sentenced to three years in jail for announcing on Facebook that he is an atheist. In fact, it is extremely unlikely that a Muslim Ilan Pappe would escape being executed for treason.
One cannot help but wonder what role the relentless focus on Israel’s misdeeds might play in providing fertile background for growing anti-Semitism on a continent that has for close to two millennia accused Jews of endless misdeeds and persecuted them accordingly. Demonstrations in 2014 against Israel’s shelling of Gaza included attacks on European Jews, Jewish stores and synagogues, and anti-Semitic chanting by some demonstrators.
Concern with Islamophobia runs deep among demonizing organizations. Typical is a January, 2015 JVP website posting. After deploring the Charlie Hebdo and kosher supermarket attacks, it states: “we also stand in strong opposition to increasing Islamophobia and racism in response to these murders — the vilifying of Muslims and attributing to all Muslims the acts of a few who claim to speak in the name of Islam. French Muslims especially are bearing the brunt of the current backlash.”
Just as all Muslims are not responsible for the terrorist acts of some Muslims, so are all Jews not responsible for Israeli governmental policies. But JVP and the other demonizers show no equal concern with the Judeophobia which attributes responsibility to all Jews for the actions of the Israeli government. European Jews especially bear the brunt of this backlash.
In fact there is at least as much reason to be concerned about Judeophobia and anti-Semitism as Islamophobia and anti-Muslim prejudice. In Europe, there is much discrimination, demagoguery, and acts of violence against Muslims — including attacks on mosques by firebombs and pig heads, and heckling of Muslim women in hijabs since the Charlie Hebdo attack and Kosher Market killings. But between the 2012 Toulouse, the 2014 Brussels, and the 2015 Kosher market attacks, 12 Jews (or people believed to be Jews) have been killed, and others severely injured.
A concern for justice and humanity that focuses selectively on victims and perpetrators is deeply flawed. It is time for Israel demonizers to recognize their double standard and move beyond it.
Dr. Myriam Miedzian (myriammiedzian.com), a member of the Jewish Currents editorial board, is a former philosophy professor who writes frequently on social, cultural, and political issues. She is the author of Boys Will Be Boys: Breaking The Link Between Masculinity and Violence. This article is reprinted from the Huffington Post with the author’s permission.