Moderate or zealot on Israel: No real difference

Moderate and extreme supporters of Israel wrap the same moral attitude in different public narrative

The Israeli right or wrong lobbies have supported Israel's claims that by attacking Hamas for their rocket attacks on Israeli cities, they were defending Israel, writes Rees. [Getty Images]

Distinguished Israeli novelist David Grossman writes that at the centre of Israeli citizens’ being there is a void of consciousness “in which an efficient suspension of moral judgment prevails, a failure to notice the injustice at the root of the entire situation”.

Given the attitude of Israel’s supporters around the world, it looks as though their moral judgment has also been suspended, not only in regard to Israel’s latest slaughter in Gaza, but also in their decades-long oppression of the Palestinian people. 

Attitudes regarding the onslaught in Gaza can be gauged along a continuum. A first group are moderate often silent supporters. In the middle sit the “double standards” commentators. At the far end are the “racist zealots” who don’t appear to regard Palestinians as human beings.   

Moderate often silent  

Moderate supporters include those who seldom question the human rights abuses of the Israeli government. They fear being called anti-Semitic, or if they happen to be Jewish, a self-hating Jew. 

Mainstream media outlets appear to be frightened to be even-handed in their commentaries about the Israeli occupation and the current Gaza slaughter. Staff at the Australian broadcaster (the ABC) admit that to be balanced about Israel’s policies is to invite a barrage of hate mail accusing the organisation of being anti-Semitic.  

The New York Times has been judged, by Patrick Connors in Mondoweiss, to have shown, “a seemingly unembarrassed willingness to promote Israeli perspectives no matter how obviously outrageous they might be”. That’s not surprising. Writing in The Huffington Post, Professor Stephen Walt explained that of course the influence of the American Jewish Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) demands that Washington march in lockstep with Tel Aviv.        

The not so silent supporters include those whose strategy is to deflect attention from human rights abuses. Israel, they say, is a civilised, democratic state, far more civilised than its critics: Israeli doctors treat injured Palestinians, Palestinian citizens are told when they will be bombed, Israeli scientists have invented products valued around the world. The strategy is to hide Israeli government abuses with claims about Israeli virtues and Arab vices. 

Academics might see themselves as libertarians yet cooperate with Israeli universities which facilitate the Gaza slaughter. The Tel Aviv University is giving students who have served in the attack one year of free tuition. The Hebrew University organised a collection of goods – including food and medical supplies “for the soldiers at the front”.  

Double standards operatives   

The double standards operatives condemn Hamas but make little mention of Israeli aggression. They talk about peace yet turn a blind eye to the manic extension of Israeli settlements on Palestinian lands.

This group includes leaders of the Australian and Canadian governments whose statements defending Israel  ride roughshod over international law and include the pretence – in the case of an Australian attorney general and foreign minister – that they are unaware of any international law which prohibits stealing other people’s land in order to build settlements.

The behaviour of Australian and Canadian politicians is more than emulated by members of the US Congress who cannot speak to Hamas and continue to supply arms to the Israeli government. They dare not do otherwise. Professor Walt wrote that US politicians have continued to support Israel unreservedly even though every US President since Lyndon Johnson has opposed Israel’s settlement project. But, he concluded, US politicians “understand that even the slightest display of independent thinking on these issues would leave them vulnerable to a well-funded opponent the next time they are up for re-election”. 

Christian fundamentalists’ support for Israel’s aggression is the reverse of what might be considered Christianity. At a recent conference of Christian supporters in the US, the Israeli ambassador to the US, Ron Dermer, said that Israeli soldiers were dying so that innocent Palestinians could live. He also claimed, “The Israeli defence forces should be given the Nobel Peace Prize for fighting with unimaginable restraint.” This seems to be an echo of an editorial in The Australian newspaper, just before the land invasion of Gaza began,  “In some respects Israel is doing remarkably less than it should.” 

Racist zealots

Racist zealots mock the idea of civility. Ayelet Shaked of the Jewish Home Party called for the slaughter of Palestinian mothers who give birth to “little snakes”: “They have to die and their houses should be demolished.”

Dr Mordechai Kedar, an Israeli scholar of Arabic literature at Bar-Ilan University has declared that raping the wives and mothers of Palestinian combatants would deter attacks from Hamas.

A Mr Ron Danko, (that may not be his real name) who regularly sends me hate mail, writes: “We will build more houses and communities on OUR LAND (the best revenge), and name it after these (Israeli soldiers) killed by terrorists and via proxy by you.” 

In the Wall Street Journal, New York University Senior Fellow in the School of Law Thane Rosenbaum wrote that Palestinians in Gaza “forfeit [their] right to be called civilians when [they] freely elect members of a terrorist organization as statesmen, invite them to dinner with blood on their hands and allow them set up shop in [their]living room as their base for operations.” This, he said, justified the Israeli attacks on any people in Gaza.

Their common ground

Despite variations in degrees of indifference towards Palestinians, or in the explicitness of pleasure in the revenge exacted on them, there is common ground in the attitudes of supporters of Israel’s military actions.    

The Israeli right or wrong lobbies have supported Israel’s claims that by attacking Hamas for their rocket attacks on Israeli cities, they were defending Israel. Yet numerous commentators agree that Israel’s motive for the attack on Gaza was to smash the Fatah/Hamas unity government. 

Israel supporters agree with the claim that Hamas uses civilians as human shields even when there is no place to hide and the killings include children in schools and on beaches, in UN compounds, disabled people in institutions and complete extended families who had nothing to do with Hamas.

These supporters avoid reference to the human rights of Palestinians, to their right to defend themselves. Neither do they consider the consequences of the prolonged siege of Gaza and the endless occupation.

The supporters don’t disagree with claims about the IDF’s humanity, as in killing people for their own good.

In an article about Israeli police dumping a sick Palestinian to die on a roadside, David Grossman concluded that the Israeli nation “has dumped a whole other nation on the side of the road and has backed the process to the hilt over 45 years”. Israel  had engaged, he wrote,  “in a brilliant genius-like denial of its own responsibility for the situation.”

So it is with the moderates, the double standards operatives and the racist zealots.

Cosy in their living rooms or in their secure employment, the moderates would no doubt protest at being lumped together with the zealots but in terms of the outcome for the people of Gaza, they are no different. 

In their common ground lies guilt by association via cooperation with collective punishment – collusion with the latest slaughter.

Stuart Rees is Professor Emeritus of the University of Sydney.