A common question when discussing the affairs of Israel and the occupied territories of the West Bank and Gaza is 'why do you criticise Israel so often in comparison with other states?' This question was most recently put to me by several Jewish students after the 'meet the zionists' talk organised by UofB JSoc. I had asked a simple question about the philosophical consistency of Zionism as a concept. It was politely worded and addressed to a good friend of mine on the panel. Yet when I leave several people gather around me to enquire as to why I have 'singled Israel out'. It's bizarre that they assumed I had, never having met me before. This is a bit offensive. No doubt in a way that wasn't intended, but offensive nonetheless. Either it is a direct accusation that I am a racist, which is not the kind of thing that people should go around accusing people of on non-existent evidence, or it is an assumption that I am too stupid to be able to see a broader conspiracy against Israel, which is still pretty insulting. Regardless, I think there are a few overarching reasons why I am particulalrly interested in reading about, and drawing critical attention to, Israel. Some of them are personal, some universal, but all entirely valid reasons. So, to all those curious, here's the answer the question 'why Israel'?
1) Israel is a democracy -
Ostensibly concerned with the ideals of democratic representation, Israel markets itself as 'the only democracy in the Middle East'. Democracy is a hard sell in much of the world, and it takes a hit when democracies act badly. As a liberal democracy with low-corruption and high-pluralism, Israel represents the governance ideals I stand for, so I have an interest in whether or not the 'only Middle Eastern democracy' acts morally.
2) Change is possible -
Given that Israel is a democracy with a free media, things like boycotts could potentially change policy. This is a tangible link between people in the UK and the Israeli state. The same cannot be said for North Korea, or some other random dictatorship, where my consumer action would have zero impact.
3) Israel has lots of very vocal supporters in this country -
It would be unusual for me to get into a row with a friend over her rabid support for Zanu-PF. That's probably because I tend not to come across that many Zimbabweans. However, there are lots of people around me posting facebook links to, having conversations about, and campaigning for Israel. Consequently, it's not in any way surprising that Israel gets discussed in my life, and the life of the average person in the UK, more than Zimbabwe.
4) Israel's human rights violations are pretty considerable -
I know that lots of people, certainly those to whom this note is directed, may well find this to be a simple half-truth, or a partisan 'narrative', or misleading, but you're just going to have to swallow it. Israel is in complete violation of the 2004 ruling by the International Court of Justice regarding the conditions of its occupation. That, even on its own, is justification for great attention to be given to Israel. Add to that the massively disproportionate kill ratio, exceeding 200:1 at times, seldom rivlled in non-genocide conflict in the modern period, and you've got a pretty hefty cause for concern. That's not singling out Israel, that's paying attention to a very serious conflict where one side is recurrently suffering huge losses.
5) Friends live there -
Through my years of debating at international competitions such as the World Championships, I have met friends who are Israeli. It's interesting to know what is going on in your friends' country.
6) It has parallels with other situations that gained worldwide attention and were ended during my lifetime –
With South Africa in the 1980s and 1990s, you had a state with an ethnically divided population, one side with overwhelming power, distributed amongst a wide spectrum of beliefs, with the largest political representations of the black population committing acts of terrorism (hundreds of instances of ‘necklacing’, for example). There are quite clear, if imperfect, parallels.
7) My heritage is Irish -
This has parallels with the struggle for Irish independence and with the troubles in Northern Ireland.
8) Colonialism -
Israel was enabled through the colonialism of my country. As such, there is a moral connection that I feel with regard to its actions that I don't feel towards, say, Japan.