Middle east governments, without exception, oppress large swathes of their populations. Syria, a police state, is bombing and torturing its pro-democracy movement into submission. Saudi Arabia is a theocracy with a death sentence for blasphemy. Women cannot yet vote or stand for office. Iran --besides having an oppressive government that executes gays-- funds terror in other countries, is trying to export Sharia law and develop nuclear weapons.
In Libya, after decades of Gaddafi's misrule, rebels are now detaining and torturing people suspected of sympathising with the deposed dictator. Turkey, despite moves towards openness, still locks up outspoken journalists and abuses its Kurdish minority. There is not a hint of democracy in Yemen, Jordan and Bahrain. Human rights abuses are rife in Algeria and Morocco. The uprisings in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya are full of promise, but there is a long way to go before both democracy and human rights are realised.
Israel too follows these sad norms. It is using a siege to squeeze the economic life out of Palestinians living in Gaza. Palestinians living in the West Bank have no meaningful franchise and their movement is severely restricted. Political organising is crushed. Thousands of Palestinians languish in Israeli detention under an arcane military justice system.
The military regularly raids and destroys Palestinian homes and carries out extra-judicial executions in which bystanders are killed. Israeli settlers commit violence against Arabs daily and are slowly pushing them off their agricultural lands and confining them to overcrowded, poverty-stricken cities.
Inside Green-line Israel, Arabs are facing ever greater discrimination. The Knesset and Supreme Court sanction racist legislation like the Family Reunification Law which denies ciizenship to the Palestinian spouses of Arab Israeli citizens (but not Jewish ones) and essentially forces them to live in exile if they want to be together.
The claim that Israel is the only democracy in the middle-east is not sustainable. Israel is arguably less democratic than Turkey and no more so than Algeria and Morocco. One could discuss endlessly about which of the world's countries are the worst human rights abusers. While not among the very worst, Israel does compete; under its current extremist government it is also becoming more oppressive.
Israeli supporters frequently ask why is Israel singled out? Ironically, they are asking the right question, but for the wrong reasons. Zionist organisations promote the myth that the vociferous criticism of Israel and call for boycotts is anti-semitic at root, fueled by a deep-seated hatred for the Global West.
On the contrary, many human rights advocates who speak out against Israel's abuses --and I include many of my colleagues in this group-- do so because we value democracy and freedom and because we are horrified by racism including anti-semitism.
The problem is that Israel is indeed singled out. It is singled out for special and favoured treatment by the governments and populations of many Western countries in a way that undermines the core values of those democracies, values that we support and campaign for.
Here are a few ways in which Israel is singled out:
- Israel has a high per capita GDP yet --or perhaps because-- it has been the largest cumulative recipient of US aid since World War II. It consistently receives between $2b and $4b annually, mainly for military use. In 2010 Haiti received half Israel's US foreign aid, while South Africa received $12 per citizen, compared to $385 per Israeli citizen. 1
- Israel is unique in that it is the only country that has organised supporters --the Zionist movements-- in major cities across the planet that donate millions of dollars to prop up its government and, more importantly, wage a relentless propaganda campaign defending Israel's abuses and promoting the oppression of Palestinians. I am not aware of any significant movement in any western democracy to defend the abuses of the Syrian, Egyptian, Jordanian and Iranian governments, nor --moving away from the middle-east-- the Zimbabwean or Swazi ones. There are pro-Chinese organisations spread around the world, but their propaganda abilities are hopeless compared to Zionists. One cannot imagine the US Congress giving a standing ovation for Hu Jianto, as they did for Benjamin Netanyahu.
- Israel makes huge revenue from American and European tourists, most of them oblivious to the human rights abuses taking place a few kilometres away from the country's favourite sites.
- In contrast to Syria, Iran, Zimbabwe, North Korea, Myanmar and, previously, Iraq and Libya, there are no UN, US or EU sanctions against Israel.
Several recent articles by Zionists ask why critics of Israel are not speaking out against Syria, Iran and other middle-eastern countries. The allegation is false. For example, Tikkun, a progressive Jewish organisation has called for an end to what it calls the "Syrian genocide".
It has also called for a boycott of Russian and Chinese Products as long as those countries support the Assad Government. Avaaz, which has had petitions directed against Israel, also has petitions directed against Syria and is helping solicit donations to a Syrian democracy movement (which I urge readers of this article to give to).
The Treatment Action Campaign, which I have been involved with for 12 years, campaigned against Iran's treatment of AIDS doctors. A Cape Town based organisation that speaks out against Israeli oppression is currently providing political support to two Jordanian refugees.
It is true that we write less and speak out less about Syria, Libya and Iran. But that is because those countries, in contrast to Israel, are not singled out for special treatment by the US, European and other governments.
And in contrast to Israel, there is no concerted propaganda campaign defending the state abuses in these countries and no effort to collect millions of dollars of donations to prop up their governments. Of course, efforts to support the pro-democracy movements of the middle-east should be stepped up.
By contrast, many Zionist organisations do not know what to say or do about the pro-democracy movements in Egypt and Syria. Should those movements succeed, one of the last planks of Zionist propaganda will fall away: the vacuous argument that Israel is a comparative angel in a nasty region.
Israel should stop being singled out. That means that US aid to it should end and the odious worldwide propaganda campaign supporting the oppression of Palestinians should be exposed for its naked nationalist racism.
Nathan Geffen is a Visiting Academic, Centre for Social Science Research, UCT. An edited version of this article first appeared in The Cape Times.
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