Taking sides

Ian Buruma is a historian of considerable and deserved repute. But his article in The Weekend Australian of July 10, “Judgment on Israel clouded by history”, exhibits some of the intellectual and moral confusion that permeates the thinking of supposedly sophisticated policy makers in the West. 

It is fundamentally immoral to argue that democracies should be judged by higher standards than dictatorships; to grant the enemies of democracy greater latitude to behave badly. Yet this is what Buruma does. He states: ”Israel is still a democracy, so it should not be judged by the same standards as dictatorships.” 

Buruma dances around this issue. He rejects crude equivalence between Israeli actions and those of Syrian leader Haffez al-Assad. Yet he argues that since Israel is “still” a democracy, it should be held to higher standards than Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s regime in Iran. But this style of argument weakens the presumption that a democracy is more worthy of support. Buruma has fallen into a trap similar to that inhabited by the appeasers of Nazi Germany in 1938, some of whom dismissed the soon-to-be-betrayed leader of Czechoslovakia, Edvard Beneš, in pejorative terms. 

Buruma describes Israel’s decision in May to drop commandos on to a flotilla of pro-Palestinian activists as “brutal”. Does this mean that he believes that Israel should not blockade Gaza, whose thuggish leaders call for the annihilation of Israel? For that must be the necessary implication. Buruma avoids this essential question. 

Baruma’s argument encapsulates a common Western political conceit – don’t let facts get in the way of a dominant narrative. Even the most cursory investigation reveals the inconvenient truth about the Turkish NGO IHH (Foundation for Human Rights and Freedoms and Humanitarian Relief), which organized the Gaza flotilla. Despite its innocuous title, designed to appeal to useful idiots in the West, we learn that IHH is affiliated with Hamas and the Union of the Good, an Islamic umbrella organization affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood. Furthermore, we find that IHH had links with al-Qaida. Indeed, the former Turkish Government, which preceded the current Erdogan Government, launched an investigation into IHH in December 1997, after receiving intelligence that the organization had bought automatic weapons from Islamist terrorists. Last month, a bipartisan group of 87 Senators wrote to President Obama requesting that IHH be added to the list of foreign terrorist organizations. 

It is disturbing that belief in the gratuitous viciousness of Israeli policy and actions has spread well beyond the ranks of overt anti-Semites, leading to the European Union, and now the Obama Administration, pressurising Israel to make unilateral concessions. Yet, recent history amply demonstrates the futility of such concessions. Israel dismantled Jewish settlements in Gaza and withdrew its forces. Hamas responded by launching thousands of rockets. Common sense might have dictated that a state of war now exists. We may not like blockades, but in the face of jihadis seeking the total destruction of Israel, they are inevitable and legitimate weapons of war. 

Placing the onus on Israeli leaders to exhibit higher standards, whatever they might be subjectively judged to be, carries the obvious corollary that failure to achieve them should lead to forfeiture of support from other Western democracies. Such slippery relativism would not stop with Israel, but could be extended to other democracies under existential challenge. 

It might be thought that leaders such as Netanyahu, freely elected and subject to the rule of law, would enjoy the natural support of fellow democrats. But if Buruma’s slippery argument is followed through, the pressure is on Israel, not her enemies. Pressure to ease the Gaza blockade is, in objective terms, support for Hamas. How easy is the road to betrayal.


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