It’s probably a good sign that Israel’s apologists are increasingly resorting to a sideways defense: What’s with you and Israel? I don’t hear you complaining about China or Syria or North Korea. Implicit in this mantra is an admission that any coherent defense of Israel is in short supply—the only “defense” left is to question why this particular bully is targeted from among the various nefarious bullies on the block. It’s a desperate line that is wielded effectively only because of its insinuation of some dark motive, innuendos that the other bullies cannot exploit. I’ve been doused with it by people as diverse as security agents at Ben Gurion airport to the music critic Norman Lebrecht.
Its absurdity is self-evident. If injustice can be shielded on the grounds that there is other injustice, everyone is silenced. We would disparage those fighting China’s savagery in Tibet on the grounds that they are not active against Sudan’s repression of its lgbt citizens. Those who struggled against Indonesian/US atrocities in East Timor would have been mocked because they were not active in the fight against the apartheid regime in South Africa. At best, only criticism of the single worst injustice (according to whatever chosen criteria) could be permitted: all others simply need point downward.
Freed of this hasbara linkage, the question of why is, of course, important. Why do so many in the United States consider Israel to be very much our concern and responsibility, above and beyond other issues? Bluntly, it is our injustice. We are the ones doing it, and thus it is we with the power and the responsibility to stop it. Far more than any other bully on the block, Israel is directly armed, empowered, shielded, and bankrolled by us, by our tax dollars, by our votes, our strong-arming, our failure to act.
Our own self-defense is another reason: we are among our own victims. Our complicity with Israel has corrupted our domestic politics, robbed the public till, and squandered our moral integrity. It has made a mockery of our nation and the ideals we profess to symbolize.
Just as our democracy makes us responsible for what is done in our name, so is democracy is a reason why Israel is a particularly justified target for boycott. Unlike China or Syria or North Korea, Israelis elect those who run their country, as well as dictate the lives of four million Palestinians who cannot vote in its elections. The Chinese public has no control over Beijing’s atrocities in Tibet; the Israeli public votes for those who continue six and a half decades of ethnic cleansing. One may well still argue for boycott against China and other belligerent nations, and as with the case against Israel, such arguments will stand independently on their own merits, not on whether every activist can address every issue. It’s time to expose the ‘What about’ it for what it is—a cynical attempt to keep eyes from noticing that the Emperor has no clothes.