Is Israel really the worst country in the world?

Of course not. But for many people across the world and at my university, it seems to be. Recently my study association BASIS organised a trip to the Israeli Embassy for our members. This provoked an interesting response from students who felt that by visiting the embassy they would be promoting ties between the association and “a country that violates international law”. They felt that either a boycott or harsh questions were necessary to avoid this promotion. But BASIS has visited the US embassy before without complaint and is planning to visit the Russian one. I’m sure most of these people would visit the Chinese or Cuban embassy. So is what Israel does really that bad? How do they measure up compared to other countries? And why do we seem to be so obsessed with its actions?

Part of the Israeli ‘security fence’

Firstly though, it is clear that Israel is breaking international law and grinding the Palestinians down in very clearly thought out ways. Ever since the Six Day War in 1967 Israel has slowly but surely broken apart the West Bank (still occupied territory) to ensure that no real Palestinian state can ever survive there, using methods requiring the oppression of an entire people. Their wars in Lebanon and Gaza also show complete disregard for the lives of civilians on the other side, with places like Beirut and Gaza being bombed indiscriminately. These are all things that galvanise people across the world into supporting Palestine – and boycotting Israel.

However, Israel is hardly unique in its actions. Russia’s proxies in Ukraine are currently ruling over 3 million people in the Donbass region, showing little regard for human rights. Russia itself is becoming steadily more authoritarian, and back in the 90s carried out two wars in Chechnya that killed immense amounts of civilians. China suppresses all basic human rights, especially in Tibet, a traditionally separate region. Furthermore, most other countries in the Middle East have an equally bad human rights record, and Israel is the most free country in the region. Yet for these countries there are no calls for academic boycotts, and university associations rarely get together to protest Saudi oppression of women, or Emirati treatment of migrant workers.

So why the specific animosity towards Israel? One reason is that its conflict with Palestine gets so much coverage from the international media. Everything that happens there is closely analysed from every angle, so we get a lot of information about Israel’s actions. What Russia did in Chechnya flew under the radar for the most part. Another reason is simply that the plight of the Palestinians is a popular cause at the moment, and maybe a cause whose time has come. Like the Vietnam War in the 60s and apartheid in the 80s, every new generation has a cause it wants to get behind.

There is another reason though why Europeans especially have a problem with Israel, as well as the United States. Both countries are very nationalistic and use military force regularly. Here in Europe people find that difficult to stomach. After conquering most of the world and nearly wiping itself out in two World Wars, Europe in the late 20th century has mostly given up on force and nationalism. Europe relied on the US to protect it from the USSR during the Cold War. We have the EU to bring us together and solve our differences peacefully and in the most boring, bureaucratic manner possible. Except for France and Britain (and even they’re struggling), Europe is not a big military power anyone. This means that when Europeans see a nationalistic, ethnic based state like Israel using force to protect its interests, we get annoyed. Nations aren’t supposed to do that anymore, it’s simply wrong. Unfortunately for Europe though, the rest of the world doesn´t quite see things the same way.

Finally, while we should criticise Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians, we do need to pay attention to how we do that. For over a thousand years Europe treated the Jews appallingly, telling where they could live and how they could act – an attitude punctuated with violence and culminating in the Holocaust. This of course doesn’t justify Israel’s actions, but it’s understandable that many Israelis have little time for European critics. Before we start boycotting an entire nation, we need to be aware of our own biases, and accept that not every situation is black and white.

No post this coming Sunday, as I’m on holiday with friends on the island on the Dutch island of Texel. 


5 thoughts on “Is Israel really the worst country in the world?

  1. Kathy Harris

    Interesting post about a curious reaction to one country. I remember Apartheid being our ‘go to protest’ at Uni although I’m sure there were a lot of other things going on. Not sure if we’ll ever fully understand the response to Israel but this post gives some ideas.

  2. Michael

    My guess is that because of European history of suppression of Jews, now that it is not OK to disapprove of Jews, Europeans disapprove of Israel by proxy, to “justify” their deeply inherited anti-Jewish bias. As in “see how bad those Jews behave? They deserve all we’ve done to them, so we are not so evil for hating them”.

    As to “indiscriminate bombardments of Beirut and Gaza” – they were anything but indiscriminate. We can debate the exact motives and causes but the results are clear – would 50-60% of the casualties be operatives of terrorist organizations, if the bombardments would be indiscriminate?

    Also, I miss in your story are the actions of Israel’s opponents – the Arabs are passive, only victims, and their actions are not worth mentioning. How patronizing, and how dispowering must it be for them, wouldn’t you say?

    1. andreinternational Post author

      Thanks for the reply Michael! I have actually written other pieces more about the other actions of the Palestinians and the other Arab states (5 myths about the Arab-Israeli conflict), but I tried to focus here more on the relationship between Europe and Israel.

      I’m not sure if I’d say that the dislike of Israel comes from anti-Semitism (there will always be a few), but I do think that it is causing anti-Semitism to become more acceptable again, under a different guise. You can criticise Israel without being anti-Semitic, but many people do start taking it too far. It’s hard to tell how anti-Semitic people are though, as survey’s can’t exactly expose the truth.

      Finally, it’s true that Israel’s enemies fight from among a civilian population – but in my opinion this still doesn’t excuse Israel’s overkill. The book Pity the Nation by journalist Robert Fisk is an extremely interesting look at the war in Lebanon if you’re interested!

      1. Michael

        As you’ve correctly stated, Israel is the only country that causes such overreactions. Since the thing that makes Israel unique is that it is the country of the Jews, one can only conclude that it is this that causes the obviously overheated, emotional and irrational animosity.

        The “Israel’s overkill” – not quite. I doubt there is a sinlge other country that has done 1/10th of the Israeli effort to protect innocent civilians on the other side of the conflict. Try to think how your country would (over-)react has it been in Israel’s situation?

        I’m not really interested in Robert Fisk’s rants, he has pronounced himself that his “journalism” is not about truth (aka objectivity), so his writings are tales of fiction rather than reporting.

  3. Pingback: Israel and one US Presidential hopeful | Your World Explained

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