Whatever is happening on the ground, Israel seems to be slowly but surely losing the propaganda war in the West. Why? Every British or American or French bomb that goes astray is a tragedy, but every Israeli mistake somehow summons up waves of visceral loathing for the whole country. Why? Some thoughts below.
Brendan O'Neill asks: "Why are Western liberals always more offended by Israeli militarism than by any other kind of militarism? ... France can invade Mali and there won’t be loud, rowdy protests by peaceniks in Paris. David Cameron, backed by a whopping 557 members of parliament, can order airstrikes on Libya and British leftists won’t give over their Twitterfeeds to publishing gruesome pics of the Libyan civilians killed as a consequence. President Obama can resume his drone attacks in Pakistan, killing 13 people in one strike last month, and Washington won’t be besieged by angry anti-war folk demanding ‘Hands off Pakistan’. ... Anyone possessed of a critical faculty must at some point have wondered why there’s such a double standard in relation to Israeli militarism, why missiles fired by the Jewish State are apparently more worthy of condemnation than missiles fired by Washington, London, Paris, the Turks, Assad, or just about anyone else on Earth. Parisians who have generally given a Gallic shrug as French troops have basically retaken Francophone Africa, stamping their boots everywhere from the Central African Republic to Mali to Cote d’Ivoire over the past two years, turned out in their thousands at the weekend to condemn Israeli imperialism and barbarism. Americans who didn’t create much fuss last month when the Obama administration announced the resumption of its drone attacks in Pakistan gathered at the Israeli Embassy in Washington to yell about Israeli murder. (Incredibly, they did this just a day after a US drone attack, the 375th such attack in 10 years, killed at least six people in Pakistan. But hey, Obama-led militarism isn’t as bad as Israeli militarism, and dead Pakistanis, unlike dead Palestinians, don’t deserve to have their photos, names and ages published by the concerned liberals of Twitter.)"
O'Neill has a similar answer to Douglas Murray. Leaving aside anti-semitism (easy enough to say - but I hope I can't be accused of ignoring anti-semitism on this blog), O'Neill puts it this way: "Israel has been turned into a conduit for the expression of Western self-loathing, Western colonial guilt, Western self-doubt. It has been elevated into the most explicit expression of what are now considered to be the outdated Western values of militaristic self-preservation and progressive nationhood, and it is railed against and beaten down for embodying those values. It is held responsible, not simply for repressing the Palestinian desire for statehood, but for continuing to pursue virtues that we sensible folk in the rest of the West have apparently outgrown and for consequently being the source of war and terrorism not only in the Middle East but pretty much everywhere." Murray: "It is Israel which takes western values seriously and fights for the survival of those values rather than sitting back and assuming they are simply part of some birthright."
There's something to that, I think. Israel forcibly reminds us of what (we think/hope) we have left behind: fighting, pretty hard, for our very survival. It't not a pleasant business and we would rather not have our noses rubbed in the details by seeing people pretty much like us doing things we used to do: take the 'justest' war you want (WWII?) - even the good guys did some nasty things, if only by accident.
But I think there is something more simple that has more explanatory force. Israel has the propaganda disadvantage of the Northern Ireland unionists: being more powerful than the immediate enemy (Northern Irish nationalists, Hamas) and therefore appearing to be bullies, while all the time being surrounded by a much larger foreign states on the other side of the dispute (yes, I know the analogy is far from exact). Israelis - and Unionists - just don't have (and can't fake) the right kind of helplessness to attract any sympathy from the West. It's hard to remember just how many people, with quite how much equipment and dedication, are committed to the elimination of the State of Israel, given that Israel doggedly continues to exist and thrive - and be 'normal' enough to send transsexuals to Eurovision. It's entirely to the Israelis' credit that they have got on with growing a functioning Western state in the uninviting soil of the Middle East - but they've done it so well that they have lost the chance to play the 'victim' card in the propaganda war.