Why Not France?

Ilya Somin has a provocative argument that there is a double standard in the way that Israel is treated in comparison to France. Somin goes through the common criticisms of Israeli policy and compares them to the actions of the French and finds that the French are hardly much better than the Israelis. So, what explains the disparity?:

It is, I think, still possible to make a left-wing case that, overall, Israeli policies are, say, 10% worse than French policies. Perhaps even 50% worse. I don’t agree with such claims, but they are not wildly implausible. However, it is utterly impossible for a fair-minded observer with typical left-wing values to conclude that Israel is 100 or 1000 times worse than France. Yet the ratio of left-wing criticism of Israel to left-wing criticism of France is far closer to 100-1 or 1000-1 than 1.5-1.

Perhaps the difference is due to ignorance. Many of those who spend lots of time and energy attacking Israel may simply be unaware of comparable French policies. Perhaps it is due to the far greater media coverage of Israel. But that only begs the question of why so many left-wing intellectuals and activists spend so much more time and effort learning about Israeli shortcomings than French ones, and why a mostly left-liberal media does the same.

Not even the alleged left-wing bias towards “underdogs” and against “the powerful” can explain the disjunction. France is much larger and more powerful than Israel (with about 10 times Israel’s population and GDP), and France’s enemies are weaker than Israel’s are. From any objective viewpoint, France’s policies are far more important than Israel’s and deserve far greater attention. Perhaps not ten times more, but certainly not 100 times less.

Is anti-Semitism the only cause of the disproportion between left-wing criticism of Israel and those of France? Almost certainly not. Perhaps it is not even the most important cause. But the other likely causes – bias against a nation perceived as more of a US ally than France, sympathy for France’s (pre-Sarkozy) anti-American rhetorical stance, an implicit belief that Jews should be held to “higher standards,” etc. – are only marginally more defensible.

To be honest, I think that singling out Jews for a “higher standard” is anti-Semitism. As Thomas Friedman once said: “Criticizing Israel is not anti-Semitic, and saying so is vile. But singling out Israel for opprobrium and international sanction – out of all proportion to any party in the Middle East – is anti-Semitic, and not saying so is dishonest.” Israel is singled out because it is a Jewish state, it is a strong ally of the United States, and because the left wing is especially susceptible to the Arab propaganda campaigns leveled against it.

There’s a difference between rational criticism of Israeli policy and the sort of anti-Semitic diatribes that frequently are used against Israel. It’s one thing to say that the settlement policy in the West Bank was wrong and should be stopped, it’s another thing to state that the Israelis as a people “stole” all their land and have no legitimate basis for being in the Middle East. There’s a difference between saying that the Israelis acted rashly in their recent war with Lebanon and playing into the canard that the Israelis secretly want to ethnically cleanse the region.

The problem is that the left has invested in a particular worldview that sees Israel as a illegitimate state and continues to justify the Palestinian cultural self-immolation. The reality is that what Israel has done to the Palestinians pales in comparison to what the Palestinians have done to themselves — and Gaza is living proof that even in the absence of the “Zionist enemy” the Palestinians cannot let go of their culturally-ingrained desire for blood and combat.

The French get a pass because they have better PR, not because they have a sterling record on human rights. The Israelis are condemned because they are a Jewish nation with close ties to the US and the Arabs have waged a very successful propaganda campaign against them for decades now. Israel is by no means a perfect nation, but when they are held to a higher and disproportionate standard while the actions of others are whitewashed, it’s hard to argue that such disparate treatment isn’t anti-Semitism with a more urbane face.

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