Sunday, June 06, 2010

Sympathise with Israel, but not the blockade

Nick Cohen has a good column in the Guardian's "Comment is free" - Sympathise with Israel, but not the blockade (but avoid reading the comments, they're anti-semitic and anti-Israel, and for some reason, the moderators removed comments from Linda Grant!).

He begins:
Israel has become the main source of mystification for modern liberals. It twists them into ever-uglier contortions. It allows them to ignore secular tyranny and radical religious reaction and to revive with more relish than is seemly Europe's oldest antisemitic tropes while they are about it. Given the dark forces which surround and exploit Israel, the urge to defend the Jewish state is close to overwhelming.

Where to begin? Perhaps with the inability of a large section of leftwing opinion and, indeed, isolationist conservative opinion to consider any foreign policy question without reverting within minutes to denunciations of a tiny country on the eastern edge of the Mediterranean. So prevalent are the evasive manoeuvres that we need an update of Godwin's Law to describe them. Mike Godwin held in 1990 that the longer a discussion continues on the web the greater the likelihood that some fool invoking the Nazis would reduce it to absurdity. Today, reduction to Zionism has replaced reductio ad Hitlerum. It is impossible for discussions of Middle Eastern dictatorship, the rise of psychopathic Islamism or the alienation of immigrant Muslim communities in the west to continue without participants maintaining that Jewish influence is "the root cause" of the evils to hand. From the far left to the Liberal Democrats, alleged progressives have Jews on the brain.....

Israelis do not see why they should blink first. Their belief that they are on the receiving end of a hypocritical campaign sustains their siege mentality and nurtures the fear that if Israel pulls back from Gaza's borders, Hamas will grow in strength and arm itself with Iranian missiles.

Israelis are not being irrational. The same fears persuade the Egyptian government to blockade Gaza from the south, although we rarely hear about that. But the way to handle hypocrites is not to say as Israelis do that "the world will condemn us whatever policy we follow" but to call their bluff. If Israel were to relax the import restrictions and Hamas were to rearm, reasonable opinion, including reasonable Palestinian opinion, would see it for what it would be: a declaration of war.

As things stand, reasonable opinion, including reasonable Palestinian opinion, is merging with the opinions of every variety of conspiracy nut and Jew-baiter. Leaving all humanitarian arguments to one side, no Israeli government should tolerate that.

I think that Nick Cohen is too optimistic about what would happen if Israel lifts the embargo and Hamas imports weapons. "Reasonable opinion" will not see it as a declaration of war - it will see Hamas' rearming as reasonable. After all, the same people don't condemn Hezbollah for rearming after the 2006 war with Israel. If there ends up being another war between Israel and Hezbollah, "reasonable people" will blame Israel, not Hezbollah. Does he think that the "large section of leftwing opinion" that he is discussing really believes that Israel has a right to defend itself?

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