The convening this week of the United Nations General Assembly will once again put on display the great divide in the modern world. On one hand will be liberal democratic nations, marked by open government with fair elections and basic freedoms. In these lands, individual rights and freedoms are zealously guarded: freedom of religion, freedom of the press, rights to fair treatment under the law, and others. These are the states that in the modern world have consistently confronted genocide, protected minorities’ freedoms, and led the fight against mass terrorist attacks that target innocents.
Sadly, these freedom-loving states are not the preponderance of the U.N. Other states, those that repress freedom, control much of that institution. In many such states tyranny, brutality, and corruption reign. Among illiberal states are those which drive out Christians, repress women, threaten homosexuals with death. Their voices will also be heard at the U.N.—at the podium, on the floor, in the press rooms.
Somewhere in these coming days an odd spectacle will occur. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will take to the U.N. rostrum and address the world. As he does, the selected representatives of illiberal states will loudly sound their displeasure. These illiberal states will claim not merely that Israel has this or that fault, this or that bad policy. Rather it will be asserted that Israel is monstrously evil and unjust; that it is an apartheid and therefore racist state; that it is a state that practices genocide. In the contemporary world no charges carry greater moral weight.
Who will hurl such charges? States that do not practice freedom themselves; states that murder Christians and Jews and drive them from their borders; states that fund, harbor or defend terrorism against Israeli citizens and Muslims not sufficiently—in their view—politically compliant or devout. Once again, the UN will be the scene of a moral travesty.
This is ironic, but it is not the odd part of this spectacle.
The odd part is that within the liberal, democratic portion of the world there will be voices who tolerate or even echo such assaults. This is odd, for within the great divide of liberal and illiberal nations, Israel falls clearly among the liberal ones.
To know this, no great and complicated research is required. Both within and beyond the 1949 ceasefire line, the so-called green line, the non-Jewish population has expanded dramatically. Genocide? Where are the millions of non-Jews who have been murdered by the State of Israel in an effort to end their race? There has been no such effort. In the areas within the green line, non-Jewish communities have prospered.
Apartheid? Also a demonstrably bogus claim. Apartheid does not describe Israel, where Israeli-Arabs have the rights of citizens, and the vast majority of Israelis support such rights for all citizens. Only the terror attacks of Hamas, Hezbollah, and Fatah-linked groups have put Arab minorities at risk, and with that precise purpose. One need only, for example, visit a Jerusalem mall or take a stroll along Tel Aviv’s beaches or to see Israel’s citizens—Jewish and all manner of non-Jewish citizens, Arab Muslim, Arab Christian, Druze etc.—mingling freely, indeed in whatever attire (bikini, burkini) they might prefer, as has been recently noted in the context of French strictures. Or spend time at an Israeli university to see the same; or visit an Israeli hospital where Arab and Jewish doctors work together to care for patients of all kinds, including patients from Gaza ruled by Hamas, dedicated to Israel’s destruction. One might even run across a patient who is a relative of a Hamas leader. This is not apartheid but the opposite.
Meanwhile, let’s continue our stroll and pass into the illiberal region from which slurs at Israel are commonly hurled. In this zone, real campaigns of mass repression and murder are not hard to find. In Iraq, Sunni and Shia paramilitary groups have regularly assaulted one another. In Syria, more than 500,000 are now dead and millions wounded. Yemen tears itself asunder. Turkey carries on an active repression of its own and Syrian Kurds. Iran sends weapons and forces to continue the massacres in Syria or expand the influence of Lebanon’s Shia Hezbollah, all at Sunni, Druze, and Christians’ expense. Where in this vast region will you look for toleration? In the Palestinian state of Gaza, perhaps? Perhaps you should inquire after the heroes of the 2009 green movement of Tehran?
Israel has built its democratic house under nearly constant assault: first from Arab armies, later from terrorist bombs, now from mass rockets in the tunnels of Gaza and Southern Lebanon, and perhaps one day soon from Iranian forces. In the face of such attacks and the dread of them, Israel has persevered in building a free and prosperous state. No state under similar assault has suffered the continuous and withering criticism directed at Israel; least of all those who most loudly decry Israel’s supposed genocide and apartheid.
Nearly 70 years ago the U.N. declared that Israel had the right to exist. Israel’s neighbors in Jordan and Egypt have accepted that right. Three notable groups have not. First, Islamist fanatics, Shiite as well as Sunni, those who oppose any non-radical, non-jihadist state, and most of all a Jewish state. Second, the leaders of the Palestinians, long-tainted with terrorism as well as corrupt and tyrannical rule, who have consistently rejected any deal where Israel exists and who, not incidentally, would have no place in a prosperous Palestinian state. Third, Muslim rulers lacking popular support, who use the Palestinian issue to distract their peoples.
With which of these three groups should those with alleged liberal consciences proudly stand? Those who tolerate the false charges of Israel genocide and apartheid should take note of the company they keep, not for Israel’s sake but their own.
No one need claim that Israel is a perfect state; there are no perfect states. No one need overlook where Israeli policies have caused harm. But claims that such wrongs amount to genocide or apartheid are the new, big lies. They are meant to disguise a basic truth: that a liberal democratic country contends against those who aim to murder innocents and take away their right to govern themselves in peace. Such lies will not advance freedom, they will endanger it.
Indeed, that is the purpose of this particular big lie: to delegitimize the liberal, democratic state of Israel and to set it on the same moral plane as the terrorists and autocrats who attack it. This is the terrorists’ vicious cycle: to drive Arabs into a frenzy of desperation and hatred against Jews so that they will attack Israelis, and then to use the Israeli responses—counterattacks and increased domestic security arrangements—to attack Israel as racist. In this way they complicate Israel’s efforts to stop attacks, and they shore up their own tyranny.
The West should not play this game.
In 1985, Ronald Reagan observed regarding WWII—a war at the center of which lay genocide and apartheid—that “the one lesson of World War II, the one lesson of Nazism, is that freedom must always be stronger than totalitarianism, and that good must always be stronger than evil.”
Reagan declared that lesson because he knew that the world, even the liberal world, always runs the risk of forgetting it, and he knew the great horrors forgetting may bring.
To apply that lesson today means, at a minimum, to keep Israel stronger—morally and physically—than the intolerant and vicious thugs who target innocents. We should not side with those who seek to claim a moral equivalence between terrorist entities and democratic state victims. The moral high ground belongs to democracy, and we should never repeat the big lies that seek to delegitimize those who struggle to help their democracy survive.