Loving and loathing Israel

By Robert Sarner, Canadian Jewish News, Oct. 30, 2003

JERUSALEM - They love us, they love us not, they love us, they love us not...

The contrast couldn't be more extreme. Earlier this month, during a week in which Israel was bashed, maligned, ostracized, vilified, shunned, slammed, berated and raked over the coals by much of the international community for its building of a security fence in the West Bank and its air strike on a terrorist camp in Syria, 3,000 Christians from around the world paraded through downtown Jerusalem in support of Israel.

They marched in delegations representing the 80 countries from which they came. Dressed in their national costumes, the visitors waved banners and sang songs in solidarity with Israel. Their unfettered love for our besieged little nation was heart-warming for most Israelis, if not a bit bewildering.

These days, Israelis are much more accustomed to ill wind from abroad than warmth from strangers. We're far more used to being persona non grata on the world stage. Many people despise Israel and everything it stands for. They blame us for many of the troubles in the world. They denounce us as an American beachhead in the Middle East. They resent us being tough, assertive and flexing our muscles in self-defense. Do I exaggerate? If so, not by much.

To be an Israeli today is be hated by much of the world. We know it and feel it. We've almost come to expect it, not out of Jewish paranoia but from mounting evidence. We're almost resigned to such antipathy.

It's nothing personal of course, not aimed at me or my family or friends and neighbors, just our country. It's just a visceral contempt for Israel. Not new but more aggressive and more widespread than in the past.

Today, Israel seems to have reached a worrying new low in international opinion, even worse than during the Lebanon War in 1982. Hostility to Israel (sometimes masking a not so latent anti-Semitism) is growing. It takes many forms, often going way beyond condemning specific actions to question even the very legitimacy of Israel as a state.

As part of a sinister effort to turn it into a pariah state, our adversaries demonize Israel, portraying it as a rogue entity and the main cause of world terror.

Few countries, if any, have been the object of such loathing and hypocrisy from so many places in the world. From the knee-jerk, one-sided anti-Israeli resolutions in the United Nations to the often harsh, tendentious, ignorant and unfair coverage in the foreign media; from the economic, cultural and academic boycotts of Israel to the anti-Israeli divestiture campaigns on university campuses; from the vile anti-Israel propaganda to the threats to prosecute Israeli leaders as war criminals. The assault on Israel is relentless.

It is fueled by an unholy alliance of government ministers, diplomats, intellectuals, academics, poets, Islamic fundamentalists, neo-Nazis, anti-globalization protesters and assorted self-appointed human rights groups and non-governmental organizations.

Their double standard is obvious. Haters of Israel single it out for special treatment, holding it to different criteria than other countries. They make demands asked of nobody else, scolding it for actions no other country is ever condemned for.

They see what they want to see, ignoring that Israel is defending itself against a Palestinian terrorist war led by mass murderers hell-bent on its destruction. The slaughter of Israeli civilians and other facts don't get in the way of bashers of this country who post websites and hold up placards depicting Israel as Nazis, placing the Star of David alongside the swastika. It makes you want to vomit in revulsion.

This is not to suggest for a second that Israel is beyond reproach. There is plenty to question and criticize in this country, as there is in any democracy. And in Israel, in sharp contrast to all its Arab neighbors, the citizens, judiciary, press and parliament are often highly critical of the government and public institutions, without fear. Legitimate criticism is one thing. Virulent hostility is another.

The flipside of this poison is the unabashed love for Israel of its supporters abroad, Jewish and non-Jewish. Fortunately, there are many such friends, even if nowhere near enough. This month, the Christian pilgrims who came to Israel for the annual Jerusalem March gave much more than a badly needed boost to the city's ailing economy. By their presence here, they gave a much-appreciated morale lift to local residents. Too bad more Diaspora Jews don't do the same.

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