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Why Is It So Hard to Defend Israel?

By Jonathan T. Machlin

In early April, militants in Gaza fired several rockets into Sderot – not a military base or weapons site – but a city completely populated by civilians. Meanwhile, on and, the top story that day was the firing of a Rutgers basketball coach. I will admit I was not aware that Rutgers basketball was more newsworthy than human rights violations and the prospect of war in the Middle East, but I guess some organizations have different priorities.

Why would the media turn a blind eye to a nation such as Israel, especially when that nation is in the middle of a crisis?  Israel has contributed more to the world in the last 65 years than many countries have in 200. What country invented cellphones, has had 10 Noble Laureates, is the only country in the Middle East that holds gay pride parades and allows Muslim women to hold elected positions? The answer to all of these questions is Israel, and it is remarkable how little people in America care about a country that has become one of the best democracies in the world.

Since declaring its independence in 1948, Israel has been attacked from every type of foe from every conceivable angle – internally, externally, rhetorically, even metaphorically. Arabic armies invaded in 1948; the Hamas terrorist organization began in the 1970s; the Oslo Peace Accords, which accomplished nothing and lead to the Second Intifada in the 1990s.

For decades, Israel has been faced with threats that have required armed intervention – wars, terrorists, riots, missile attacks, and everything in between. And yet, for some reason, Israel is somehow criticized at every turn and accused of “acts of aggression” or “expansive imperialism” when engaging in self-defense. Millions of civilians in Israel are in danger in the extremely small but densely populated areas. In the region itself, the Israelis are outnumbered by a ratio of hundreds to one. It appears mind-blowing that a nation the size of New Jersey, with fewer than 10 million people, can be perceived as some kind of aggressive imperialist.

The most recent example of unfair characterization of Israel would be Operation Cast Lead in 2008. In response to thousands of rockets being fired by militants in Gaza against civilian populations in Southern Israel, the Israeli army (IDF) launched a concentrated counter-strike into Gaza that was targeting the sites of the rocket launches. Sadly, many Gaza civilians were killed as collateral damage. In the aftermath of the operation, a report was filed that found the IDF had committed numerous human rights violations including deliberately targeting civilian populations and using Gaza civilians as human shields. Without going into the specifics of the evidence, any violations on the IDF’s part are horrible. However, it is worth noting that no investigation was made into what the Gaza militants had done to trigger the conflict in the first place.

The militants were launching rockets from sites adjacent to homes, office buildings, hospitals, mosques, even schools. The Gaza militants were aiming for maximum casualties in Israel and hoped the IDF would strike back so they could play the victim and show Israel to be an aggressor.  The Gaza militants used their own people as human shields on a regular basis to prevent military bombing against their rocket strikes. Israel was put in an impossible situation and was turned into a villain in the court of public opinion.

It is hard to understand exactly why or how a country like Israel that tries too hard to simply live in peace is under fire so often. Perhaps the simplest explanation is the religious animosity that has always existed between the Jewish people and the rest of world. Jews have been persecuted for their beliefs since before the Roman Empire. For hundreds of years they were called “Christ-killers” and persecuted as a whole for Judas Iscariot’s part in the death of Jesus Christ. Even when the power of Islam rose in the Middle East, the Jews did not exactly have a place in their new society either. For whatever reason, Jewish society has been targeted for unfair treatment of whom, and in this day and age, the nation that calls itself “The Jewish State” is also a target for the same treatment.

Then again, perhaps the reason is much more straightforward – Israel has apparently occupied territory that belonged to Arabs before the 1948 Partition Plan. For this reason, people in the Middle East and around the world are against Israel occupying another peoples’ land. Why this is a problem now and not for the thousands of imperialist states that were tolerated in the last five thousand years is odd but irrelevant as the argument is somewhat valid.

Another possibility in this situation is that the media is deliberately stirring the pot in the United States to make a good story. After all, few things have as good of a shelf life in newspapers and on television than a story that combines controversy with suffering. Sometimes stations like CNN and MSNBC bring on analysts who point the blame for the most recent problems on Israel, saying the conflict is entirely their fault, and often require a separate analyst to defend Israel – creating an immediate, and possibly viral, controversy.

It may never be fully understood why Israel has such a large target on its back, but in the end, we can only hope that a nation that prides itself on justice and the preservation of democracy for all of its citizens can prevail.