Something is rotten in the state of Denmark. – William Shakespeare, Hamlet, Act 1, Scene 4,
Israel should insist that we discriminate [against it], that we apply double standards [to it], this is because you are one of us. – Jesper Vahr, Danish ambassador to Israel, at The Jerusalem Post Diplomatic Conference on December 12
The difference between stupidity and genius is that genius has its limits. – Albert Einstein
Last Thursday, the Jerusalem Post Diplomatic Conference took place in the capital with an impressive lineup of prominent public figures – including the present and the previous presidents and the US ambassador.
The real fireworks, however, took place in the panel discussion dealing with relations between the EU and Israel.
Ignorant buffoon or disingenuous bigot?
The furor was set off by an inane remark by Denmark’s ambassador, Jesper Vahr, who in the space of a few short minutes managed to bring discredit to himself, his country and its diplomatic service, and to reveal himself to be either an ignorant buffoon or a disingenuous bigot.
I imagine some unkinder souls might hold that the two (buffoon and bigot) are not necessarily mutually exclusive.
In response to allegations that Israel was being treated unfairly by the EU, Vahr eagerly rushed to confirm them, and proffered a startling “rationale” (for want of a better word) for why Israel should warmly endorse this openly confessed European bias.
He declared: “There is the allegation that Europe is applying double standards, discriminating. Let make this point. I think Israel should insist that we discriminate [against] you; that we apply double standards.”
According to Vahr, Israel should embrace this undenied bias “because you are one of us.”
Referring to events in the other Mideast countries and the values they reflect, the Nordic envoy informed us that “those are not the standards that you are being judged by. It is not the standards that Israel would want to be judged by. So I think you have the right to insist that we apply double standards – put you on the same standard in the European context.”
Soft bigotry of low expectations
In response to this barefaced display of European arrogance and blatant bigotry of low expectations, the discussion moderator, The Jerusalem Post’s Herb Keinon, asked, with perhaps more courtesy than was called for: “But isn’t it kind of patronizing to Palestinians to say we hold Israel to a higher standard than we hold you?” Vahr’s less-than-convincing reply was that Israel was the much stronger party in the conflict with the Palestinians and hence it was only natural that Europe engage “our long standing partner [Israel] in a different fashion than we engage others.”
This position is manifestly absurd – on a number of levels.
First, there seems no way to interpret it other than condoning weakness as a license – or at least, an excuse – for moral depravity, or at least moral inferiority, regardless of the merits of the case of the stronger party, or the lack thereof of the weaker party.
In the case of Israel, this attitude is particularly infuriating and hypocritical.
For over the last two decades, Israel has made gut-wrenching concessions to the Palestinians. Invariably, the justification for these concessions has been presented as Israel’s overwhelming strength, which could be brought to bear, should those concessions be exploited against it by the Palestinians. Yet, when those concessions have been exploited, and Israel has been compelled to use its strength to redress the situation, it has been excoriated for the use of “disproportionate force” – despite the fact that it was precisely that very preponderance (i.e. “disproportionality”) of force that was invoked as the reason for making the concessions in the first place.
Perversely, instead of Israel’s strength being a restraint against Palestinians excesses, it is presented as the justification for tolerating those excesses.
But the self-righteous hypocrisy goes even deeper.
Instead of what one might have expected, i.e. that an allegedly like-minded Europe would rally round Israel, as one of its own, besieged by a sea of animosity, Europe is mobilizing to impose the will of Israel’s tyrannical, Judeophobic foes on it – despite the fact that their societies reflect the diametric negation of values the EU purports to cherish.
Rather than trying to propagate the values it claims to represent, Europe is blatantly threatening to advance their negation. Instead of supporting those who uphold common values, Europe is threatening to beleaguer those who do.
Impudence and arrogance
But beyond the hypocrisy, European censure of Israel radiates a misplaced impudence and arrogance.
As Nathan Gelbart, head of Keren Hayesod Germany, who also participated in the discussion, remarked: It is easy for us Europeans to give Israel advice, having neighbors like Belgium, Luxembourg and San Merino… or even Denmark.
As painfully obvious as this might seem, its significance is lost on many. After all, for Israel, it is not only a matter of being judged by a divergent set of values, not applied to its adversarial neighbors. It is also a matter of being subjected to the divergent values of those adversaries.
But fairness and decency require Israel’s responses not only be judged by the values expected of it, but in view of the values of its adversaries, to which it is subjected and with which it has to contend to ensure its security and survival.
Policies that may well be appropriate/effective in contending with adversaries who share “European values” may well be hopelessly – even, perilously – inappropriate/ ineffective in contending with adversaries who do not.
In this regard, Western democracies have allowed themselves far more moral latitude than they apparently deem appropriate for the Jewish state – even when they have been called upon to contend with threats far more remote and far less menacing to their survival/ security than Israel is facing. But more on that in a moment.
Not a double, but a singular, Israel-only, standard
Ambassador Vahr’s remarks elicited a robust response from my colleague, the Post’s Caroline Glick.
With an understandable burst of righteous rage, she resoundingly rebutted the ill-conceived concoction of allegations-cum-clarifications-cum-apologetics the hapless Danish envoy offered as the European position on the conflict.
But perhaps the most telling point she made was that Israel was not being judged by double standards, but by a singular standard that no other nation on the planet is expected to live up to.
The point is not that Israel is being judged by criteria different to those applied to the gory tyrannies that abound in the region, it is that Israel is being judged by standards different to those that Western democracies, and the EU, judge themselves.
No other nation on earth is called on to show such understanding for its sworn enemies, to display such largesse toward the demands of those openly dedicated to its destruction, to exercise such restraint against those overtly committed to its demise, to expose it children to such risk to satisfy the will of foes who, time after time, have proven they cannot be trusted…
Holding Israel to such standards is not holding it to double standards, but, as Glick correctly points out, to a singular – Jews-only – standard.
Stone throwing residents of glass houses?
After all, Israel has been harshly condemned for inflicting undue civilian casualties, the use of “disproportionate force,” the quarantine of Gaza, the interception of vessels such as the Mavi Marmara.
However, even setting aside for the massive destruction inflicted on the civilian populations of the Axis powers by the Allies in WWII, there seems little room for the West to sanctimoniously pontificate to Israel.
Indeed, in recent decades, the West, including nations comprising NATO, has responded militarily to situations in the Balkans, Afghanistan, and Iraq far more harshly than Israel has, even when the threat to its own domestic populations has been far less tangible than that menacing Israeli civilians.
Yet, although the forces of Western democracies have, in far-flung theaters, thousands of kilometers, from their homelands, inflicted vast numbers of civilian casualties, engaged in massively disproportional responses, imposed far more punishing embargoes, conducted far more “non-compliant boardings” of vessels in international waters, they have never been subject to the same degree of censure – and certainly not been threatened with sanctions – as Israel has.
It seems it is only the Jews who are called upon to adhere to standards and impose constraints on their freedom to defend themselves that are far more stringent than those observed, not by the brutal regimes of the Mideast, but by the liberal “European-compliant” regimes of the West.
NATO in the Balkans
During early 1999, in the Balkans, in just under 80 days of intensive, high-altitude – some would say, indiscriminate, but certainly imprecise – bombing by NATO forces, including the use of cluster bombs, inflicted hundreds of civilian Serbian casualties. Serbian estimates are 2,500 dead. NATO bombs hit hospitals, old-age homes, market places, schools, passenger trains on bridges, buses cut in half while crossing ravines, and convoys of fleeing refugees – all this in a military campaign during which not one single civilian in a single NATO nation was ever threatened by Serbian action.
When questioned on the issue of civilian casualties, then-NATO spokesman Jamie Shea stated: “There is always a cost to defeat an evil. It never comes free, unfortunately. But the cost of failure to defeat a great evil is far higher.” Sounding like a carbon copy of IDF spokespeople explaining Israeli action in Gaza, he insisted that NATO planes bombed only “legitimate designated military targets”; and if civilians died it was because NATO had been forced into military action.
Adamant that “we try to do our utmost to ensure that if there are civilians around, we do not attack,” Shea, emphasized that “NATO does not target civilians… let’s be perfectly clear about that.”
In contrast to the thousands of civilians killed or wounded, the hundreds of thousands of civilians displaced and the tens of thousands civilian homes destroyed, there were fewer than 700 deaths reported among Serbian military personal. No NATO combat casualties were reported.
‘…that’s more children than died in Hiroshima’
In Afghanistan, where military action was undertaken in 2001, in response to a single terrorist attack, on a single NATO member, precise estimates of civilian deaths are difficult to come by. Most assessments, however, put civilian deaths at more than 20,000.
To give a sense of comparative “proportionality” of responses, relative to Israel’s population size, the number of fatalities incurred by the US in the 9/11 attacks would be barely equivalent to fatalities Israel incurred in two of the almost 200 suicide attacks it suffered in the bloody days of the 2000-2005 second intifada.
In Iraq, the number of recorded civilian deaths since the 2003-invasion due to direct war-related violence is approaching 150,000, in a military campaign which was launched without any overt aggression being directed against the US or its citizens.
But prior to the 2003 armed strike against Saddam Hussein, a crippling US-led UN embargo was enforced against Iraq – far more destructive than the quarantine placed on the terrorist enclave of Gaza. To gauge the devastating effect this had on Iraqi civilians, consider the following chilling extract from a Leslie Stahl interview on 60 Minutes (May 12, 1996) with Madeleine Albright, then-US ambassador to the UN, later secretary of state in the Clinton administration, on the effect the sanctions were having on the Iraqi population: Stahl: “We have heard that a half-million children have died. I mean, that’s more children than died in Hiroshima…. Is the price worth it?” Albright: “I think this is a very hard choice, but… we think the price is worth it.”
Now imagine if an Israeli politician had displayed such callousness…
Breaking news – Hamas off terror list
As I was composing this column, news came in that the General Court of the European Union in Luxembourg had accepted a petition by Hamas to have itself removed from the EU’s list of terrorist organizations.
In light of this, how lame the words of Italian ambassador to Israel, Francesco Maria Talo, seem, when toward the end of the Jerusalem Post Diplomatic Conference debate, he appealed: “Please don’t say we are helping terrorists. We want to avoid… help[ing] terrorists, there are rules within our countries to avoid this so we are sticking to international law.”