Hugo Rifkind

Israel is drifting away from the West – but condemnation won’t help

When was it, do you think, that Israel stopped being regarded as fundamentally a bit like Spain?

12 July 2014

9:00 AM

12 July 2014

9:00 AM

Glaring, the ennui over Israel. The way we drag our eyes to the page, and sigh, and want to read something else. Sympathy is hard. Even anger is hard. It’s just… bleurgh.

Israel drifting away. Never mind whose fault it is; that’s a whole other point. But it’s happening. It’s off. No longer does it exist in the popular imagination as our sort of place. Once, I suppose, foes and friends alike regarded it as a North Atlantic nation, but elsewhere. Then a western European one, then, briefly, a southern European one. When was it, do you think, that Israel stopped being regarded as fundamentally a bit like Spain? Early 1990s? Then they shot Yitzhak Rabin, and Oslo didn’t happen, and it set off, perhaps via a sort of listless Greek interim, towards the Orientalish bafflingness of somewhere like Turkey.

Query the timescale, by all means. Maybe I was just slow to notice. The first time Israel gave me a true pang of intellectual foreignness was only about five years ago, and it had nothing to do with Palestinians at all. We’re on tricky ground judging Israel on how it treats Palestinians, I always think, because we don’t have Palestinians, and it’s a wildly moot point how we’d treat them if we did. For me, though, it came in a gilded Tel Aviv restaurant, and out of a conversation with a young Israeli politician. He was polished and quite big-haired, resplendent in a shiny tie, and part of that newish Knesset breed for whom politics doesn’t start and end with the IDF.

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I don’t name him here, because I don’t remember his name, but we were discussing the problem of Israel’s ultra-orthodox. They’re poor, there are lots of them, they don’t do military service, and they aren’t terribly fond of anybody else. Dirty, said my interlocutor, or words to that effect. Parasites, maniacs, lunatics, leeches, scum. And I was quite taken aback. No ambitious western politician, I thought, would talk like that about anybody. Doubtless some would think it, but ours is at the very least a world in which such things would never be said. This was another world altogether.

I make no moral case here. I make no comparison between Israeli actions, Palestinian actions, Egyptian actions, Iranian actions, Russian actions, or the actions of anybody else. If I did, obviously, Israel would come out well. It’s definitely a democracy, after all, and while the rule of law might not always quite hold, it’s definitely there, in every conversation, demanding that it damn well ought to. Like I said, from the comfort of over here we can’t possibly know how we’d cope with rockets, kidnappings and neighbours preaching annihilation. Pretty badly, I suspect.

The point is, we don’t cope and they do. And you can’t be at war for more than half a century and not be shaped by it. You can’t be harried, critiqued, loathed, disowned, fêted by madmen, disowned again, censured, boycotted, indulged, slammed, cajoled and all the rest without it having an effect. So when the voices of the liberal West — which Israel cares about, whatever it says, because Israel remains at heart a liberal nation — calls this a country of butchers, murders and baby-killers, what do you think it does? Does it make Israelis desirous of avoiding such condemnation in the future? Or does it leave them slightly thinking that if they are to be equated with the true monsters of the world whatever they do, they might as well deserve it? Ask yourself, what would it do to you?

I do not much like what Israel has become, and I like less what it often looks like becoming. Or, if the comparisons are now obligatory, and I fear they are, then let us just say that I like it far more than Syria, China, Zimbabwe and plenty of other countries, but less than I do north London. In any sane analysis, nonetheless, it’s still a place far more like the latter, and all the more remarkable for that. Long may we remember it. And long may they remember it, too.

Escape kit

If you want a laugh, and I suspect you do, take a look at the Team Scotland parade uniform for the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games. It’s awful. A kilt that looks like a picnic blanket (note to English: not all kilts look like picnic blankets) and a lurid blue shirt that looks like a headache waiting to happen. It’s an astonishing colour, at once mottled and shiny, like an old Magic Eye drawing. If you stare at it for long enough, and allow your eyes to go funny, you can totally make out exactly why you don’t live in Glasgow.

Scotland being Scotland, and this being now, all of this stuff matters hugely. Poor Salmond must be furious. I mean, he’s not going to go and pose for a group photo with that lot, is he? It would be a disaster. He’d look like a slug atop a cupcake. Although, in fairness, the other side can’t do much with this either. You look at these poor athletes trussed up like fools, and you don’t exactly think ‘Better Together’. More ‘Better In The Altogether’.

Hugo Rifkind is a writer for the Times.

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Show comments
  • Bonkim

    Israel is a middle-Eastern country. Their culture is mainly Mid-East regardless of Western veneer gained over millennia of wandering. Little wonder they behave same as the Arabs surrounding them.

    • vildechaye

      Except that they don’t. But don’t let that wee little fact get in the way of your delusions.

  • Shazza

    Israel – a shining jewel of civilisation and achievement, an oasis of enlightenment isolated and surrounded by countries whose ideology ensures barbarity, ignorance, intolerance and relentless hatred for any people who do not wish to join them in the Dark Ages.
    The success of the Jews and Israel only fuels their hatred as it exposes their own failures, inadequacies and highlights just how inferior their backward ‘culture’ really is. No wonder they are angry. It is just taking jealousy to new heights.

    • Jackthesmilingblack

      Experimenting with irony, Shazza?

      • thomasaikenhead

        Jack,

        Brilliant riposte, you certainly skewered Shazza!

      • Shazza

        Nope.
        The irony will be when these same 7th century warriors turn on the dhimmis who support them so enthusiastically now.
        Israel is the canary in the mine.
        Little warnings that the loony, Leftie dhimmis should bear in mind –
        Minaret Hamlets
        Trojan Horse Plot in schools
        Halal meat in schools, hospitals, restaurants etc.
        Acceptance of polygamy
        Segregation (apartheid) in schools, universities, no-go areas for non moslems
        Etc. etc. – all little bits of creeping islamification that you lot ignore, until it will be too late.
        You were warned.

  • john

    The fact that Israelis stole their land and continue to do it everyday is not a factor.

    • sarah_13

      Why do you repeat this untruth?

      The league of nations created the british mandate for palestine as a homeland for the jewish people because of their long connection to the area.

      This area encompassed the whole of israel, west bank, gaza and the whole or jordan.

      The british created jordan out of the mandate. A hitherto non existent state.

      The british did not fulfil its obligations under the mandate and the UN assembly, a non binding body, partitioned israel better reflecting the demographics of density of jews and arabs. (the same happened where french mandate for syria created lebanon and syria because of the density of christians in lebanon.

      The partition though not legally binding was accepted by the jewish leadership reluctantly but not by the arabs. No agreement, no treaty.

      Jordan and other arabs attacked the jews in 1949 and occupied the west bank (egypt gaza) until they were forced back in 1967 when an armistice accepted. The jews controlled the west bank and gaza, land that was still part of the mandate and neither jordanian nor arab.

      As a show of good faith in 2005 israel removed every jew from gaza in 2005 and security, because israel does not want this land or need violent attacks. Hamas intimidated its way to election victory then duly murdered the opposition and hasn’t had an election since. It has spent its money on rockets instead of building a state. It sends rockets into israel indiscriminately. 80 were sent on one day over there last few days. They continue to attempt to kill and murder civilians on a daily basis. Thousands of rockets have been sent to israel and tunnels have been built to send rockets in through egypt. The egyptians have blocked entry to gaza entirely whereas the israelis let food and aid in.

      (The kurds have build a successful state in less time than it is taken hamas to destroy gaza with less money and greater grievance.)

      On west bank israel awaits a partner with whom it can make a treaty which guarantees security of its people and the safety of jews who live in the region, to guarantee them the same rights enjoyed by jews, arabs, druze and christians in israel. The best chance for peace was squandered by arafat, instead of creating a state for his people, which he was urged to do by the arab states, he preferred to strut around and accumulate £1Billion in his bank account but achieve nothing. Abbas similarly has created no free standing economy yet is a multi millionaire. £2Billion from the EU is unaccounted for as at latest audit.

      Israel demand of their democratically elected government , that it protect them. When a real partner for peace exists a real internationally binding treaty will be made, but until israel is assured that bombs will not reign down from both gaza and the west bank then no progress can be made.

      No one stole land. But Arafat and Hamas have stolen years.

      • john

        Nice – one sided – summary but It’s tough to get past you’re opening piece of nonsense:
        “The
        league of nations created the british mandate for palestine as a homeland for
        the jewish people because of their long connection to the area”. Balfour had no right or authority to create any homeland for anybody.
        The tradititional view of the Mandate is that the Brits constantly stopped Jews from immigarting to Palestine.

        • sarah_13

          It is not one-sided they are the facts .

          The british of course trained the jordanians, who attacked israel in 1949 and occupied the west bank, and created a hitherto none existent state out of a large part of area designated for the jews as part of the mandate giving it to the arabs and calling it jordan.

          The league of nations created all the mandates including french mandates for syria, they were obligations to enable them to statehood after the ottoman empire was on the losing side following the first world war.

          Your argument is a different one and requires the unpicking of all the mandates created by everyone and the league of nations including jordan, lebanon etc and present international treaties etc. I’d be interested to know if you have a better idea however that is not what this discussion is about.

          The jews neither need you nor Balfour to tell them where they were entitled to live but as those were the rules given and used today to justify everything else then they should at least be applied fairly. Neither do the arabs of the area need platitudes from people who have no idea nor care as to how the terrorist organisation destroying gaza has abused them and their human rights.

          • guest14

            The British decision to create a Jewish homeland (in whatever form they felt appropriate) was made before the League of Nations existed. The ‘Mandate’ being a legal device that allowed for subsequent British rule over conquered land.

            The three other countries that approved Britain’s Palestine Mandate in 1920 were France, Italy and Japan – none of whom would seem to have had any particular concern for Jews or a Jewish homeland.

          • sarah_13

            Indeed in San Remo which is the foundation for all the mandates. However your second sentence is wrong it enabled those states with no history of democracy to be “steered to statehood” , to act as “trustees” and once their obligations met to leave. Difference is Britian left prior to meeting her obligations. It wasn’t just three countries it was all at San Remo, League of Nations.

          • sarah_13

            Indeed in San Remo which is the foundation for all the mandates. However your second sentence is wrong it enabled those states with no history of democracy to be “steered to statehood” , to act as “trustees” and once their obligations met to leave. Difference is Britian left prior to meeting her obligations. It wasn’t just three countries it was all at San Remo, League of Nations.

          • guest14

            All countries at San Remo being the three mentioned plus Great Britain.

            This link will enlighten you as to the principles behind the ‘Mandate’ concept, as outlined by Lord Balfour (who also had a major role in the creation of the League) – http://unispal.un.org/UNISPAL.NSF/0/B08168048E277B5A052565F70058CEF3

          • sarah_13

            Sir the League of Nations approved the San remo conference subsequently, particularly in relation to so called Palestine.

          • guest14

            The link I provided you with explains the background to the 1922 approval process (of the 1920 Supreme Council/Court mandate allocation). You will see that Lord Balfour makes it entirely clear that the Mandate is not a creation of the League, but was instead a restriction imposed upon itself by a conqueror (ie Great Britain in this case).

          • thomasaikenhead

            sarah_13,

            Ever heard of Orde Wingate and his activities in Palestine?

            By all means cite historical references but do take the trouble to actually learn the history first!

            As for citing ‘The Jews…’, you will get yourself into trouble with the ADL which campaigns against stereotypes!

    • MissDemeanor

      here come the slogans from the useful idiot gallery

      • john

        So how do you explain (1) 400+ Israeli developments in the West Bank (2) disappearance of several hundred Arab villages from territory controlled by Israel (3) constant erosion of Arab property ownership in East Jerusalem?

        • Rabbi Burns

          1) International law (San Remo)
          2) Arab failure to win their attempted war of extermination against the Jews
          3) Legal restoration of property stolen from expelled Jews during the illegal Jordanian occupation 1948-67.

          Two questions for you:
          1) How do you explain the existence of over 1 million Arabs with Israeli passports and the disappearance of almost 1 million Jews from Arab countries, minus their assets including compensation for their stolen property?
          2) What should happen to the Arab settlers who were moved into Judea and Samaria during Jordanian non-sovereign control? Should they be treated in the same way as Jewish settlers?

    • Zionist lackey

      Israel did not steal anything they, reclaimed what was theirs for centuries; and then only because of the way they were treated in the Diaspora for further centuries; until a breaking point was reached in the Holocaust.

      • john

        Odd land ownership theory! Some entity “God” awards you the land 3000 years ago and you remember this 2900 years later and demand it back.

        • LouAdams

          Israelis have nothing to be ashamed of, they bought land from it’s owners in Egypt and Constantinople at ridiculously inflated prices and turned a barren mosquito infested land into a prosperous thriving oasis. Jews were the majority in Jerusalem and had large populations in Hebron and Etzion before the murderous ethnic cleansings.

  • Picquet

    North London? You must be kidding.

  • sarah_13

    I think you are wrong.

    “The IDF did more to safeguard the rights of civilians in a combat zone than any other army in the history of warfare.” Col. Richard Kemp referring to operation cast lead to the UN.

    Israel, unlike commentators and journalists, are not concerned about what others think because when push comes to shove they have a real problem to deal with on a daily basis. They know they are on their own. This doesn’t turn them into psychopaths or child killers, they remain the same people guided by the rule of law, humanity and compassion and impervious to the flattery or criticism of others. So unless you are actually prepared to talk about israel in its full with facts your view is simply a guess on your part, and an erroneous and rather disgraceful guess at that.

    • MissDemeanor

      very very well said

    • Hugo Rifkind

      I don’t disagree with you and am thus unclear on what basis you disagree with me.

      • sarah_13

        “Or does it leave them slightly thinking that if they are to be equated with the true monsters of the world whatever they do, they might as well deserve it? Ask yourself, what would it do to you? I do not much like what Israel has become, and I like less what it often looks like becoming. Or, if the comparisons are now obligatory, and I fear they are, then let us just say that I like it far more than Syria, China, Zimbabwe and plenty of other countries, but less than I do north London.”

        Apologies if I wasn’t clear. My point is that by asking the above questions you give credence to the idea that israelis have become in some way monsters. They have not in fact become monsters at all. As Mr Kemp says, in war they are less like monsters than any other nation. By using the conclusions others use as their starting premise, erroneously, you too promote the idea that israel has in some way reached a point beyond the pale which gives their position credence.

        I understand the desire to appease the erroneous views held by so many journalists. I assume that is why the beginning of your article avoids the salient facts that would show the fallacy of their erroneous starting “conclusions”, but by doing so you give credence to them.

        • Hugo Rifkind

          Well, that’s your interpretation. I thought I was quite clearly saying they weren’t monsters at all.

          • sarah_13

            Fair enough, perhaps my interpretation is too harsh. I accept their settlement policy is problematic and the extreme religious zealots are also difficult to ignore but israelis don’t like those things either so I just wonder if it is wise to appear to start off agreeing with her harshest critics i.e. that she has in some way become worse than any other nation. Thanks for the response.

          • Hugo Rifkind

            I think we can and should say what we believe to be true. I wouldn’t modify my view on any other subject for fear that the wrong people would agree with me, and I’d be ashamed as a journalist to treat this subject any differently.

          • sarah_13

            Fair enough.

          • sarah_13

            Fair enough, perhaps my interpretation is too harsh. I accept their settlement policy is problematic and the extreme religious zealots are also difficult to ignore but israelis don’t like those things either so I just wonder if it is wise to appear to start off agreeing with her harshest critics i.e. that she has in some way become worse than any other nation. Thanks for the response.

    • Hegelguy

      Who committed the great wrong against the Jews: Was it Arabs or Germans? Who therefore should have paid for the crime by losing territory for a Jewish state: Arabs or Germans?

      • LouAdams

        they both have centuries of mistreating Jews

  • Damaris Tighe

    The reason the ultra-orthodox are so resented by other Israelis is that every other Israeli family has sons & daughters serving in the army, who may be killed or maimed. Every Israeli knows a family which has lost a son or daughter. When they see a large group which doesn’t share this suffering, of course they’re angry & resentful.

  • Ipsmick

    Israel is a European colony doing what European colonies always do to the populations of those countries they annex. I wouldn’t regard its politicians – people who institute apartheid and target civilians – as in any way civilised.

    • Rabbi Burns

      The Land of Israel is the homeland of the Jews.

      The only colonialists are the Arabs. If they behave themselves they can stay, if not patience will run out and they will have to go back to their homeland.

    • LouAdams

      wow are you still spouting this overused and embarrassingly inaccurate propaganda. The only country in the middle east that does not target civilians and is not apartheid is Israel. Just ask the Christians in Syria or Egypt, you can’t ask the Jews because they have all been ethnically cleansed

  • Jackthesmilingblack

    Israel gets away with so much because it still milks the Jewish Holocaust for all the sympathy it can get.

    • Jacky Treehorn

      What do they get away with? defending themselves? wanting to live in peace? Israel is not going away, if it gives up any land to the arabs it will be used to launch rocket attacks into Israel. You just can’t trust the arab world they have proved this time and again. Arabs don’t want peace they just want to kill Israelis because their backward worship of an invisible sky god tells them to. Arabs see israel, clean modern free and think it should be theirs, forgetting the reason it is this way is because it’s not a backward 7th century islamic stink hole.

      • Jackthesmilingblack

        Israel holds the record for ignoring United Nations Security Council resolutions.

        • Jacky Treehorn

          Yeah that tells you more about the UN than anything else.

  • thomasaikenhead

    “Like I said, from the comfort of over here we can’t possibly know how we’d cope with rockets, kidnappings and neighbours preaching annihilation. ”

    Are you totally unaware of events since 1968 until the Good Friday Agreement?

    Did the events in the terror campaigns conducted by the Provisional IRA and splinter groups completely pass you by, Hugo Rifkind?

    • Rabbi Burns

      Hardly comparable.

  • Cincinnatus

    I do not much like what Israel has become, and I like less what it often looks like becoming.

    Alas, except for a foul mouthed junior politician Mr. Rifkind cites no other evidence of “what Israel has become”.

    When was it, do you think, that Israel stopped being regarded as fundamentally a bit like Spain?

    Did anyone ever consider Israel to be a bit like Spain?

  • BoiledCabbage

    The problem is that the UN involvement has stalemated the war with the Arabs, dragging out a conflict for 40+ years.

    Show one European border that was not soaked in blood at some point in history, mostly because of a difference in belief. Israel would be no different, but the war is not allowed to finish.

    The UN, rather than continuing the narrative of the ‘refugee’ camps, should enable the Palestinians to be defeated. Maybe then they can move forward – for example – when the Israelis left Gaza they left greenhouses which were smashed by Hamas so that Gaza would continue to be UN dependant….and the sad little circus would continue.

    • Rabbi Burns

      Absolutely. The Arabs must be utterly defeated like the Germans were before they consider living in peace with the Jews. Well over 1 million Arabs with Israeli passports shows that Jews can live with Arabs as neighbours. Arabs have to change their attitude or have it changed for them like we did with the Germans.

  • TNT

    Gosh. What poor writing.

  • Roger Hudson

    The BBC have just been accused by Palestinian supporters in London of reporting the Gaza situation ‘without context’, it seems BBC News is just reporting the facts.
    I wish that they would always stick to the facts without dragging in ‘context’, always the seed of bias.

  • Catherine Waterman

    Quote from Hugo: “I don’t name him here, because I don’t remember his name, but we were discussing the problem of Israel’s ultra-orthodox. They’re poor, there are lots of them, they don’t do military service, and they aren’t terribly fond of anybody else. Dirty, said my interlocutor, or words to that effect. Parasites, maniacs, lunatics, leeches, scum. And I was quite taken aback. No ambitious western politician, I thought, would talk like that about anybody. Doubtless some would think it, but ours is at the very least a world in which such things would never be said. This was another world altogether.”

    From my own understanding, Orthodox Jews are against military action because they believe that the ‘promised land’ was never meant to be obtained through the evils of warfare. Instead, they continue to await the coming of the Messiah who will lead all righteous Jews to their long awaited homeland.

    Pacifism upsets many folk – I mean, look what happened to Gandhi. The fear of pacifism probably explains the shocking response you got from the unnamed Israeli politician.

  • Rabbi Burns

    You seem embarrassed by the efforts of your fellow Jews to defend themselves. Maybe you ought to consider the social circles you move in and whether it is really worth trying to impress them.

  • Augustus

    “So when the voices of the liberal West — which Israel cares about, whatever it says, because Israel remains at heart a liberal nation — calls this a country of butchers, murders and baby-killers, what do you think it does?”

    It signals the very real prospect of Europe, with Britain in the forefront, sliding into a new Dark Age, by strengthening the enemies of Israel’s enemies.

  • Terry Field

    The West, newly poor, has adopted gutlessness as an alternative to admitting it can not at present afford to smash its enemies.
    So it gets all value-driven, sniffy, isolated and morally superior to ensure it does nothing at all to guarantee the continuation of is preferences, on which Israel was founded..
    And it is in the process of selecting two world leaders.
    Hollande will be joined by …………..Milliband!!!!!!!

  • Guest

    israel was created to perpetuate war and genocide

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