Brendan O’Neill

Israelis don’t care that we hate them. But they’d like to know why

Travels in the Millwall of the Middle East

Israelis don’t care that we hate them. But they’d like to know why
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Talking to Israelis feels a bit like talking to fans of Millwall FC. ‘No one likes us, we don’t care,’ sing Millwall fans. Israel is the undoubted Millwall of global affairs, loathed by almost every Westerner who considers himself decent and they’ve adopted a similar cri de coeur. ‘Europe doesn’t like us. Americans do not like us. We can live with this,’ says a kippah-wearing guy at the Western Wall. He sums up a sentiment I hear across this country.

If you were in Iran or North Korea, long-time chart-toppers in the international community’s gallery of rogue states, you wouldn’t bat an eyelid when a citizen expressed disgruntlement with the wicked West. But Israel? This tiny nation was for so long the West’s best bud in the Middle East; a bright democratic outpost in an otherwise autocratic desert. To hear Israelis speak ill of the West, to see them raise their eyes to the heavens at every mention of the United Nations or the European Union, feels weird.

Everywhere I go, people wonder out loud why the West, especially Europe’s chattering classes, hates them so. Israel is being treated like a ‘pariah state’, says Uri Dromi, executive director of the Jerusalem Press Club and former spokesman for the Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres governments.

‘Europe doesn’t like us,’ he says, and now I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve heard that said. Dromi has a striking theory as to why our governments are now so sniffy about his ‘shitty little country’ (remember that French diplomat in 2001?). It’s because, he says, we’ve had a hike in Muslim immigration which forces us to adopt anti-Israel postures in a bid to ‘quieten new arrivals’.

At the Northern Command of the Israel Defence Force, a commander who oversees Israel’s borders with Syria and Lebanon puffs audibly, and a little sadly, whenever the UN is mentioned. He tells me Israel has taken 800 injured Syrians over its borders over the past couple of years, treated them in its hospitals, and then sent them back to Syria with medication erased of all Hebrew branding, lest a jihadist see it and go mental. But he says all this with forlorn look that says: ‘I know you’re not going to report this. You people never do.’

A senior Israeli official agrees about our anti-Semitism. Over lunch in Tel Aviv he says that too many Westerners now hold the Jewish state to a standard they apply to no one else. ‘It’s bigotry, nothing else.’ And increasingly, it isn’t only trendy leftists with Arafat posters in their bedrooms and keffiyehs around their necks who talk up boycotts against Israel. The US Secretary of State John Kerry has warned of ‘boycotts and other kinds of things’ if Israel doesn’t engage with his new peace talks openly. He now stands accused of blackmail here in Israel, even of unwittingly aiding anti-Semitism.

No doubt those who have an issue with the Jews will put all this pariah talk down to paranoia. After all, Israel is still funded by the US to the tune of $3 billion a year, and it enjoys diplomatic relations with all western governments. Yet those outward continuities in the official western relationship with Israel disguise some huge shifts in western sentiment.

Last year, a BBC World Service global survey found that Israel was the fourth most ‘negatively viewed’ nation in the world, after Iran, Pakistan and North Korea. In only one western country — America — did a majority express favourable views of Israel, and even there it was only 51 per cent; so much for the US being in the back pocket of some creepy Israel lobby. Out of EU nations, Britain was found to have the most unfavourable view: 72 per cent of Brits surveyed felt negatively about Israel, more than in that hotbed of populist anti-Zionism, France (63 per cent), and way more than in the country in which so much of the Holocaust was carried out, Poland (44 per cent).

Israel is a rogue state for the right-on. It’s the state that it’s super hip to hate. But why? Israel-bashers will say, ‘Duh, it’s because of its crazy military antics,’ but that doesn’t add up. Israel’s militarism today is of a far smaller order than it was during the Six-Day War of 1967, and back then most Westerners, including radical leftists, supported the Zionist project.

The most interesting explanation I hear for Israel’s unpopularity among latte-sippers  comes from Richard Pater, a political analyst from Radlett who has lived in Israel for the past 15 years. (Israel has loads of Jews from boring bits of Britain who have taken the quite wise decision to act on their right to migrate to this far warmer, more exotic part of the world.) ‘The lesson many in the West took from the Holocaust is that nationalism is bad; the message Jews took from it is that nationalism is necessary.’

This cuts to the heart of today’s fashionable disdain for little Israel. What many Westerners seem to find most nauseating is that Israel is cocky, confident and committed to preserving its national sovereign rights against all-comers. In short, it’s a lot like we used to be before relativism and anti-modernism. I think that Israel reminds us of our older selves, our pre-EU, pre-green days, when we, too, believed in borders, sovereignty, progress, growth.

Now that it’s de rigueur in the right-thinking sections of western society to be post--nationalist and multicultural, to be fashionably uncertain about one’s national identity, the sight of a border-fortifying state offends and outrages us. In the words of George Gilder, author of The Israel Test, Israel is now hated more for its virtues than for its political or militaristic vices. It’s hated for remaining devoted to ‘freedom and capitalism’ when we’re all supposed to be snooty about such things.

If Israel is unofficially being made into a pariah state, it isn’t because of its foreignness, or even necessarily its Jewishness, but rather because it is too western for our liking. We loathe it because we loathe ourselves.