Monday, June 6, 2011

Israel Is No Different Than Syria

Israel likes to tout itself as the "plucky little democracy" in the Middle East, and as an island of European-style democracy besieged by a sea of dictatorships and dark, Arabic hordes. Besides the (fading) appeal to the oppressions Jews suffered in Europe, particular the horrors of the Holocaust, it is this "light of nations" image - and the racist stereotypes of the Arab societies and peoples - that has been a key component of its PR in the west. For the political elites, of course, it is more real politick than that - Israel is their watchdog to keep the unruly Arabs who happen by unlucky accident to control the lion's share of the world's oil supply. These tropes have served Israel well since its founding in 1948.

However, you have to wonder how long this image can stick when it is so at variance with the reality of Israel's actual record. This weekend's murder of unarmed protesters by Israeli soldiers in the illegally occupied Golan Heights region of Syria reminds us once again that Israel, in fact, behaves no differently than the dictatorships that surround it - or used to before Egyptians did theirs in. The usual answer given to such accusations is that Israel only deals harshly with its enemies but practices an open form of democracy and vibrant civil debate amongst its multi-cultural citizenry. Well, this is as true of Israel as it was of the early United States of America - i.e. not at all. Because it disappears the many millions of people who are denied civil rights and who faced armed, murderous repression by the Israeli state, which exercises control over the most fundamental aspects of their lives - from control of tax revenues to control of ground water, airspace and international borders.

We shouldn't forget that it was less than two years ago that Israel - without provocation and having broken the terms of a peace treaty with Hamas several times - invaded Gaza and murdered over 1,000 civilians, including hundreds of children. Since then, another 200 Palestinians have been killed with dozens killed in the last month during the demonstrations to mark the Nakba ("catastrophe") and Naksa ("setback") that marked the founding of the state of Israel from the Palestinian point of view. In other words, Israel has killed as many protesters as the Syria security forces. Just because Israel goes one step further than the Syrian dictatorship and refuses to recognize the civil rights of a majority of the human beings over whom it rules - and kills - hardly makes Israel a better regime. Nor is the fact that Israel prevents the majority of the indigenous population from returning to their homeland as a way to avoid the overwhelming demographic challenge of denying democratic rights not only to a small majority - as is the case now - but to a massive an insurmountable one.

And the fact that Israel has such a large body of domestic support amongst the Jewish population for its actions provides no more of an exoneration than the denial of citizenship rights to the Palestinians makes its actions democratic. The reality is that Israel only exists because of the largesse of American dollars - to the tune of $3 million per day - and American high tech weapons. And just as in the Arab dictatorships where the regimes provide privileges to a section of the population, usually from the ruler's tribe, region or religious minority, in order to create a loyal base in the population, Israel does the same with the local Jewish population - it just so happens that American government money allows the base to be larger than in the relatively poorer Arab countries. The weight of history also brings support to the regime - in Egypt, the regime maintained for a long time the patina of support that carried over from the immense popularity of Gamal Nasser, the anti-imperialist and populist president until his death in 1970. With Israel the historic weight of the Holocaust and the previous oppression of the Jews in Europe provides a further base of support to the actions of the Israeli state.

These elements all combine to provide a cover to some of the most brutal crimes against democracy and human rights in the world today - all with the enthusiastic support of the Canadian government. And they make it clear that the struggle against this oppression of a multi-pronged one. The revolutions in the Arab world - and hopefully Assad will be the next dictator to fall - are a key element in undermining Israel legitimacy and support base. Along with those mighty events is the continued resistance of the Palestinians themselves both within the region and internationally along with their allies to expose Israel as an apartheid type state. And, lastly, to destroy western state and corporate support for Israel, which provides the domestic foundation for Israel's colonialist and *theocratic policies at home.

Israel fires on 'Naksa' protesters - Middle East - Al Jazeera English

*I deliberately use "theocratic" and not "ethnocratic" for a number of reasons. First, Jewishness or Judaism is both a religion and a set of cultural practices/shared history but this doesn't coincide with an ethnicity in the same way as, say, Han Chinese does (and this is still problematic), nor is it, like say, American or Canadian, the denotion of a civil conception of citizenship. And, as the original "liberatory" claims of Zionism dissipate, the state is more and more reliant upon religious justifications to support its claims over the land and the people.
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