After being tormented by thousands of Hamas rockets, Israel has taken action to defend itself. This has shocked a number of people around the world. Rosa Brooks of the Los Angeles Times chides Israel because not enough Israelis have died in the rocket attacks to justify a military response. She does not tell us what number might attract her sympathies. Widely quoted strategic-studies expert, Anthony Cordesman, laments that Israel never seems to learn that these military responses produce no permanent results. Mr. Cordesman might observe that the permanence they produce is the permanence of Israel.
Perhaps most absurd, Israel is accused of launching a "disproportionate" response to the rockets. According to this argument, Israel should respond to one rocket launched by Hamas into a civilian area with an Israeli rocket launched into a civilian area. But as Michael Gerson of The Washington Post points out, that is not proportionality; that is simply vengeance. Proportionality, correctly understood, means that the force used must be proportional to the threat faced and the result desired. We did not respond to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor with an attack on a similar Japanese harbor.
Why does Israel face such tough sledding whenever it takes what, by most reasonable definitions, are defensive actions simply to protect its own citizens, and actions taken after long periods of provocation? What would the American reaction be if thousands of rockets were fired from Mexico into Texas? How many dead Israelis would it take before anyone noticed? How many Israelis would have to live in bomb shelters before some esteemed spokesman in the “international community” realized that the situation was inhuman? How much hate would Hamas have to publish and broadcast before journalists noted that its rhetoric rivals that of the Third Reich and is often lifted from it?
The questions are rhetorical, the issues real. Here are some reasons Israel has such a tough time:
1) There is only one Israel and there are some fifty-seven nations in the Organization of the Islamic Conference. Numbers talk. In foreign ministries around the world, in financial institutions, those numbers carry weight and financial clout. It's easier to be anti-Israel, especially when trying to remain on good terms with the oil-producing nations of the Mideast or the important Muslim nations of Asia, like Pakistan and Indonesia.
2) Television. No matter how justified an Israeli action, the pictures of Palestinian casualties are understandably moving. The fact that there are far fewer Israeli casualties seems to draw contempt, but the fact is that the Israelis simply take better care of their people, and protect them. We are constantly being told that "only" four Israelis have died in such and such a time period, as if that is a disgrace to Israel. It should be a compliment, a tribute to a democratic society whose leaders are answerable to the public, but it is not seen that way.
3) The belief that anything pro-Israel must be created by, manipulated by, or distorted by the sinister force known as the "Israel lobby," or, more bluntly, the Jewish lobby. The lobby has its tentacles everywhere, we are told. It can control news coverage. It can control the White House. It can control Congress. It can control Hollywood. It can fly without wings. What is remarkable is that there is virtually no attention paid to Arab lobbies, especially the Saudi lobby, which spends tens of millions in the United States each year to buy influence.
4) A generation of miseducation and misreporting. As we won the Cold War, we became indifferent to the influence of the political left in some of our most critical institutions,
especially the media and the universities. Anti-Israelism has become a cause of the political left, and an entire generation of Americans has grown up being fed anti-Israel rhetoric, especially in college classrooms. It is a miracle, considering this, that the American public is still so pro-Israel, but in the years ahead that can change.
5) The fact that fundamental information about Israel is not presented regularly. Israel is about the size of New Jersey. At its narrow waist, between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, it is only 40 miles wide. A jet fighter can fly across Israel in 90 seconds. Yet, most people, even in advanced countries, have only a vague notion of the basic facts about Israel, about how vulnerable it is. Even one congressman once remarked, in visiting the country, that he'd imagined it having a vast desert like our Mojave, which has 22,000 square miles. Israel's Negev Desert contains 4,700 square miles.
6) The anti-military culture that has grown up since the Vietnam War. A function of the left, there is, in many "elite" circles, a knee-jerk anti-military attitude that works against a country like Israel that needs a strong military to defend itself. Whether one agrees or disagrees with our decision to go into Iraq, the reaction to the war, which is, historically, a very small war, has sometimes bordered on the hysterical. Apply this reaction to a foreign nation like Israel, and Israel literally is fighting the war for public opinion with both hands tied behind its back.
7) The passing of the Holocaust generation. It may be crude to say it, but the image of Jews in danger of extermination just doesn't have the impact it had 30 years ago, when more people were alive who knew what the words "genocide" and “holocaust” actually meant.
8) The resilience of anti-Semitism. Always denied, anti-Semitism plays an enormous role in attitudes toward Israel. The European Union formally acknowledged that anti-Semitism is on the rise in Europe, and held an international conference to confront it. Britain's House of Commons, through the work of a special committee lead by M.P. Denis MacShane, warned that anti-Semitism is rising in the United Kingdom. In the United States, there is an undercurrent on both the left and the far right. And yet, the subject is ignored in news reporting, as if this ancient hatred did not exist.
Finally, Israel is an ally of the United States. This gains it no friends in some parts of the world. It even creates problems among self-proclaimed intellectuals of the left in the United States, who regard their own country with some contempt. To Iran, Israel is the little Satan. To some American intellectuals, who don't believe in God or Satan, it is just the Little Yankee.
Despite all these problems, Israel has thus far held its own in the public-relations war over Gaza. It has put capable spokesmen out front, and has learned from its image problems in the Lebanon war of 2006. But it still faces a struggle in a world increasingly indifferent to the fate of a small democracy, and disturbingly receptive to the bogus argument that Hamas, which is sworn to destroy Israel, is the actual victim.