Israel, Palestine, so-called proportionality and cultural relativism

It was a struggle but I think I’ve managed to add to the fairly comprehensive list of reasons to reject Northern Ireland’s assimilation into an all-island state.

Who would want to be part of a country where a majority of the population appear to hold such a distorted, counter-factual, view of Israel?

This week Tánaiste Simon Coveney reacted to the ongoing disorder on the Gaza-Israel border in his now customarily aggressive manner by summoning the Israeli Ambassador to explain his country’s actions in shooting dead, what has now transpired to be, a whole bunch of terrorists.

He earlier tweeted about having been in Gaza recently and how “shocking and tragic” the whole thing was. In his statement he claimed that Israeli actions were “disproportionate” and that Israeli forces should “show restraint”. Coveney and Varadkar’s uniquely Irish brand of populism – which involves railing against a traditional enemy a day in the hope that you can appeal to the lowest common denominator – may only last as long as the electoral cycle. What it does do however is shine a light on social attitudes in the Republic.

Statements from the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade since the start of 2018 reveal a lot. Not surprisingly, a lot of Coveney’s time seems to be taken up with by Brexit and political developments in Northern Ireland. There have been two statements on Syria, one of which was pointing out how much money they had given away. There is one statement relating to the Democratic Republic of Congo, again about aid. There is a statement condemning a terrorist attack in Libya. There are three statements on Gaza and not a single one of them mentions terrorism.

If the numbers speak for themselves then, NI excepted, Israel is Ireland’s number one foreign policy concern. There is no mention of Myanmar, South Sudan, Somalia or anywhere else where there is conflict around the world. Why? Because no-one cares.

It would be remiss not to point out that Ireland is not the only country where this is the case. There are many in the UK who become utterly hysterical about Israel yet are incapable of offering any opinion about any other conflict at all. Yet they do not represent such a high proportion of the population that the government feels the needs to abandon common sense and the established rights of nation states to accommodate them.

You could argue that, for historical reasons, the Irish back what they see as the underdog. But there’s a kind of soft bigotry in the attitudes of those who attach themselves to the Palestinian cause when it comes to interpreting events like this week’s. There’s an expectation that irrationality – which extends to bomb throwing and attempts to infiltrate Sderot while fully armed – is part of the Palestinian psyche. This is the only way one could possibly explain the Israel-bashers’ apparent inability to notice any of the reams of evidence relating to a coordinated terrorist action. In some cases they’ve failed to mention Hamas at all.

Instead, we’re apparently to focus on Israel’s ‘proportionality’. This argument is unfathomable. The presence of large numbers of armed, violent militants attempting to get to a civilian population with kidnap and murder in mind would not be tolerated by any self-respecting nation. Given that there were thousands present and the only deaths so far publicly acknowledged are of members of Hamas and Islamic Jihad it seems that proportionality, as is always the case with the Israeli military, is an attribute well catered for. Either snipers took well aimed shots at recognised threats in accordance with recognised IDF rules of engagement, or everyone there was a terrorist. And nobody is claiming the latter.

People making this argument are effectively asking for Israel to be less good at protecting itself. They’re asking the IDF to kill fewer of the terrorists that threaten its people. That’s not how it works.

Cultural relativism explains the soft bigotry about Palestinians, which leads to a reluctance to call out terrorism for what it is. But it also explains the much harder and more virulent hatred of Israel – a democracy its critics, for reasons they are unable to explain, expect not to defend itself.