Israel On Its 70th Birthday
Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.
As Israel proudly celebrates its 70th birthday with rightful exuberance and pride, there are a number of events which have occurred which suggest that perhaps Israel might be losing much of its world-wide support as a result of its recent activity on Gaza border and on the West Bank. From a security perspective regionally as well as globally there are many serious military issues which concern the Netanyahu Government. The potential nuclear threat from Iran as well as the growing Iranian-Syrian arsenal of weapons and drones in Syria present the IDF with genuine threats.
The international community, as well as the United Nations, continues to criticize Israel for its human rights violations with absurd singularity; knowing full well that there are dozens of nations throughout the world whose disregard of human rights far outweighs almost any of Israel’s mistakes. The BDS movement represents an effort to single out Israel. It is a tactic which is totally absent from any concern about abuses that numerous Governments in the Middle East and elsewhere are committing on a daily basis. Yet at the moment, it is Israel’s conduct towards the Palestinians and the Arabs protesting in Gaza which has dominated world attention on this auspicious anniversary.
At Barnard College, the students voted by a 64%-36% to urge the Trustees to divest from nine companies that do business with Israel. (Those who voted represented less than 45% of the College population.) While the Trustees are under no obligation to act upon this request, this vote could be followed at other schools as students ally themselves with the BDS movement and the Gaza protest movement. (It is also important to note that this vote took place at a College with a student population that is approximately 33% Jewish.)
Natalie Portman, the Israeli born Jewish actress, who has been a strong advocate for Israel, informed the Government of Israel that she would not be coming to Israel to accept the Genesis Award. This $1 million award was granted to her “…in recognition of her commitment to social causes and deep connection to her Jewish and Israeli roots.” In declining to attend the ceremony which has now been cancelled, Portman stated, that “…recent events in Israel have been extremely distressing to her….” She continued that, therefore, she “…cannot in good conscience move forward with the ceremony.”
Like the Barnard women, Portman was responding to the recent killing of more than 30 Palestinians and the wounding of hundreds of more demonstrators in Gaza along the fence with Israel. There is no question that the demonstrators have been provocative and aggressive. Their demands of the right of return cannot be addressed through violence or confrontation. If Israel were to discuss the issue of compensation, for example of lost property, it would only be as part of a larger, comprehensive agreement with all the Palestinian leadership.
The problem is that the bloodshed did not need to be. Israel is responding to demonstrations by using an enormous club trying to swat a fly. The most sophisticated military force in the region is responding to protesters as if they represented an existential threat. While undoubtedly there are terrorists and very hostile elements both in Gaza and among Palestinians on the West Bank who hate Israel; but killing protesters will ultimately not solve anything. In fact, it may well have a debilitating effect on the morale of some Israeli soldiers as well as on the entire Israeli society. This ought to be a moment when Israel should be glorying in the success of a people and a nation that emerged out of the ashes of the Shoah to create in 70 years one of the most amazingly successful, political experiments in modern times.
Unfortunately, the current Israeli Government has totally failed to comprehend that its behavior and policies towards the Palestinians is totally unnecessary. It is undermining all efforts to enable the country to move toward a peaceful resolution to which Israel ought to be recommitting itself on its 70th birthday.