...My point is not that Israel should ignore the laws of war because of the hypocrisy and double standards of our critics. Israel should pride itself of not behaving like China, like Russia, or like Sri Lanka. But Israel’s leaders must understand that this theater of the absurd will go on as long as they stay on the defensive instead of going on the offensive. Answering smears won’t do it. Exposing the crimes of our enemies and publicly embarrassing them will.
20 August '14..
David Hume’s theory of “concentric circles” provides an explanation for people’s selective empathy: the more pain affects you, the more you care –and vice versa. Hume gives a graphic example: if you were told that your finger will be cut off tomorrow, you would spend the night tossing and turning; but if you were told that hundreds of people will die tomorrow at the other end of the world due to a natural disaster, you would sleep soundly. Cable television and the Internet have mostly turned Hume’s theory on its head, because we all see the world’s tragedies all the time. The average New Yorker is still more likely to lose sleep over his investment portfolio than over the number of Yazidis killed in Iraq, but the world’s tragedies are constantly displayed on our screens. And yet, people still have a selective way of relating to those tragedies. Hume’s theory is still valid, but for different reasons. Selective empathy in the 21st century is less the result of distance than of substance -- your chances of gaining sympathy are less affected by how far away you are than by who is harming you.
As The Economist wrote recently: “Though it has long been known that there is little correlation between the attention paid to conflicts and their levels of casualties, the disparity is depressing.” In terms of Google searches, Ukraine gets far more intention than Syria, even though there have been 20 times more victims in Syria than in Ukraine since the beginning of the year. The thousands of deaths in Iraq went unnoticed until the United States announced its air strikes. Try googling “Central African Republic” and you get 30,000 results on the news section. Type “Israel Gaza War” and you get 3.5 million entries. And yet, more people (about 2,500) have died in the Central Africa conflict this year than in Gaza.
In 2009, Israel became the target of an orchestrated international campaign following Operation Cast Lead, a campaign that culminated in the Goldstone Report. At the same time, the Sri Lanka government brutally decimated the Tamil independence movement, killing at least 40,000 Tamils and producing hundreds of thousands refugees. A UN human rights commission was set-up but it has yet to compile a report (five years after the deeds); there were no massive demonstrations around the world, and the media barely covered this tragedy.
As British writer and comedian Pat Condell pointedly asked: “Where were you all progressive humanitarians when Assad was butchering thousands in Syria, or Bashir in Sudan? Where were the angry mass demonstrations for those people or for the victims of the butchery in Nigeria? Or for the thousands murdered in Iraq? But the Jews of Israel finally respond to being constantly attacked by Islamic terrorists, and the world goes insane.” Or, as French writer and professor Pierre Jourde recently wrote: “One hundred lynched Christians in Pakistan are worth less, media-wise, than one dead Palestinian.” The same goes for the non-Muslim victims of the Islamic State in Iraq and of Boko Haram in Nigeria.
One wonders, indeed, why Western media and the “progressive humanitarians” of the world have no time for the Tibetans, the Uighurs, the Tamils, the Kurds, the Chechens, the Georgians, the Sudanese Christians, the black slaves in Mauritania, the Tuaregs in Nigeria, the Indians in Guatemala, the Sahrawis in Morocco, the Yazidis, Christians, Turkmens, Shias, and Shabaks in Iraq, the Blacks in Darfur, or the Christian minorities around the Muslim world. And one wonders why the massacre of Muslims by Muslims is never a source of commotion.
One possible answer to that question was provided in August 2009 by then Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan. Addressing the accusation of genocide in Sudan, Erdogan said that “A Muslim can never commit genocide. It’s not possible.” One is left wondering who committed the genocides against the Armenians and against the Black Sudanese. And who, exactly, killed over 100,000 Kurds in Iraq in 1988, 150,000 Algerians in 1991, and over 250,000 Syrians in the past three years?
Then there is cold Realpolitik. China gets away with oppressing and colonizing Tibet and Xinjiang because nobody (including the United States) can afford to mess with China. The Chinese government killed about 200 Muslim “rebels” in Xinjiang in 2009. It killed another 100 three weeks ago. Yet you will not hear a US call for a free Tibet or for a free Xingjian. The fact that the Chinese government holds $1.33 trillion of US Treasury Bonds might be part of the explanation.
My point is not that Israel should ignore the laws of war because of the hypocrisy and double standards of our critics. Israel should pride itself of not behaving like China, like Russia, or like Sri Lanka. But Israel’s leaders must understand that this theater of the absurd will go on as long as they stay on the defensive instead of going on the offensive. Answering smears won’t do it. Exposing the crimes of our enemies and publicly embarrassing them will.
Dr. Emmanuel Navon chairs the Political Science and Communication Department at the Jerusalem Orthodox College and teaches International Relations at Tel-Aviv University and the Herzliya Interdisciplinary Center. He is a Senior Fellow at the Kohelet Policy Forum.
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