I often call to mind the Avalon peninsula of Newfoundland when I think of Israel, and imagine what it would be like to crowd seven million people onto the fragments of the island most familiar to visitors. And think further of what it would be like to see Carbonear or Twillingate or St. John’s under deadly attack on and off for 70 years, and further troubled by a rain of thousands of rockets and missiles fired apparently at whim, indifferent to their targets, by a remorseless enemy.
Considering this, and all its struggles since its birth, I’ve long thought that tiny, democratic Israel should just be left alone to thrive. Maybe others are starting to see it that way, too. I sense some turn in the world’s opinion on what we call the Middle East conflict. The terms of understanding are changing.
Canada, more particularly Stephen Harper, can take partial credit for some of that change. As a world leader, Mr. Harper has been the best counter-voice to the cliched hostility and animus found in most self-labelled “progressive” perspectives. Indeed his clarity on Israel’s right to exist, to be free of menace and molestation from its enemies, greatly annoys the professional anti-Israelis who flourish on the campuses and in the progressive opinion pages of the West.
And rarely has he been as staunch in his backing of the beleaguered Israeli state as in this latest flareup. The Prime Minister has spoken with exquisite clarity on Israel’s right to defend itself. On this white hot question even Mr. Harper’s most visceral critics have to acknowledge he is a very model of the clear, unequivocating politician. Dislike him if you will, object to the policy if you must, but no one may claim he is not absolutely forthright on where he stands and what he means. He is certainly more resolute than U.S. President Barack Obama on this file (and on Ukraine, too), and is setting something of a leadership example to his peers around the world.
There’s a real turn here in the attitudes and commentary on Israel which mark a departure from the previous occasions of conflict and confrontation. The near automatic and unconditioned sympathy for the “Palestinian cause” we have seen before is not being as quickly or reliably manifested this time. Hamas and its brethren in terror are not getting quite the pass they have on previous occasions. In fact, Hamas, by their obstinacy, refusal to cease fire in any meaningful way, and their reliably bloodthirsty and hate-filled rhetoric is, if only in part, finally being held responsible for its words and deeds.
How strange that the “media war” that always accompanies the actual war is tilting — for once — to Israel’s side.
And it’s no surprise. The usual crew of protestors who routinely take to shouting in the streets about Israel’s war crimes, their “Nazi” tactics and the “imperialist aims of the ‘Zionist entity’” have helped. The obsessives of Israel Apartheid Week have helped too. The antics of the activists have greatly marred their limited appeal.
The utterly tendentious BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) movement — also associated with the dismal Apartheid campaign — provoked another massive backfire. More colleges and universities have ended up siding with Israel, shunning the BDS crowd. It’s more than just the anti-Israel forces not getting a pass. Opponents have actively came out to dissociate from or directly condemn them. This is a sea-change.
After this cruel and strange week, with fighting on the ground in Gaza and planes being shot down over Ukraine, the world, or parts of it, are looking at events with less detachment and neutrality. We are involved in this world, deny it as we will. We are not, as we sometimes think, spectators.
People are seeing there is in Israel’s actions a very real lesson for the West. Israel is hardy and steadfast in standing up against terror, of embodying democracy even under fire, of attempting to observe some scruple as missiles fly. It stands for values and virtues that we in the West have become too cavalier about.
In the words of British commentator Douglas Murray, “It is Israel which takes Western values seriously and fights for the survival of those values, rather than sitting back and assuming they are simply part of some birthright.”
I add only, it’s because Israel has to fight for them that they are so valued. How welcome it is to not be nearly alone in thinking so.