Thursday, June 20, 2024

Why Israel can ignore world sentiments and Russia gets targeted

If global peace and security necessitates adherence to “rules”, the right to “self-defence” allows a free hand to deal with threats on a nation’s border – and across, and coercive action against any transgressors, then it is difficult to understand why the same set of Western countries, which actively and widely sanctioned Russia, are overlooking Israel’s actions in Gaza.

Over a month of relentless, indiscriminate bombing and then a ground invasion by Israeli forces following the October 7 Hamas terror attack has left over 11,000 Palestinians, overwhelmingly women and children, dead in Gaza, and another 3,000 odd missing.

This is against 1,400 Israeli citizens killed in the attack, subsequently revised down to 1,200.

The comparable figures for Ukraine are 9,700 civilians killed between the commencement of hostilities in February 2022 and September this year, as per UN figures.

And then apart from the human toll, there is the wholesale destruction in Gaza, of housing complexes, schools, places of worship, markets, water and sewage plants, attacks on hospitals, bakeries, and people asked to evacuate the conflict zone, as well as on UN staff, doctors, ambulances, and journalists.

That is not counting the parallel activities in the occupied West Bank by the settlers, who are increasingly becoming a law to themselves – aided and abetted by the Israeli military, whose uniform they freely sport, as they dispossess local Palestinians of land and livelihood, subject them to restrictions, and demolish houses, monuments, and roads at will.

Yet, Russia – and Russians – are hit by a barrage of sanctions championed by the same set of Western leaders, who rush to unequivocally champion Israel’s right to “self-defence”, remaining oblivious to the humanitarian crisis being unleashed in Gaza and the repression in occupied West Bank, and going so far as to criminalise agitations in favour of Palestinians.

Any leader who even questions the context of the violence or raises the wholesale slaughter of civilians is subject to a hectoring attack by the Israeli leadership, particularly Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, be it UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, whose remark that the October 7 attacks “did not happen in a vacuum”, led the Israelis to demand his resignation and announce it would stop visas to UN officials.

French President Emmanuel Macron and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s belated criticism of the growing number of deaths of children went on to draw angry diatribes from Netanyahu, who, in a rather mind-boggling use of language, went on to call his country’s army the “most humane” in the world.

Even, when a resolution finally adopted by the United Nations Security Council – after five tries – seeking a humanitarian pause and protection of non-combatants, especially women and children, was summarily rejected by Israel, there was no reaction from Western leaders, which had plenty to say when Russia scrapped the Black Sea Grain Initiative over non-fulfillment of commitments made to it.

Granted, international politics has a tenuous connection with morality or justice, apart from lip-service and expedience, with national interest always the key, but Israel seems to operate with a totally unbounded sense of entitlement.

But, Israel could not operate as it has, had it not been for the unqualified support of the veto-bearing superpower over the seas that makes Israeli leaders cook a snook to global sentiment, or UN resolutions. The US carte blanche also leads to most European countries behaving similarly.

While US leaders have been frequently exasperated by their Israeli counterparts – specially Netanyahu who caused Bill Clinton to lose his temper over his obfuscations following a botched assassination bid in a friendly Arab country, left Barack Obama simmering by casually sidestepping him to address the US Congress and interfering in the Iranian nuclear deal, and embarrassed then Vice President Joe Biden, during a visit by announcing an expansion of settlements, none of this has materially affected its support.

On Israel, both the Democrats (except a few) and Republicans are one. And it is not only the political class, the unqualified support for Israel right or wrong is also present among the academic and business elites.

Top universities cracked down on pro-Palestinian protests, and the few who did allow these had influential alumni demanding the protesters’ names – implying dark omens for their professional futures.

However, support for Palestinians is not entirely absent in the US. There is a sizable ethnic Arab populace, especially in the swing states that no presidential candidate, whatever their party, can ignore.

These states played a key role in denying Hillary Clinton the White House in 2016 and Donald Trump a second term in 2020, and the community has already warned Biden not to expect their support.

But, the elections are still far-off and till then the bombs will rain down and innocents will continue to die.

(Vikas Datta can be contacted at vikas.d@ians.in)

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