Why has Israel come to occupy so much of the left’s attention?

A variant of the claim that America’s unique treatment of Israel accounts for the left’s unique interest in Israel is that the Jewish nation’s political clout in the United States gives it unique protection and immunity. If normal politics cannot get the United States to rein Israel in, then a movement of private citizens must target the malefactor.

The logic fails here, too. First, the premise of Israeli clout is exaggerated. Were it so great, the United States would long ago have bombed Iran, never have sold advanced fighter jets to Saudi Arabia, not repeatedly pressed Israel to retreat from conquered territory, and so on. Second, it is not true that Israel gets a unique pass from the United States. American presidents routinely waive official human rights restrictions on aid to and trade with sketchy countries such as Egypt, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Yemen, and Colombia. While the left has objected to those policies and to those regimes, it has not called for boycotts of their institutions. Third, Israel hardly has unique clout or immunity in Europe (except perhaps in Germany) and, yet, the European left treats it uniquely.

Other explanations for singling out Israel are similarly weak—and are also striking for their de-legitimation of the state. One hears, for example, complaints that Israel is a religiously defined state. But this is hardly unique. Just count the national flags bearing crosses, crescents, Koranic texts, or similar images; there are dozens, though Israel’s is the only one with a Star of David. And one hears that Israel is an ethnically defined state. Yet, most states, including European ones, are ethnic states. What is the former Yugoslavia today if not seven states for seven peoples? And, of course, one hears that Israel is xenophobic and anti-Arab (even an apartheid state). Again, hardly unique. Though deplorable, Israeli episodes cannot match the daily accounts from across the globe of state-sponsored ethnic attacks, expulsions, and massacres (e.g., Gujarat, 2002).

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