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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Israel, Gaza and double standards, including our own



Police detain a protester participating in a march demanding a permanent ceasefire in Gaza, in New York City on Saturday, March 2, 2024. (Andres Kudacki/The New York Times)

By Nicholas Kristof


Does the West have a double standard when it comes to Israel, pouncing on everything it does with undue harshness?


When he was challenged about the bloodshed in the Gaza Strip on “Face the Nation” last weekend, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel responded, “What would America do” after something like the Oct. 7 Hamas attack? “Would you not be doing what Israel is doing? You’d be doing a hell of a lot more.”


Rabbi Marvin Hier in The Jerusalem Post condemned “an unprecedented double standard” that relentlessly criticizes Israel’s bombing of Gaza but is unbothered by the Allied bombing of civilians in Germany and Japan in World War II. And the World Jewish Congress cites “criticizing Israeli defensive operations, but not those of other Western democracies” as an example of antisemitism.


All this strikes me as both right and wrong, a fair point and a false one. I’ll come to why it’s wrong in a moment, but it is undeniably true that the world applies more scrutiny to Israel’s oppression of Palestinians than to many other horrors.


In 2023, for example, the U.N. General Assembly adopted 15 resolutions critical of Israel, and only seven resolutions critical of all other countries in the world together, by the count of one pro-Israel group. Does anyone think that represents evenhandedness?


People are more focused on Israel than on what UNICEF describes as a “wave of atrocities” currently underway against children in Sudan, while the number of children displaced by recent fighting in Sudan (3 million) is greater than the entire population of Gaza. University students in America and Europe protest about Gaza but largely ignore the 700,000 children facing severe acute malnutrition in Sudan, after a civil war began there last April.


The Darfur region of Sudan two decades ago endured what is widely described as the first genocide of the 21st century. Now bands of gunmen once more are killing and raping villagers belonging to particular ethnic groups. I was seared by my reporting from Darfur during the genocide, and it staggers me that the world is ignoring another round of mass atrocities there.


Meanwhile, some of the worst mistreatment of Arabs in recent years was inflicted by Arab rulers themselves, in Syria and Yemen.


So is there a double standard in global attention? Absolutely. Defenders of Israel have every right to point all this out, and sometimes it does reflect antisemitism. Yet — now we get to the other side — it also strikes me as unconscionable to use the world’s hypocrisy, however invidious, to justify the deaths of thousands of children in Gaza.


That would be an echo of Russian whataboutism: How can you talk about our war in Ukraine when you Americans invaded Iraq and tortured people there?


It’s also true that while some university campuses may be guilty of selective outrage, that is not true of all observers. Some of the most incisive critics of Israel’s actions are from the very U.N. agencies and human rights groups whose staffs are risking their lives in the field to save lives in Sudan, Ethiopia and other countries.


In any case, there is a reason to focus on Gaza today, for it is not just one more place of pain among many contenders but, in the judgment of UNICEF, the world’s most dangerous place to be a child.


Consider that in the first 18 months of Russia’s current war in Ukraine, at least 545 children were killed. Or that in 2022, by a U.N. count, 2,985 children were killed in all wars worldwide. In contrast, in less than five months of Israel’s current war in Gaza, the health authorities there report more than 12,500 children killed.


Among them were 250 infants less than 1 year old. I can’t think of any conflict in this century that has killed babies at such a pace.


Of course Israel had the right to respond militarily to the Oct. 7 attacks. Of course Hamas leaders should give up their hostages. But none of this excuses Israel’s “indiscriminate” bombing, in the words of President Joe Biden, and restrictions on food and other assistance.


Because of America’s support for Israel’s invasion and diplomatic protection for it at the United Nations, this blood is on our hands, and that surely justifies increased scrutiny.


Yet here’s another double standard: We Americans condemn Russia, China or Venezuela for their violations of human rights, but the United States supports Israel and protects it diplomatically even as it has engaged in what Biden has called an “over the top” military campaign.


“How can the U.S. condemn Russia’s bombing of civilians in Ukraine as a war crime but fund Netanyahu’s war machine, which has killed thousands?” Sen. Bernie Sanders asked.


So it’s fair to talk about double standards. They are real. They run in many directions, shielding Israel as well as condemning it. And in a world where we are all connected by our shared humanity, I believe we should never let our very human tangles of double standards and hypocrisies be harnessed to deflect from the tragedy unfolding today for the children of Gaza, or America’s complicity in it.


Contact Nicholas Kristof at Facebook.com/Kristof, Twitter.com/NickKristof or by mail at The New York Times, 620 Eighth Ave., New York, NY 10018.

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