Israel and India are two lonely democracies in turbulent regions of the world. They have much in common, but have never been close
Foolish consistency may be the hobgoblin of little minds, but a complete lack of moral consistency is the hobgoblin of bigoted minds. Those who would single out the world’s only Jewish state for boycott, divestment and sanctions, while ignoring the infinitely more virulent persecution and intolerance that prevails throughout the surrounding region, cannot claim to be crusading against injustice. They are crusading against Jews.
Israel, of course, is not the only victim of double standards. I recently wrote about a misguided crusade by some in Congress against India: House Resolution 417, pushed by an odd coalition of left-wing Democrats and Christian conservatives, suggests, among other things, that India persecutes Christians. The truth is that few countries with a Christian minority are as hospitable to Christians as is India. The accommodation of diversity is inherent in India’s Hindu culture; for centuries, India has provided refuge to Christians and countless others fleeing persecution. If you want to find genuinely hateful oppression of Christians, you need look no further than some of India’s neighbours. Why, then, should India be singled out for criticism?
A friend of mine asked that very question to an activist lobbying for House Resolution 417. The activist professed respect for India’s long tradition of religious tolerance, and insisted: “I just want to see India hold itself to the highest standard.” I’ve heard this type of logic before — in connection with Israel. Some of Israel’s critics use the Jewish people’s long history of suffering as an excuse to hold Israel to a higher standard. “Jews have endured persecution like no other people,” these critics argue. “They should know better than to persecute others.” This type of condescending blather is nothing more than bigotry masquerading as flattery. “Higher standards” are used as an excuse to punish imperfect behaviour — be it in India or Israel — while ignoring the truly despicable behaviour next door. These “higher standards” are simply double standards.
Two multicultural democracies
It is probably no coincidence that the same double standards are applied against Israel and India. Neither Judaism nor Hinduism seeks converts; Jews and Hindus thus tend to be surrounded, and outnumbered, by faiths that do. Israel is, of course, the only Jewish-majority state in the world, and India (along with much smaller Nepal) is one of only two Hindu-majority states. Jews see Israel as a necessary refuge for their people, just as Hindus see India as a necessary refuge for their people. And while Israel and India are both intent on retaining the character of their respective majority cultures, both are multicultural democracies that, unlike their neighbours, provide full rights to all.
The modern states of India and Israel entered the world community in a similar fashion. On their way out the door as colonial rulers of India, the British arranged for the partition of India into two countries: India and Pakistan. (Pakistan included two non-contiguous parts, and the eastern part would later split off to become Bangladesh.) It was Muslims who pushed for the partition in the name of Muslim self-determination: They wanted a homeland in two parts of India where they constituted a majority. The creation of the Muslim homeland, however, essentially ended up driving over 7 million Hindus and Sikhs from their ancestral homelands, the cradle of their respective civilizations. The logic of partition was essentially as follows: In order to create a Muslim state alongside a multicultural Hindu-majority state, many people would move from one place to another. If your particular village or region was within the borders of the “other side,” you could still exercise your right of self-determination by moving “next door” to rejoin “your side.”
Shortly after the partition of India, the United Nations approved a plan to partition Palestine (which was then ruled by the British under a U.N. mandate) into a Jewish state and an Arab state. In 1948, Israel declared its independence and was promptly attacked by the armies of five Arab nations.
The partition of Palestine was supposed to work like the Indian partition: If you lived on the “other side,” you could exercise your right of self-determination by moving next door. The Palestinians, however, at the urging of the Arab armies, evacuated their homes on both sides of the partition. They were clearing the way for the Arab armies to “drive the Jews into the sea.” That effort failed, and approximately 7,00,000 Palestinians needlessly ended up as refugees in Egyptian-controlled Gaza or the Jordanian-controlled West Bank. Egypt and Jordan, of course, had the power to establish a Palestinian state in the two decades that they controlled Gaza and the West Bank, respectively, after the 1948 war. They refused to, yet were never derided as “occupiers” of Palestinian land.
If those who deny Israel’s right to exist were morally and logically consistent, they would also deny Pakistan’s right to exist. If it was acceptable to drive over 7 million Hindus and Sikhs from their ancient homelands to achieve Muslim self-determination, then why was it a crime to displace a much smaller number of people to achieve Jewish — and Palestinian —self-determination?
Some will argue that the creation of Israel was different, because Arabs were displaced by Jews fleeing Europe. That ignores the fact that by the time of Israel’s creation, life had become unbearable for the Jewish communities in the Arab nations surrounding Israel. Since 1940, approximately 1,000,000 Jews have fled brutal oppression in Arab lands—or were forcibly expelled from communities that they had inhabited since ancient times. Middle Eastern Jews poured into Israel seeking refuge, just as Hindus and Sikhs poured into newly partitioned India from newly created Pakistan. Millions of Jews in Israel today are the descendents of those who fled persecution in the Muslim world. It is the existence of Israel that protects these Middle Eastern Jews from the Jew-hatred of the countries they fled—the most virulent Jew-hatred that exists in the world today.
Ironically, some of the same groups that caused Jews to flee Arab nations for Israel are now causing Jews to flee Europe for Israel. In France, a disturbing rise in anti-Semitism—largely from Middle Eastern immigrants—is fuelling an exodus of Jews to Israel. The people who don’t want Jews to live in Israel are the same people who are making it difficult for Jews to live outside of Israel.
It is of course hypocritical for Israel-bashers to single out Israel for alleged human rights violations, when Israel has by far the best human rights record in the Middle East. These “human rights violations” are typically measures that Israel is forced to take to protect her people from the violent and intransigent enemies on her doorstep. Palestinian leaders have never renounced their intention to destroy Israel, and teach their children to hate Jews. It is no easy task for Israelis to defend their tiny sliver of land, squeezed precariously between their enemies and the sea.
Israel and India are two lonely democracies in turbulent regions of the world. They have much in common, but have never been close. Perhaps that will change when Narendra Modi becomes India’s next Prime Minister. After all, the man knows a thing or two about being unfairly singled out for condemnation.
(David B. Cohen served in the administration of President George W. Bush as U.S. Representative to the Pacific Community, as Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Interior, and as a member of the President’s Advisory Commission on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.)