A slightly edited version of the original article published on December 24, 2016.
While nationalism of the Americans, French, and Chinese is admired or at least accepted, Jewish nationalism (Zionism) is regarded as racism by pro-Arab activists and journalists. While Syrian President Bashar Assad declares war against his people, with deaths numbering in hundreds of thousands and displaced in the millions, next door Israel is lambasted by the foreign minister of Sweden for "extrajudicial killings," when it kills terrorists in the act of attacking Israeli citizens. Notwithstanding the oppression of women in the Islamic Middle East, the forced marriages, mandatory seclusion, obligatory wearing of tents, honor killings, enslavement, gang rapes, and sale as sex slaves, the National Women's Studies Association boycotts Israel, the only country in the Middle East where women are free and equal.
What explains this double standard?
The first reason is traditional Christian anti-Semitism. For 1,800 years Jews were Europe's own despised minority, blamed for murdering Jesus and then rejecting Christian salvation. This was still being preached from the Catholic pulpit fifty years ago when I arrived in Quebec. The Jews were the feeble minority that Europeans loved to hate. Any Jewish deviation from propriety was seized upon to justify their lowly status.
For 1,800 years, Jews were the feeble minority that Europeans loved to hate.
However, with the establishment of Israel, Jews were no longer the feeble minority, but a robust majority of a small state, with Jewish "pushiness" becoming Israeli military victory. In Israel, the Jews no longer knew "their place" at the bottom of the European hierarchy, but were independent actors no longer dependent upon European permission.
Europeans have responded by being hyper-critical of their despised ex-minority, demanding things of Israel that they have never demanded of Israel's adversaries or neighbors, or even of themselves, and condemning Israel when it does not comply with their unreasonable demands.
The second reason for the double standard is pragmatic, not to say cynical: There are hundreds of millions of Arabs and Muslims, and only a few million Jews. Arabs and Muslims are spread in many strategically important locations throughout the world. Furthermore, Arabs and Muslim make up a huge commercial market for the industrial nations of Europe and beyond.
Europeans don't want to irritate vast numbers of Arabs and Muslims by siding with a handful of uppity Jews.
As to propriety and standards of behavior, European Christians never thought much of, or expected much of the people of the "South." These gentiles, pagans, and heathens would do just about anything, so there was no point measuring them against civilized standards and judging them. Deal with them pragmatically, was the strategy, as politically important and economically useful. The European rule is this: do not unnecessarily irritate the vast number of Arabs and Muslims by siding with a handful of uppity Jews; that would just be foolish. Showing you are on the side of Arabs and Muslims by condemning Israel is just smart policy.
The third and final reason for the double standard is the Holocaust, the European genocidal project to murder all Jews. Germany expertly designed and engineered the Holocaust, but was joined enthusiastically by many in the Baltics and Eastern Europe, and collaborated with by Western European countries. Even those who did not take direct part, such as Britain, Sweden, and Switzerland, did nothing to stop the Holocaust, in spite of pleas that they do so, and some blocked their gates to Jews trying to escape their fate.
Extravagant denunciation of Israel frees Europeans of their perceived guilt for the Holocaust.
The shadow of the Holocaust – its blame, shame, and guilt – has hung over Europe since 1945. After 70 years, Europeans are fed up with hearing about it. Current generations were not even alive at the time. Why should they be blamed and feel guilt, they wonder, about something that they did not do, do not approve of, and would not do themselves. Yet the shadow prevails.
How can it be removed? Well, if it turns out that the Jews are evil – that, given the chance to be in charge as in Israel, they behave exactly like the Nazis – then the ledger is balanced. European hyper-criticism of Israel makes both Europeans and Jews oppressors and murderers, equally guilty and thus equally innocent. Extravagant denunciation of Israel, however dishonest, frees Europe of its guilt. Americans, implicated in the Holocaust only to the extent of having closed its doors to Jews trying to flee, currently favor Israel over the Palestinians, according to annual Gallup polls, by four to one, while Europeans heavily favor Palestinians. Americans do not need to escape the blame for the Holocaust, while for Europeans condemning Israel is the easiest route.
Philip Carl Salzman is a professor of anthropology at McGill University and a fellow at the Middle East Forum.