For those who make a profession of inciting hatred against Israel, just about every new eventuality seems to present another opportunity to demonize the Jewish state. The recent invasion and annexation of Crimea by Russia has been no exception. The fact that the West has responded to this clear breach of international law with sanctions against Russia has both brought cries of hypocrisy from the anti-Israel camp and whetted its appetite to push for similar such moves against Israel. The difference between the Russian invasion and annexation of Ukrainian sovereign territory and the Israeli presence in the West Bank should be clear enough for all to see. Yet, there are those whose agenda will involve a concerted effort to push this comparison.
The fact that a particularly unpleasant blog post appeared on Al Jazeera pushing the Israel-Russia comparison might not be considered all that consequential. Al Jazeera may have greatly expanded its programming in the anglosphere, but as is apparent from the piece in question, the commentary given here is hardly of either a mainstream or overwhelmingly credible character. Yet, watered down versions of the same accusations made at Al Jazeera have also appeared in the Economist and are now even being made by peers in Britain’s parliament. We may well find that, wildly inaccurate as this comparison undoubtedly is, for the undiscerning it has some traction.
Apart from the fact that Vacy Valanza’s piece for Al Jazeera makes the bizarre claim that the establishment of Israel was itself a violation of international law, and that Israel is annexing the West Bank “supported by monies from Jews worldwide through rich Zionist organizations,” the main thrust of the argument is one accusing the West of “hypocrisy.” The claim is that the West singled out Russia yet turns a blind eye to Israel behaving in a highly comparable way. Of course, if the anti-Israel camp is going to now start leveling accusations about the hypocrisy of opposing some occupations but not others, then they may be inviting some rather hard-to-answer questions about their own disinterest in every other occupation from China in Tibet to Turkey in Cyprus.
The Economist piece addressing this subject is in many respects almost as startling as the Al Jazeera piece. Here the suggestion is that the Russian invasion of Ukrainian territory may serve as a distraction that will allow Israel to strengthen its hold on the West Bank and avoid U.S. pressure to end “its own occupation of Palestine”. In this suggestion the analysis offered by the Economist is simply illiterate of recent events. It is the Palestinians that are currently under pressure to continue negotiations about an Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank, but more significantly it is Israel that has made a series of concessions by way of prisoner releases to keep these discussions open. Nevertheless, the Economist piece only strays into even more questionable territory when it starts detailing at length a tenuous list of links between Russia and Israel, as if Israel is the only country in the world that had any remotely friendly ties with Putin’s Russia. This appears to be a particularly poor case of attempting to establish some kind of vague guilt by association.
Clearly such sentiments, however outlandish, have had a certain resonance even with politicians. During a recent debate in Britain’s House of Lords, several of the peers repeated the comparison between Israel and Russia’s invasion and annexation of Ukrainian territory. The Labour peer Lord Grocott complained that when it came to occupied territory, the Crimean issue had received a level of “urgency and commitment” not seen in dealing with the Israeli-Palestinian issue. The infamous Baroness Jenny Tonge, who achieved the impressive feet of managing to be thrown out of the left-wing Liberal Democrat party for her continuous stream of anti-Semitic statements, asked why Britain was “prepared to impose sanctions on Russia for breaking international law but not upon Israel, which has been breaking international law for decades?”
It is striking that so many are referencing this comparison, when in fact it should be clear that any equivalence between these two cases simply does not stand. In the case of Russia and the Crimea, one state invaded the sovereign territory of another and then unilaterally annexed it. This was a completely unprovoked act. In the case of the Israeli presence in the West Bank, this territory fell to Israel after a defensive war in which Jordan initiated hostilities against Israel, and it should further be noted that the West Bank had at no point been legitimately considered Jordanian territory. It was the Jordanian annexation of this land that was in contravention of international law and as such never recognized by most of the international community.
Today the West Bank is commonly referred to as occupied territory, despite the fact that the situation here does not meet the Geneva Conventions’ own definition of occupied territory. Having not previously been the territory of any existing sovereign state it would be more accurate to simply consider the West Bank disputed territory. But as the Levy report acknowledged, if any state has a legitimate claim to this territory it may well be Israel, given that the League of Nations earmarked this land for close Jewish settlement as part of the creation of a Jewish national home.
While the British peers condemn what they refer to as occupation others, such as Al Jazeera’s Valanza, accuse Israel of being in the process of annexing the West Bank. Yet remarkably Valanza actually gives credence to the notion that the Russian annexation of Ukrainian territory may have legitimacy because Russia appeared to hold some semblance of a referendum. It is, however, a sign of the times that even when talking about Crimea, there are many who can’t stop themselves from changing the subject back to Israel.