Commentary Magazine


The Myth of the Palestinian Underdog

One of the enduring myths of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is that much of the West supports the Palestinians out of natural sympathy for the underdog. Victor Davis Hanson of Stanford’s Hoover Institution effectively demolished that myth last week, pointing out that if sympathy for the underdog were really driving the massive pro-Palestinian demonstrations sweeping the West, one would expect to see equally massive demonstrations in support of occupied Tibet, the undoubted underdog against superpower China, or embattled Ukraine, the equally undoubted underdog against superpower Russia. In reality, he argued, anti-Israel sentiment flourishes not because Israel is Goliath, but because it is David:

Israel is inordinately condemned for what it supposedly does because its friends are few, its population is tiny, and its adversaries beyond Gaza numerous, dangerous and often powerful.

Or to put it more bluntly, condemning Israel entails no costs and frequently provides benefits, whereas supporting it could invite retaliation from its numerous enemies. So just as Western countries are reluctant to push China on Tibet for fear that China will retaliate by barring access to the world’s largest market, or to push Russia too hard on Ukraine because Russia is a major natural gas producer with no qualms about cutting off supplies to its political opponents, they often find it easier to push Israel than to push its enemies.

Take, for instance, the cases of Qatar and Turkey, currently Hamas’s two main patrons. Qatar is Hamas’s leading financier, giving it hundreds of millions of dollars per year to build its rocket arsenal and tunnel network; it hosts Hamas leader Khaled Meshal; it reportedly torpedoed an emerging Hamas-Israel cease-fire deal by threatening to kick Meshal out if he signed; and according to former Israeli Military Intelligence chief Amos Yadlin, about a third of all cement imported to Gaza for Qatari-sponsored projects was instead diverted to Hamas’s tunnel network–presumably with Doha’s willing cooperation, since EU-managed projects suffered no similar diversions.

Turkey also gives Hamas hundreds of millions of dollars a year, and hosts about a dozen senior Hamas officials, including Saleh Arouri–who, over the past week, has both admitted to being behind the kidnapping of three Israeli teens in June and been accused by Israel’s Shin Bet security service of organizing a massive terror network in the West Bank tasked with starting a third intifada and overthrowing the Palestinian Authority. Israel has arrested some 90 members of this network and confiscated weapons and funds; the PA took the accusation seriously enough to launch its own investigation.

In fact, it’s no exaggeration to say that without the support Hamas receives from Turkey and Qatar, it could never have built the war machine that enabled it to start this summer’s war, and thus the death and destruction the world is now decrying in Gaza would never have happened.

Since both America and the European Union have designated Hamas as a terrorist organization, one might expect this flagrant support for Hamas to prompt sanctions on Qatar and Turkey as state sponsors of terrorism. But Qatar is the world’s largest natural gas exporter and richest country, as well as home to the main U.S. air force base in the Middle East, while Turkey is a NATO member and major emerging economy. So in fact, far from sanctioning Qatar and Turkey, both America and Europe consider them key partners. In short, it’s simply easier for the West to condemn Israel’s response to Hamas attacks and pressure it to accede to Hamas demands than it would be to condemn and penalize Turkish and Qatari support for Hamas.

Clearly, Israel has many strengths, including a thriving economy, a relatively powerful army, and strong American support. But as Hanson noted, it’s still a tiny country with few friends and many enemies, and anti-Israel protesters intuitively sense this. So don’t be fooled by their pretensions to “moral indignation” against Israel’s “oppression of the underdog.” They’re just doing what mobs have done since time immemorial: targeting a victim they see as fundamentally vulnerable.

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9 Responses to “The Myth of the Palestinian Underdog”

  1. ELLIOTT GREEN says:

    we might say that Israel is militarily strong in strictly military terms. However, both the West and the Muslim world are infected with traditional and more modern forms of Judeophobia (such as anti-Zionism). Further, the Muslim world is politically organized [OIC] and can overwhelm Israel in all or virtually all international forums, for instance in the UN and its “human rights council,” also exploiting its “logrolling” ability in these forums. And the Islamic world has financial resources greater than Israel’s [ie, Qatar etc].

    So diplomatically and financially Israel is the underdog, although militarily superior.

    So far Evelyn and Hanson are right. Nevertheless, Evelyn misses the problem caused by the very notion of a “Palestinian people” [that never existed in history]. That very notion that only emerged in the 1960s, especially after the Six Day War [albeit the PLO was founded in 1964]. That very term “Palestinian people” lends itself to portrayal of the so-called “palestinians” as a small, innocuous people, indigenous to the land, poor and weak, and hardly a match for World Jewry. So if you want to dispel the myth of the “palestinian” underdog, you ought to stop using the term “Palestinian” or “Palestinian people” and see these people as a group of Arabs.

  2. JACK LEVEY says:

    I have every confidence that if Tibet or Ukraine were dedicated to exterminating a Jewish state, denying the historic existence and culture of Jews, opposing the right of Jews to live freely in an independent self-governing state, and advocating the extermination of a substantial portion of the world’s Jewish population, they too would enjoy the support of the fashionable leftists who express such facile concern for the Arabs who call themselves Palestinians (except of course when the objects of their concern are being butchered, confined and deprived of rights by other Arabs or Muslims).

  3. JOEL TRACY says:

    As has been written about on Commentary and other sights too, I’ve wondered what will happen once the talked about gas fields near Israel in the sea are developed? I suspect if the fields are as predicted, Israel could find the world more friendly in the future.

  4. TIKI SHAPIRA says:

    Except all the above, Israel is indeed mostly hated because it is DAVID, which says precisely what it is….banal Jew hate!

  5. DAVID MARKS says:

    Thank you for this great post. I have been trying to put this notion into words for a while.

  6. BEVELYN PARK says:

    Little bits of good news are seeping through the fog of the leftist media. This morning, the editorial in the Calgary Herald, the main newspaper in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, took issue with the attempt by Hamas to have Israel charged with war crimes by the International Criminal Court. The editorial demolished the credibility of this attempt by stating the facts of Hamas’ culpability and by describing Hamas truthfully, calling its members terrorists, not militants. The National Post, Canada’s best national newspaper, has also begun to use the terrorist descriptor for Hamas in some of its reporting.

  7. L EDELSTEIN says:

    All the news that is not “fit to print:” Hamas announced yesterday that it was behind the kidnaping and murder of the three Israel boys. Hamas announced that it is targeting commercial airliners — and the Israeli gas fields in the Mediterranean Sea that will supply Egypt, Jordan and even Turkey with natural gas. If iron dome did not exist how many tens of thousands of Israeli citizens would be dead now. What will Israel have to trade for the bodies of the two Israel soldiers? When will the “paper of record” report the news instead of its daily barrage of front-page stories and heartrending three-column wide photos of the death and devastation in Gaza of the poor innocent civilians — and how many might just be Hamas “militants?”

  8. PHILIP SAWYER says:

    The David and Goliath analogy holds in another way. Anti-Semitism aside, the Israelis are hateful simply because, as a small state, they will not bow at the altar of worship of the UN or “greater” states, and even dare thumb their nose at them. They show them to be the pious frauds many of them in fact are, and this is unforgivable. David after all went after Goliath with only a sling, a few stones and none of the king’s proffered armor.


    this what the head of u n human rights committee also said about why no countries like china and russia are not being investigated for war crimes and human rights violations. they are too big and too powerful. end of story

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