Wall Street Journal | June 3, 2010
The ease with which the world's governments condemned Israel over the flotilla incident has been something to behold. The Jerusalem-based correspondent for the Toronto Globe and Mail could not help but notice: "The speed and intensity with which governments around the world condemned the Israeli behavior appear unprecedented." Why?
For starters, denouncing Israel for something like this is convenient for leaders who have failed repeatedly to do anything about more important and difficult problems such as Iran, North Korea or sovereign debt. Also, lesser nations learn by example: The Obama administration's unrestrained criticism of the Israeli government in March over East Jerusalem settlements lowered the threshold for teeing off on Israel.
Still, I can't think of any other nation, no matter how scummy and uncivilized its practices, that produces this response. Or any other event, such as testing a nuclear bomb.
Fast out of the gate was France's nimble President Nicolas Sarkozy, who criticized the "disproportionate use of force." But somehow it is only Israel that seems to elicit the disproportionate use of language.
Turkey's prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, called the incident "state terrorism." His foreign minister described it as "piracy," "banditry" and "barbarism." Also invoking "barbarism" were Saudi Arabia ("inhuman"), Syria ("blatant defiance of . . . civilized values") and Morocco.
Italy's foreign undersecretary, Stefania Craxi: "the massacre of Gaza." Russia, always light on irony, condemned "the use of force against civilians." The Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists: "an open attack on civil society" and the "true face of barbarism." U.N . Secretary General Ban Ki-moon was "shocked."
Denmark, Spain, Greece and Sweden summoned their Israeli ambassadors for an explanation. British Foreign Secretary William Hague extended his sympathy to the families of the victims. The Vatican voiced concern. The president of Bosnia likened the Gaza blockade to the 1992-96 siege of Sarajevo (at least 10,000 dead). The president of the European Parliament drew attention to a breach of the "fourth Geneva Convention." All of this on Monday.
Turning on the evening news in New York City, one saw that a pro-Palestinian demonstration of a 1,000 or so had materialized in Times Square. Identical demonstrations mushroomed on the Champs Élysées, and in the streets of Washington, London, Rome, Cyprus, Oslo, Stockholm and Athens.
Catherine Ashton, the EU's "high representative" for foreign affairs, demanded "an immediate, sustained and unconditional opening" of the Gaza blockade. This is especially noteworthy. Until High Representative Ashton's demand to end the blockade, the EU had been party to a clear, explicit policy toward the Israeli-Palestinian impasse. Since 2002, a group known as the Quartet—consisting of the EU, Russia, the U.S. and the U.N., with Tony Blair as its current special envoy—has said that no one could deal with Hamas, the occupier of Gaza, until Hamas fulfilled three conditions: Recognize Israel's right to exist. Renounce violence. Accept agreements already made by previous Palestinian negotiators.
Hamas hasn't met any of those conditions. After Ms. Ashton's outburst, it knows it doesn't have to.
The world's peoples may pay soon for their leaders' display of such a disproportionate double standard. Recall that the other, recent instance when the world's governments deployed their collective authority and wrath was last June, against Lilliputian Honduras. The conclusion is inescapable: The smaller the problem, the larger the world powers' output of hot air. But if a problem is large or difficult—especially if the problem is nuclear—they blink and deflate, and will do so repeatedly.
Example: It emerged this week that the International Atomic Energy Agency believes Iran is pursuing higher-enriched uranium and "the development of a nuclear payload for a missile." The world yawns. Or hides.
In any of the places where men discuss truly monstrous and dangerous plans, in Kim Jong Il's Pyongyang or Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's Tehran, watching this hyperventilated criticism of Israel for a shoot-out on a boat must strike them as laughable. If one's opponents save their collective status and authority for something like this, then the world is ultimately not serious about who must comply with its rules of behavior. With this unbalanced double standard, the world increases the odds that a truly irresponsible regime will miscalculate.
To its credit, the U.S. delegation on duty at the U.N. Monday managed to dilute the language that a somewhat unhinged Turkey demanded from the Security Council. (Amusingly, what the Turks called the U.S.'s "delays" caused the negotiations to slip past midnight into Tuesday morning when, like Cinderella's pumpkin, Lebanon's presidency of the Security Council expired and passed to less invested Mexico.) Germany's Angela Merkel was also circumspect in her remarks. An adult or two is still on duty.
Set aside the troubling fact that the Jewish state alone gets this routine treatment. Israel should not be immune from criticism. But if the world's powers unload like this only on relatively small, isolated nations like Israel, then clearly the keepers of the world order find it easier to be blowhards than statesmen. And that means we have a problem.