Israel's supporters have responded to criticism of the Gaza intervention by asking why similar anger isn't directed at the toll in Syria. It's a bogus comparison, for many reasons.
PARIS — Those who try desperately to justify the bombing of Palestinian civilians in Gaza counter those who protest the bombing by admonishing them for their silence about events in Syria, which have caused the death of far more innocent victims. The underlying idea is that if Israel is criticized more for fewer dead then anti-Semitism must be lurking somewhere. Otherwise, why criticize Israel?
One might think that the ready-made argument advanced over and over came straight from the communication departments of the Israeli government. But that’s not important: Let’s take the argument on its own terms.
First of all: It’s wrong.
Most of those protesting the Israeli bombings have also protested Bashar al-Assad’s repression from the start.
There are of course people who believe that opposition to Assad is led from abroad, and consider (wrongly) the Syrian regime to be a fortress of opposition to the West within the Arab world.
Israel and the United States have always accommodated Assad’s regime, which over and above some verbal protest has never bothered Israel. In any case, the majority of those who make the case for a Palestinian state condemn the Syrian dictator’s actions — even if they do not all support military intervention to topple him.
The logic that one should stay quiet about a massacre because others are happening elsewhere is also surprising. On the contrary, one might even see a certain cynicism on the part of those who use the Syrian death tolls to try and silence protest about the deaths in Gaza.
Many articles and books have been published, conferences and demonstrations organized, to protest the massacres in Syria — and they’ve often involved the participation of those currently protesting the bombing of Gaza.
There is also a considerable difference between Syria and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Syria never proclaimed itself the only democracy in the Middle East, nor did it claim to be in the vanguard in the promotion of Western values. The Syrian army was never presented as "the world’s most moral army." Assad is a dictator with blood on his hands, and who represses his own people ferociously. He has never been presented by Western media as a "man of peace" fighting terrorism.
It is curious that Israel, which presents itself or is presented by its advocates as an "exemplary democracy," should be compared to the Syrian regime. Israel is certainly a democracy — but it is also a country occupying a people that is not its own and whom it represses by meting out daily humiliation and slaughtering civilians during periods of crisis. You can’t call yourself a democratic regime and not be held accountable for your actions by that measure.
The other difference is that criticism of Assad is not met by accusations of anti-Arab racism, nor appeals to support the Syrian army or attempts to silence by any means those who criticize the Syrian regime.
Those who demonstrate for a halt to the bombing of Gaza’s civilian population are not possessed of selective indignation — unlike those who’d rather it was not discussed.
*Pascal Boniface is the director of Paris-based Institut de Relations Internationales et Stratégiques (IRIS)