Time To Stop Inflating Israel's Huge Bubble Of Denial
19 March 2014
By Jonathan Cook
The 24-hour visit by German chancellor Angela Merkel
to Israel this week came as relations between the two
countries hit rock bottom. According to a report in
Der Spiegel magazine last week, Merkel and Israeli
prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu have been drawn into
shouting matches when discussing by phone the
faltering peace process.
Despite their smiles to the cameras during the visit,
tension behind the scenes has been heightened by an
diplomatic bust-up earlier this month when Martin
Schulz, the president of the European parliament and
himself German, gave a speech to the Israeli
In unprecedented scenes, a group of Israeli
legislators heckled Schulz, calling him a "liar", and
then staged a walk-out, led by the economics minister
Naftali Bennett. Rather than apologising, Netanyahu
intervened to lambast the European leader for being
Schulz, who, like Merkel, is considered a close friend
of Israel, used his speech vehemently to oppose
growing calls in Europe for a boycott of Israel. So
how did he trigger such opprobrium?
Schulz's main offence was posing a question: was it
true, as he had heard in meetings in the West Bank,
that Israelis have access to four times more water
than Palestinians? He further upset legislators by
gently suggesting that Israel's blockade of Gaza was
preventing economic growth there.
Neither statement should have been in the least
controversial. Figures from independent bodies such as
the World Bank show Israel, which controls the
region's water supplies, allocates per capita about
4.4 times more water to its population than the
Equally, it would be hard to imagine that years of
denying goods and materials to Gaza, and blocking
exports, have not ravaged its economy. The
unemployment rate, for example, has increased 6 per
cent, to 38.5 per cent, following Israel's recent
decision to prevent the transfer of construction
materials to Gaza's private sector.
But Israelis rarely hear such facts, either from their
politicians or media. And few are willing to listen
when a rare voice like Schulz's intervenes. Israelis
have grown content living in a large bubble of denial.
Netantahu and his ministers are making every effort to
reinforce that bubble, just as they have tried to
shield Israelis from the fact that they live in the
Middle East, not Europe, by building walls on every
side – both physical and bureacratic – to exclude
Palestinians, Arab neighbours, foreign workers and
Inside Israel, the government is seeking to silence
the few critical voices left. The intimidation was
starkly on display last week as the supreme court
considered the constitutionality of the recent
"boycott law", which threatens to bankrupt anyone
calling for a boycott of either Israel or the
Tellingly, a lawyer for the government defended its
position by arguing that Israel could not afford
freedom of expression of the kind enjoyed by countries
like the US.
Illustrating the point, uproar greeted the news last
month that a civics teacher had responded negatively
when asked by pupils whether he thought Israel's army
the most moral in the world. A campaign to sack him
has been led by government ministers and his
principal, who stated: "There are sacred cows I won't
allow to be slaughtered."
Similarly, last week it emerged that a Palestinian
from East Jerusalem had been interrogated by police
for incitement after noting on Facebook that his city
was "under occupation".
Outside Israel, Netanyahu is indulging in more
familiar tactics to browbeat critics. Tapping European
sensitivities, he accused those who support a boycott
of being "classical anti-semites in modern garb".
Netanyahu justified the allegation, as he has before,
on the grounds that Israel is being singled it out.
It looks that way to Israelis only because they have
singularly insulated themselves from reality.
Western critics focus on Israel because, unlike
countries such as North Korea or Iran, it has managed
to avoid any penalties despite riding roughshod over
international norms for decades.
Iran, which is only suspected of secretly developing
nuclear weapons, has been enduring years of savage
sanctions. Israel, which has hidden its large
stockpile of nuclear warheads from international
scrutiny since the late 1960s, has enjoyed endless
Contrary to Netanyahu's claim, lots of countries
around the world have been singled out for sanctions
by the United States and Europe – whether diplomatic,
financial or, in the case of Iraq, Libya and Syria,
But the antipathy towards Israel has deeper roots
still. Israel has not only evaded accountability, it
has been handsomely rewarded by the US and Europe for
flouting international conventions in its treatment of
The self-styled global policemen have encouraged
Israel's law-breaking by consistently ignoring its
transgressions and continuing with massive aid
handouts and preferential trade deals. In Germany's
case, one of the most significant benefits has been
its decision to supply Israel with a fleet of Dolphin
submarines, which allow Israel to transport its rogue
nuclear arsenal around the high seas.
Far from judging Israel unfairly, Schulz, Merkel and
most other western leaders regularly indulge in
special pleading on its behalf. They know about
Israel's ugly occupation but shy away from exercising
their powers to help end it.
The reason why popular criticism of Israel is
currently galvanising around the boycott movement –
what Netanyahu grandly calls "delegitimisation" – is
that it offers a way for ordinary Americans and
Europeans to distance themselves from their
governments' own complicity in Israel's crimes.
If Netanyahu has refused to listen to his external
critics, western governments have been no less at
fault in growing impervious to the groundswell of
sentiment at home that expects Israel to be forced to
take account of international law.
Both Merkel's diplomatic niceties and her shouting
matches have proven utterly ineffective. It is time
for her and her western colleagues to stop talking and
to start taking action against Israel.
Jonathan Cook won the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize
for Journalism. His latest books are "Israel and the
Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to
Remake the Middle East" (Pluto Press) and
"Disappearing Palestine: Israel's Experiments in Human
Despair" (Zed Books). His new website is