I’ve been thinking about the Movement for Black Lives’ (MBL) condemnation of Israel and about the anti-Israel Boycott, Divest, Sanction (BDS) movement.
I’ve often heard people ask: Why so much emphasis on Israel when other countries are also bad or even worse?
It’s not just anti-Semitism, although that may be part of it.
I think it’s part of a general trend among everyone: We sympathize with people whom we see as similar to ourselves.
For instance, the MBL platform opposes discrimination against black people. It also observes that Israel “practices systematic discrimination” against the Palestinians — a group that MBL calls part of “our community”.
It’s an understandable comparison: Israel and the United States are both Western-style democracies with a culturally and ethnically distinct minority that faces discrimination from the country’s power structure. No wonder the MBL cares about the Palestinians.
It’s harder to identify with the situation in, say, North Korea — a non-democratic society that makes life hell for nearly all of its citizens, not just a particular ethnicity. Who cares if North Korea’s government oppresses the North Koreans, or if Russia’s government oppresses the Russians, or if China, Sudan and Cuba deprive their own people of rights? If you’re not ethnically Korean, Russian, Chinese, Sudanese or Cuban, you probably don’t care much.
Even if we did care, we might feel discouraged about protesting those countries’ governments. Foreign tyrannies don’t usually budge in response to U.S. citizen groups.
So for anyone complaining that anti-Israel protests are unfair when worse governments are doing worse things — sorry, but you won’t change the protestors’ minds unless you can get them to see the Israelis as similar to themselves.
And that may not be easy.