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David and Goliath reversed in the Middle East




Prior to the Six-Day War, Israel was described by many in the international community and the media as a David surrounded by a sea of Arab Goliaths. But ever since her smashing defeat of her Arab neighbours in 1967, the analogy has flipped and is now used to describe vulnerable Palestinians facing a well-armed Israeli giant.

And following the Israel Defence Forces’ (IDF) actions on the border with Gaza, there is a sea of anti-Israel sentiment sweeping across much of the international media and corridors of power. But this analogy explains why the sentiment hasn’t raised too many eyebrows in Israel itself.

It’s not that Israelis don’t care; it’s just that they’re resigned to it. Some of those I speak to say that the world is inherently anti-Israel or anti-Semitic. Others say people living outside of Israel just don’t understand the situation and are misled by the media and/or politicians.

Into this torrent fell the news that South Africa had withdrawn its ambassador and, although it was reported about in the Israeli news, it hardly made a splash.

It received nowhere near as much coverage as it did in South Africa. Subsequently Turkey, Belgium and Ireland recalled their ambassadors. However, if you ask people in the streets of Israel – which I did – which countries brought their ambassadors home, most didn’t have a clue.

For South Africans, this might be a bitter pill to swallow, but the truth is that Israelis don’t care too much about what the South African government says. On the global stage of influence South Africa plays minimal importance alongside the United States, Europe, China and India.

But this is not to say that Jerusalem is unconcerned about the South African Jewish community. There’s cognisance that the backlash and rhetoric emanating from the South African government has a direct impact on South African Jewry in a way that it doesn’t have on Israelis.

But Jerusalem faces a far bigger dilemma, and it doesn’t just concern the South African Jewish community. That is: How does it protect Israeli citizens while at the same time not lose Israel’s standing in the international community?

To some it might not seem a dilemma at all; and it certainly isn’t for many of the Israelis I’ve been interviewing. Jerusalem would never sacrifice security for international opinion, I am repeatedly told – especially not when that international opinion is so stacked against Jerusalem to begin with. As one Israeli summed it up: “The world doesn’t like us, so it’s not important for us what they think.”

But there are consequences.

Firstly, the Israeli right benefits from the perception that many in the global community are against Israel. Disproportionate criticism, and singling Israel out by failing to point a finger at countries with far worse human rights records, helps those who argue that the Jewish State is alone.

Consider that the United Nations, European leaders and human rights organisations insist that the IDF is using excessive force against peaceful demonstrators, despite the fact that Hamas admitted that dozens of those killed are among its members. Because of such situations, Israelis conclude that they live in a hostile world, which in turn, leads them to dismiss any, and all, criticisms.

The irony is that this comes on the back of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s efforts in improving relations between Jerusalem and the African continent.

Two years ago, Netanyahu was the first Israeli premier in almost 30 years to visit Africa -– and expectations were big.

Politically, African nations are seen as a critical voting bloc. It is believed that – if persuaded to do otherwise – they could prevent anti-Israel resolutions being passed at the UN and other international forums. Africa is also a potentially huge export market, including in the military sector.

But in all this, South Africa will be playing a much smaller role, if any at all.

The Gaza crisis is far from over. At the time of writing, a flotilla is expected to sail from Gaza, presumably to Turkey, with injured Gazans on board. It will no doubt cause a media frenzy and there’s almost certain to be the same tough criticisms emanating from the South African government against Jerusalem. The problem is that in Israel, they are falling on deaf ears.

It will be the South African Jewish community that will continue to weather the fallout from the deterioration in Israel-South Africa relations.

For Israel, until it finds a different way to respond to the Gaza crisis, there won’t be any relief from those who criticise the country. The problem is that most Israelis believe that relief will only come if the Jewish State ceases to be.

  • Paula Slier is the Middle East Bureau Chief of RT, the founder and CEO of Newshound Media and the inaugural winner of the Europcar Woman in Leadership Award of the South African Absa Jewish Achievers.

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