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‘Humanitarians’ missing in action



They were here so very recently. Just last year, they were signing petitions against civilian casualties and condemning the use of military force. Just a few months ago, they were buying up metres of newspaper space to contain their signatures condemning Israel for human-rights violations. So very recently, they were dripping dollops of make-believe blood from their bleeding hearts all over the public space. Where have all the humanitarians gone?

Allow me to explain. When Israel was in conflict with forces in Gaza, quite a number of deeply-caring South Africans vented their fury against Israel. Notice my careful language: “When Israel was in conflict” is a neutral phrase, not allocating blame or responsibility to one side or in fact, to either. Or both. I understand that conflict is complex, and war is awful.

Yet those self-same persons who rushed to condemn Israel unilaterally are now missing in action while Russia is bombarding kindergarteners and supermarkets in Ukraine. Day by day, I wait for those people who leapt into action to condemn Israel to say a word or two about Russia. Nothing. Nada. Nyet. It’s so puzzling. Don’t they care when powerful countries attack weak neighbours, and civilian casualties ensue? So, where are the missing persons of the petition brigade?

I’m starting to get worried. Here’s why: for a shocking moment, I’m having to consider that these human-rights supporters worry only about humans who are Palestinians. And that they care only about aggression if they can point a finger at Israel, Now that’s okay, I suppose, if they don’t mind making fools of themselves for such selective humanitarian concerns. I mean, such a strange cherry-picking of human tragedy is puzzling. Such one-sided paroxysms of selective empathy can make one dizzy.

But maybe I’m being hasty. Maybe the anti-Israel brigade is circulating a petition against Russian aggression as I write. Maybe I’ll open the Sunday Times or Daily Maverick in a day or two, and find those familiar names have pulled together a petition and are condemning Russia’s bombardment of Ukrainian cities.

Meanwhile, I’ll keep looking for those missing persons, so brave and active on the barricades of petition-writing, so fearless when it comes to criticising Israel, so caring when it comes to embracing Gazans. Where on earth are they hiding while people are suffering in Ukraine?

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