Singling out Israel

Page last updated 25 Sep 2015


The idea that Israel is singled out for unfair criticism, demonised and delegitimised, has long been forcibly expressed, and responded to, particularly since 2004. It is obviously an ongoing debate, but it is nevertheless hard to find much new by way of argument. So, many of the links below are to debates that took place a while ago. A notable exception to this is a recent (Jun 2015) article by Ran Greenstein, included below.

The focus of the debate may have shifted a little in recent years, with the claim that Israel is now being demonised by being called an apartheid state. This is dealt with in Is Israel an apartheid society?


Some quotes:

I am a tribalist at heart. I really care about my tribe, or, I should say, the various tribes of which I am a member. I care about them in ways that I don’t care about other tribes… So, when critics say to me, “Why are you always harping on Israel when there is genocide in Dafur, or vast suppression of human rights in China?” my answer is that I simply care more about Israel because I am part of the tribe…
But what about criticism from folks who are outside the tribe entirely… isn’t that a sign that they are unreasonably fixated on Jews? Not necessarily. Even though such people are not part of my Israeli Jewish tribe, they may be part of another relevant tribe (say, the Palestinian tribe, or the Friends of Palestine tribe, or even the People-who-Expect-the Countries-That-Present-Themselves-as Civilized-Should-Act-in-a-Civilized-Fashion tribe).

Jerry Haber, The Magnes Zionist, 3 Sep 2007

But who’s actually doing the singling out? Israel’s advocates argue that its security situation and its role as a Jewish state are unique, and imply that it is therefore permitted to do things that are clearly prohibited to other states (land seizures, house demolitions, assassinations, mass detentions). Those who demand that Israel conform to international law and standards of human decency are challenging this kind of singling out, calling for an end to Israel’s special exemption.

Mike Marqusee, Guardan, 17 May 2006

When I hear people argue that Israel is unfairly singled out, I wish I could persuade myself that what they mean is: “If only people cared as much for the people of Tibet/Darfur/Zimbabwe as they do for the Palestinians”. But since those who make this point never seem to be partisans of the Free Tibet Campaign, I suspect that what they often mean is: “If only people cared as little for the Palestinians as they do for the people of Tibet/Darfur/Zimbabwe”.

David Clarke, Engage, 15 March 2006

There is no doubt that Israeli aggression during the current intifada has increased instability all around the world. There is good reason to focus specifically on the Middle East and the Israel-Palestine conflict as a fulcrum for much of what is happening in the world. And the suffering of the Palestinians is severe. But let us not forget that the Israeli occupation happens in the context of a political world rife with suffering, with violence and with war. Let us not, in our eagerness to express the gravity of the situation in Israel-Palestine, place that conflict outside of its perspective.

Mitchell Plitnick, Jewish Voice for Peace, JfJfP 15 Jan 2004

Lancet - singling out








Thanks to Brian Robinson. Click on image for full size.



1. Singling Out Israel for Moral Opprobrium
Jerry Haber, The Magnes Zionist, 3 Sep 2007

A wonderful, short polemic on the right to single out Israel and some valid reasons for doing so.


2. Who’s singling out Israel?
Mike Marqusee, Guardan, 17 May 2006

A critique of the various ways people are accused of singling out Israel. It is, rather, singled out for support by the US and the UK in particular.


3. Singling out Israel?
Mitchell Plitnick, Jewish Voice for Peace, JfJfP 15 Jan 2004

An account of the fascination with Israel in today’s world and the strong emotions and concerns its actions generate; and a call not to forget the other injustices in the world today.


4. Anti-Semitism and the Israel-Palestine conflict – assessing the claim of double standards
Stephen Shalom, Yale University talk, JfJfP 28 Nov 2010

Does what it says in the title. Looks at eight arguments made by those who claim that critics of Israel, motivated by antisemitism, apply double standards – not criticising others for what they accuse Israel of doing – and provides solid arguments to refute these claims.


5. Singling out Israel
Richard Kuper, Tom Hurndall Memorial Talk, JfJfP Nov 2006

Focuses on six good reasons for singling out Israel: Israel singles itself out and presents itself as special; Israel is special; the US clearly finds Israel special; Israel presents itself as special in relation to the Jews of the world; it claims to be in the forefront of the world war on terror; and, finally, there is the occupation, for so long, in defiance of international law…

There was an interesting, and quite civil exchange of views on an earlier version of this argument on Normblog, JfJfP Jan 2006.


6. Accusations of anti-semitic chic are poisonous intellectual thuggery
David Clark, Guardian, 6 Mar 2006

Attempts to brand the left as anti-Jewish because of its support of Palestinian rights only make it harder to tackle genuine racism. “Real anti-semitism is a serious and growing problem, and there is a need for political consensus about how to tackle it. But debate is poisoned and consensus becomes difficult when allegations of anti-semitism are bandied about for reasons that have nothing to do with fighting racism.”

Clark was a former Labour government advisor. The article brought David Hirsh’s wrath down on Clarke’s head on the Engage website here – and Clarke responded here


7. What Is Special about Israel?
Ran Greenstein, Jadaliyya, 03 Jun 2015

Israel’s supporters often acknowledge particular problems with Israeli policy but “usually explain these away as the unfortunate results of ever-present difficult security situation which calls for undemocratic measures, albeit of a limited and temporary nature. These measures, the argument goes, are not unique to Israel. In a similar form they can be found in many places throughout the world, today or historically.”

With detailed, incisive historical and sociological insight Greenstein shows quite how exceptional Israel really is.


8. Why this obsession with Israel and the Palestinians?
Robert Fowke, Comment is Free, Guardian, 22 Jun 2010

“I think of myself as an average sort of Englishman… I do not expect Israelis to behave like Burmese generals; I expect them to behave like Englishmen, like my friends… Another reason for my disproportionate interest in this conflict is that I feel I have been lied to, and I feel that people are still trying to lie to me and I don’t like it”


 9. Why not boycott Iran?
Haggai Matar,+972, 15 Jun 2015

“Why don’t they boycott Iran/Syria/Hamas/ISIS?” Matar points out that many countries are heavily sanctioned by the West. Sanctions are in fact common – but Israel is exempt. human rights abusers worse than Israel. Why should that let Israel off the hook?  The Palestinians are asking for solidarity in their struggle – people around the world will choose whether or not to support them.


Contents of this section


a) Setting the scene: the hasbara (propaganda) war
b) Is criticism of Israel antisemitic?

Singling out Israel
Is Israel an apartheid society?
BDS and antisemitism

c) Can you have a Jewish and democratic state?
d) What is Zionism today?

e) The nature of the nakba
f) One state or two?
g) Is Hamas to blame? / Is Gaza still occupied?
h) Right of return and law of return
i) The role of the JNF


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