The deliberations of the UN General Assembly, the Obama and Rouhani speeches and the demonstrative departure of the Israeli delegation during the speech by the Iranian president brought me to contemplate on a question that's been troubling me for a while now.
Nearly a year ago, the BBC published the results of a public opinion survey held among citizens of 22 countries in the world, which answered the question of which countries negatively influence the world and generate negative sentiments. Iran took the first place on the survey (55% of participants marked it as the most negative country). The second place was taken by Pakistan (with 51%) and the third place was held by both Israel and North Korea (with 50%).
My presumption is that the residents of Iran, Pakistan and North Korea whould share the negative opinion about their countries, if they were able to speak more freely. This is not the case when it comes to the citizens of Israel, where all of the surveys held in the country point to a populace that loves its country and to a local public opinion that is among the most happy in the world. The majority of people visiting the country from abroad - and I am not only referring to Jewish visitors - have a positive impression from the country - which completely contradicts Israel's image beyond its borders.
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I wonder why this publication passed by us without a comment, with no attempt to understand and to explain, with the exception of a shrug and a comment of "well, it's not surprising, they're all anti-Semitic." This response is one I find unacceptable. While I do not ignore the existence of antisemitism and the convenience of replacing its classical form with anti-Zionism and hatred of Israel, this response is one I do not find acceptable since we have also known other reactions, and even opposing ones - and the most prominent example is from 20 years ago, after the Oslo Accords were signed.
How can this be explained, then?
Without any in-depth research, I came up with four explanations:
1. It is, primarily, not Israel but the situation we are in. Countries around the world fear a local, violent confrontation that might find its way to them. The Israeli-Arab conflict is not the only conflict in the world, but it is doubtful if there is another one that could result in an international war that would also involve the large powers, a war where weapons of mass destruction could be used. Those who voted against Israel in the survey are not interested in who has a better argument, but who endangers them the most.
2. Israel's policy - which is viewed worldwide as one that seeks to solve every problem with force and weapons - contributes to it. A policy that repeatedly establishes "red lines" and does not hesitate to operate overtly and with force to prevent developments in neighboring states that could develop into danger. Once more, this policy brings us back to the initial explanation.
3. Another explanation is, of course, the Israeli occupation which persisted for more than 46 years. It is interesting to compare the difference in the world's attitude towards Israel's control of the Golan Heights compared to the West Bank. In the case of the Golan Heights, there is no hostile populace, nor is there an active resistance. This is not the case with the Palestinian territory - where a daily conflict takes place with regards to the question of territorial ownership, a conflict that repeats and erupts occasionally. Many in the world recognize the "historic right" that the Jewish people have for returning to their homeland, yet everyone, even our best friends, are committed to allowing it in only in the framework of an official agreement.
4. Lastly, perhaps an element of jealousy is part of it - jealousy of our accomplishments, a jealousy which is part of the classic antisemitism. Furthermore, there is our contribution - we never really thought to adopt the well-known saying of the Israeli educator Dr. Arthur Biram, "walk humbly!"
Maj. Gen. (Res.) Shlomo Gazit served as Head of the IDF GHQ Intelligence Division immediately following the 1973 Yom-Kippur War. He took part in the peace talks with Egypt, served as President of the Ben-Gurion University and as Director General of the Jewish Agency for Israel. Today he is a senior research associate at the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS).