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Ukraine and Israel: How to compare the incomparable

The foundations are being laid for the next anti-Israel propaganda campaign.

A protest against the Russian invasion of Ukraine at Jerusalem City Hall on Feb. 28, 2022. Photo by Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90.
A protest against the Russian invasion of Ukraine at Jerusalem City Hall on Feb. 28, 2022. Photo by Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90.
Masha Gabriel
Masha Gabriel

To paraphrase Leo Tolstoy, every peaceful country is alike; every war-torn country is war-torn in its own way. But to hear many analysts in the media tell it, the current crisis in Ukraine is no different from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Thus, for example, a former Peruvian congressman with more than 125,000 followers asked on Twitter: “The [Russians’] lack of respect for international law is the sole responsibility of the United Nations, the United States and the United Kingdom by allowing genocidal massacres of Palestinian children with impunity. Now there is no one to establish order. Don’t complain.” In other words, if in the name of outdated imperialism, Putin decides to invade a sovereign country, then it is the fault of world powers who failed to keep those genocidal Jews in check.

But if this attitude is not surprising among those who openly devote their time and energies to lying about Israel, it is surprising when it is journalists or so-called professional analysts who spread these outlandish charges. Palestinian population figures and life expectancy data quickly disprove claims of genocide. Yet too many analysts, who should know better, never bring up the relevant data. Instead, some now seek to take advantage of Russia’s invasion in order to draw absurd parallels with Israel’s alleged wrongdoing.

For example, a prestigious Spanish journalist asked his numerous followers on social media:

“If Trump skirts international law and recognizes Israel’s sovereignty over Jerusalem and the Golan Heights and Biden doesn’t make a peep, what problem does the U.S. now have with Putin and Ukraine [at] war? How many international rights are in place?”

What an unconvincing analogy. Russia invaded a sovereign state with internationally recognized borders, while in the Israeli case there is a territorial dispute following Israel’s self-defensive wars. There was never a country called Palestine that Israel decided to occupy from one day to the next. Since 1948 the Jewish state has been systematically attacked by its neighbors and, as a consequence, there is now an “occupation” in an unresolved war. Specifically, the Golan Heights is a plateau from which not a few attacks have been launched into Israeli territory.

This phenomenon of comparing the incomparable, of appropriating other people’s situation and pain, seems to be the result of a need to keep the anti-Israel cause in the limelight, lest solidarity with the Ukrainians eclipse media obsession with Israel. A well-known CNN journalist even admonished Israel for not having taken a tougher stance towards Russia, apparently forgetting that Russia is also currently marching around in Syria, and that the Jewish state must thus negotiate with Putin when responding to terrorist attacks from its northern border.

Such complex politics simply gets ignored. In The Independent, the paper’s “Race Correspondent” claimed that international support for Ukrainian resistance represents a racist double standard because the support is not shared equally with “black and brown people” such as the Palestinians. Aside from applying an obviously false racial dichotomy to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, according to which Ethiopian and Mizrahi Israelis would be white, the entire analysis is a political and ethical distortion, for as CAMERA UK analyst Adam Levick noted:

“Citizens of democratic Ukraine making Molotov cocktails are doing so to throw at tanks which are part of an unprovoked military onslaught by an authoritarian, expansionist Russian regime. Palestinians, on the other hand, who manufacture and use bombs against Israelis typically use such explosives on civilians, and are usually affiliated with anti-Semitic extremist organizations which seek Israel’s destruction.”

And it is precisely that existential threat that is at the heart of the matter. If analysts seek to draw real parallels, perhaps it would be better to delve into the very essence of the conflict.

Just as Putin does not consider Ukraine a legitimate state and does not believe it should exist, so, too, do Fatah, Hamas, Iran and not a few others believe that the Jewish state has no right to exist. Just as Ukraine is fighting an existential war, Israel is facing groups financed, armed and trained by an aspiring nuclear power whose leaders have made it clear that Israel must disappear. In the words of Jibril Rajoub, former deputy secretary-general of the Fatah Central Committee and former head of the Preventive Security Force in the West Bank, “I swear that if we had a nuclear bomb, we would have used it this very morning.”

Or in the words of Ayatollah Ali Khamanei, sponsor of the above, Israel “will disappear from the map” and its territory “will certainly be returned to the Palestinian nation.”

In short, the foundations are being laid for the next anti-Israel propaganda campaign. Foundations that are no different from those already in use: the exploitation of other people’s causes and the indispensable trivialization and manipulation of history.

Lahav Harkov, a journalist for The Jerusalem Post, commented on social media: “I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: The fact that so many mainstream journalists are fixated on Israel in a conflict that is not about Israel is creepy and they should really examine why they’re doing it.”

Now more than ever, when disinformation is rampant on social-media platforms, it is necessary to appeal to the journalistic and analytical rigor of those whose true mission is to illuminate the dark.

Masha Gabriel is director of ReVista de Medio Oriente (CAMERA’s Spanish-language division). Born in Argentina and raised in Spain, Masha monitors the Spanish-language media from Spain, Latin America and the United States and tries to ensure that reporting about Israel and the region is balanced and accurate. 

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