Friday, November 13, 2015

Israel's predictably excessive response to the EU

My patience with the state of Israel continues to decline from an already low level. In the face of the European Union's proposed new guidelines for the labelling of food products from Israeli-occupied parts of Palestine, the outcry from Israel is predictably deafening, not to mention excessive, inappropriate and often puerile.
Goods from the West Bank (including East Jerusalem), the Golan Heights and Gaza that are exported to the EU must now make clear that they came from an Israeli settlement or business in territories that are internationally considered illegal, rather than simply "Product of Israel" or "Product of Palestine". Additionally, such goods will no longer receive the preferential tariff extended by the EU to Israel. Initially, I thought this may have been something of a storm in a teacup, but it turns out that this actually involves about 1% of Israel's annual $30 billion of trade with the EU, so the amounts are pretty substantial.
Benjamin Netanyahu, in his usual considered and understated way, slammed the ruling as "an immoral decision ... it chose to single out Israel and Israel alone while it's fighting with its back against the wall against the wave of terror", and warned that it could lead to "emboldening those who are not interested in Israeli-Palestinian peace but in eliminating Israel altogether". Other Israeli politicians called it "anti-Semitic" and drew comparisons with the use of the yellow star during the Holocaust.
This is just the kind of thing that annoys me. The EU decision may well be political, but it is a political statement against the policies of a maverick pariah state which continues to build and maintain illegal settlements against the almost unanimous will of the international community. This is not a racist action, and the race and religion of the illegal settlers is just not relevant to the decision. Rather, it is Israel that pulls the race card, as it does so often, and it does so secure in the knowledge that the rest of the world (and especially Europe) feels distinctly uncomfortable singling out a people who have suffered so extensively throughout history. But their mention of anti-Semitism, and using the Holocaust as a get-out-of-jail-free card, is starting to get really tired.
This wilful conflation of race, religion and politics, and this cynical reliance on guilt-tripping, is the hallmark of Israeli international relations. Maybe a certain amount of paranoia is inevitable, given their history, but, contrary to Israel's assumptions, most other people really don't care what race or religion they are. Europe is making a purely political point based on current geopolitical circumstances (i.e. Israel's illegal settlement in Palestine, their subversion of basic human rights in the region, and their quasi-apartheid treatment of Palestinians).
In fact, this most recent example of the apparent Jewish single-mindedness about race led me to some research I had long wanted to pursue. I had always thought that Semitism, as a race, culture and language, was a shared root of both Jews and Arabs. And, yes, it seems that I was right. Wikipedia and other sources confirm that the language, culture and ethnicity of both Jews and Levantine Arabs stem from common Semitic roots (along with the Assyrians, Babylonians, Phoenicians, etc, i.e. essentially all of the Middle East and North Africa). The Jews and the Palestinians are therefore close cousins ethnically and culturally, and genetically almost indistinguishable.
The use of the word "Semitic" to refer to Jews in particular (especially in a hostile or discriminatory manner) is a relatively recent phenomenon, dating back to a handful of 19th Century German and French historians and political agitators, although the Jews themselves seem to have wholeheartedly embraced this usage during the last century or so.
Indeed, the Jews, so fiercely proud of their race, turn out to be at least as mongrelized as most other races and cultures, if not more so. In terms of Y-chromosome (male line) genetics, for example, Palestinians are to be found right in the middle of the various Jewish populations, with little or nothing to distinguish one from the other. Even in mitochondrial DNA (female line) terms, so important in matrilineal Jewish culture, Jewish women demonstrate a highly diverse gene pool, consistent with constant intermarriage both with a wide variety of local populations and with other Jewish groups.
So, Jewishness essentially comes down to something as arbitrary as their choice of religion. Centuries of strife, and countless deaths all over the world, can be traced back to which particular old book they choose to revere. Unbelievable, when you think about it.

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