In October 2009 a UN investigatory commission, chaired by the Jewish jurist Richard Goldstone, accused Israel of “crimes against humanity” during the three-week war in Gaza the previous winter. This extraordinary category of crime was invented for the Nuremberg tribunal following World War II that had condemned the surviving leaders of the Nazi regime for systematic mass murder of Jews and others. Now things had come full circle: the Jews themselves stood accused.
This moment underlined a dramatic change in international opinion that would have seemed unthinkable a few decades earlier. Little more than 40 years had elapsed since underdog Israel had fought a six-day war against its Arab neighbors in which the Western world had cheered for its victory.
For example, in Great Britain, where attitudes toward Israel had been chillier than elsewhere in Western Europe, virtually every major newspaper editorialized in support of the Jewish state. The UK government took it on itself to introduce UN Security Council Resolution 242 affirming Israel’s right to live in peace behind “secure and recognized boundaries,” a formula that implicitly endorsed alterations to the pre-war armistice lines to allow Israel more favorable borders.Efforts by the Arab states to rally support for their cause in the General Assembly, where London and Washington wielded no veto, were rebuffed, with a substantial number of states condoning Israel’s action.
But by 2009, this sympathy seemed a distant memory in the UK and the rest of Western Europe, and the UN was arrayed overwhelmingly against Israel. Its Human Rights Council, which had created the Goldstone Commission, had already in the few years since it was created adopted multiple resolutions condemning Israel for one thing or another, while rarely rebuking any other government even once. The Jewish state, once widely admired for its resolution “never again” to allow Jews to be targeted, now was denounced each time it raised its hand against murderous enemies.
In singling out Israel, the Human Rights Council was far from alone. Its predecessor, the UN Commission on Human Rights, had practiced the same one-sidedness, as had the General Assembly, which had lacerated Israel in countless resolutions, even going so far as to endorse terrorist attacks on Israel as legitimate “resistance.”
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While the UN constituted an especially fertile field for denunciations of Israel, many other national and international bodies, including many in the West, joined this chorus. British teacher unions proclaimed academic boycotts of Israel; mainline Protestant churches in the United States divested from companies doing business with Israel; Norwegian supermarkets boycotted Israeli goods; Sweden’s largest newspaper concocted sensational stories that Israel was slaughtering Palestinians to harvest and sell their organs; reputable international human rights organizations focused more on Israel than on the world’s most egregious tyrannies; and a former president of the United States issued a book accusing Israel of practicing “apartheid.”
In short, the “global community” had stamped Israel as an outcast. What had happened in the intervening decades to occasion such a dramatic turnaround?
On the surface, there were two explanations. First, the Arab cause – reactionary, overtly homicidal in its objectives, and expressed in bluster – had been replaced by the far more sympathetic and “progressive” Palestinian cause. Instead of proclaiming openly their determination to deny the Jews a state, Israel’s enemies now accused the Jews of denying that same right to another people, the Palestinians.
Second, Israel no longer seemed endangered.The Egyptian and Syrian rulers who had mobilized their armies on its frontiers in 1967 proclaimed their intent to annihilate the Jewish state. Although Israel had prevailed against Arab opponents in 1948 and 1956, it remained surrounded and outnumbered, and nobody felt certain in 1967, when memories of the Holocaust were still fresh, that the Jewish state would survive this more determined threat to its survival. But four decades and several wars later, Israel appeared invulnerable. In a complete reversal of fortune, David seemed to have become Goliath.