I have been an online activist for Israel for many years now. I am often asked why I support Israel. I was asked recently on Twitter, so here is my 140 character reply: “They have elections, free speech, freedom of religion, freedom of sexuality. You guys don’t.”
And that’s pretty much it. I am a supporter of the Western Enlightenment that started in the 17th century and led eventually to a great flowering of freedom of religion (including freedom to be an atheist, and freedom to criticise and mock religious figures), freedom of sexuality (including freedom to be gay, and to have pre-marital sex) and democracy and regular elections (including a free press and opposition parties that criticise the government without fear).
Western liberals should support countries and groups that follow secular Enlightenment values, and oppose countries and groups that do not. Therefore western liberals should support Israel and oppose their enemies (Hamas, Fatah, Hezbollah, Iran, Syria, The Arab League, Al Qaeda).
If the Palestinians believed in the values of the Western Enlightenment, I would re-consider. But they do not. In Gaza, Hamas implements a brutal religious sharia law. Mixing between the sexes is not allowed. Co-educational schools are attacked by armed gunmen. Hamas bans women from dancing, riding motor scooters, or wearing bikinis. They arrest women for “immodest” dress, or meeting men who are not relations. Hamas attacks the tiny minority of Christians. The only Christian shop in Gaza was firebombed and the owner executed. There are complaints of forced conversion to Islam. Opponents of Hamas are shot. All demos are banned. There is no parliamentary opposition (or parliament, or elections).
Fatah are no better. They also ban demos and do not run a parliamentary democracy. Arafat was described as “elected”, but his opponent in the 1996 “election” was a nobody who represented no party, led no opposition and vanished back into obscurity afterwards. Meanwhile, Israel has had decades of open debate in a free parliament and an unbroken series of peaceful democratic elections since 1948.
Fatah on the West Bank jails atheists for “insulting the divine essence”. While Israel is 30 per cent atheist (far more secular than Ireland) and you can change your religion every week without the state caring. While Hamas in Gaza enforces Islamic dress, Israel has the only nude beach in the Middle East. While Fatah policemen arrest and torture homosexuals, Israel has gay pride parades. Tel Aviv was voted best gay city in the world in 2011. A particularly sad article last summer talked about a rare upcoming “Palestinian Queer Party” for gay Palestinians. Why sad? Because the event has be held in Israel for safety.
Now we could talk endlessly about other issues, such as the cause of the conflict – which is not land, or “settlements”, but rather Islam, and the place of the dhimmi within Islam. We could talk endlessly about the “oppression” of the Palestinians – who got three times richer under Israeli occupation from 1967 until 2000, when Arafat destroyed everything with the intifada. We could talk endlessly about Israeli military actions – all of which are defensive and stop once the aggression stops. (No Israeli airstrike on the West Bank for years now.) We could talk about how the IDF tries hard not to hit civilians, while Hamas fighters, knowing this, deliberately surround themselves with crowds of children as they move about firing rockets.
We could talk about all these other issues, but ultimately these issues are not why I support Israel. I support Israel because it is a liberal state, and its enemies are not. The next Gay Pride Parade in Israel will take place in Tel Aviv on 13 June 2014. Perhaps some supporter of the Palestinians would like to tell us when the next gay pride parade under their rule will be.
Mark Humphrys is a lecturer in the School of Computing. Civil debate is welcomed on twitter.com/markhumphrys