There's a word for how the world judges the Jewish state: Israelophobia

In the first of three weekly extracts from his new book, JC editor Jake Wallis Simons dispels myths about the country


Ze’ev Jabotinsky, one of the most significant figures in the drive to create modern Israel, wrote in 1911: “We are a people as all other peoples; we do not have any intentions to be better than the rest. As one of the first conditions for equality we demand the right to have our own villains, exactly as other people have them.”

Today, not only is Israel unable to have its own villains, it is also deprived of its saints. Many people are unable to view the country reasonably, which means seeing its sins and good qualities in proportion.

When some police officers are overly brutal, it is taken to prove that the country is an “apartheid state”; when its vineyards produce wonderful Merlot, it is derided as “winewashing”.

People simply cannot judge the Jewish state as they would judge any other. Let us begin, therefore, with some facts.

Geographically, Israel is about the size of El Salvador, Slovenia or Wales, with a population the size of New Jersey and an economy the size of Nigeria. It is blessed with an extremely low crime rate, ranking 104th in the world. Britain, by comparison, comes 64th, the United States 56th, France 44th and South Africa 3rd (worst in the world is Venezuela).

Contrary to common perception, in 2022 an American insurance firm named Israel the fifth-safest tourist destination on Earth, behind only Singapore, Denmark, the Netherlands and Switzerland.

Its history may be bloody, but there are at least 27 live conflicts in the world, affecting two billion people; and while the US-led invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq and the Syrian civil war killed hundreds of thousands apiece — and the partition of India and Pakistan in 1947 claimed at least a million lives — the cumulative number of Arabs who have perished in all wars with Israel numbers about 86,000. That’s over a period of 75 years.

For all its problems, Israel protects the rights of women and minorities, as well as freedoms of religion, expression, assembly and so forth.

In January 2023, a study by the Index on Censorship ranked the Jewish state above Britain and the United States in terms of freedom of expression. Tel Aviv is one of the gay capitals of the world.

In 2020, the funeral of Ayman Safiah, an openly homosexual Arab ballet dancer who drowned off the coast of Kibbutz Neve Yam, was attended by thousands of mourners in northern Israel; this would be unimaginable anywhere else in the region. (In Egypt, just across the border, undercover police officers infiltrate dating apps to expose and arrest gay people, according to the BBC.)

Add to these the fact that the Jewish state is a global leader in tech and has one of the best health systems in the world, with treatment even offered to the families of terrorist leaders, and its position in the UN’s World Happiness Index should not, perhaps, be a surprise.

Top of the happy list are three of the Nordic countries, Finland, Denmark and Iceland; then comes Israel at number four. The United States ranks 15th and Britain 19th. As for Israel’s neighbours, Jordan is ranked 123rd and Lebanon 136th, while latest data for Syria ranks it at 149th. The Palestinian Territories score slightly better, at 99th.

That is not to make the sort of argument that excuses Mussolini’s fascism because he had the trains running on time. The fact is that in terms of freedom, democracy and quality of life, Israel is the best place in the Middle East to be a Muslim Arab, let alone a Christian or a Jew.

According to a 2019 survey by the leading pollsters Dahlia Scheindlin and David Reis, 76 per cent of Israeli Arabs felt that Jewish-Muslim relations were generally positive (though this was skewed slightly by age; 80 per cent of those over 35 replied positively, compared to 67 per cent of people between the ages of 18 and 24).

Ninety-four per cent of Israeli Arabs recognised both peoples. And a recent study by the Palestinian Centre for Policy and Survey Research found that between 2010 and 2022, the percentage of Arabs living in Israeli-administered east Jerusalem who would prefer to be governed by the Palestinian Authority dropped from 52 to just 38.

At the same time, no balanced observer could discount Israel’s shadow side. In many ways, the country is a social and political mess.

As President Reuven Rivlin said in a seminal 2015 speech, its population separates into four “tribes” — secular Jews, religious nationalist Jews, strictly Orthodox Jews and Arabs — that are constantly pulling in different directions.

“One tribe, the Arabs, whether or not by its own choice, is not really a partner in the game,” he said. “The other three, it seems, are absorbed by a struggle for survival, a struggle over budgets and resources for education, housing or infrastructure.”

In addition, the country is embroiled in controversies involving territorial disputes, extremism, religious chauvinism, brutality and grinding asymmetrical conflict.

It is a young democracy with no constitution, a single chamber of parliament and an overly powerful supreme court, an ill-formed system that has caused profound instability this year.

Its establishment was preceded by a bloody cycle of violence between Arab and Jewish militias and British imperial forces; in the conflagration that followed, amid atrocities on both sides, Israeli forces carried out a string of massacres, killing 800 prisoners of war and civilians, according to historian Benny Morris.

Overall, thousands of Arabs and Jews lost their lives and hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were displaced, followed by 900,000 Jews from Arab lands.

The behaviour of fringe Jewish extremists — who came to the political foreground when Benjamin Netanyahu came to power in 2022 via a coalition with the far-right — is worthy of severe condemnation.

The country was shocked when a rabble rampaged through the Palestinian village of Huwara in February 2023, avenging a terror attack by torching cars and damaging property.

Yet these criticisms can be made as they would of other nations, without the demonisation that acts as a spring-board for Israelophobia.

As mentioned above, when a video of Israeli police brutality circulates online, many seize it as a chance to denigrate the country itself as racist or white supremacist rather than condemning the officers responsible.

By comparison, Britain’s police service has been recently exposed for its misogyny, racism and malpractice, as exemplified by the murder of a woman by one serving officer and the rape of many more by another.

Of the 3,000 children humiliatingly strip-searched by British police in the past four years, black children were six times more likely to be targeted, figures revealed in March 2023.

In 2022, a black teenage girl said she would sue her school and the Metropolitan Police after she was pulled out of class and forced to remove her sanitary towel in a fruitless search for drugs.

In France, meanwhile, President Macron vowed to reform the police after four white officers were caught on camera beating up an unarmed black music producer in his Paris studio in 2020.

The tarnished record of American policing speaks for itself. Yet the foundations of these states are not questioned.

Donald Trump’s election as president of the United States precipitated four years of turbulence and soul-searching. But even in that febrile period, despite the colonialism and ethnic cleansing on which the country had been founded, nobody sensible compared it to rogue regimes.

The US enforced racial segregation for almost a century. The Jim Crow system — named after a disparaging term for blacks — truly was a form of apartheid.

In the Fifties, while the United States segregated blacks on buses and in public places, extending the spirit of bigotry that had dominated its bloody foundation, its “right to exist” was never debated. But in those very same years, Israel’s nationhood was repeatedly denied, even though it extended equal rights to its Arab minority.

In October 2022, the Sweden Democrats — the biggest party in the world that has Nazi roots — joined that country’s governing coalition, giving it influence over policymaking.

Germany’s Alternative Für Deutschland, with its nativist flavour, has veered between being the fifth-largest and third-largest party in the country.

Italy is now led by Giorgia Meloni, also labelled by many as far-right (though others disagree). Rassemblement National, formerly Marine Le Pen’s Front National, is France’s largest parliamentary opposition group in the National Assembly, with a strong presence in the European Parliament.

Although the success of these political movements may speak of worrying currents within their societies, the countries themselves are not portrayed as racist.

When far-right figures broke into Israel’s government, however, an article in The Times of London compared them to the Taliban and the Ayatollahs. Israel has its heroes and its villains, to be sure. But the warped way in which both are seen reveals the problem: Israelophobia.

Israelophobia: The Newest Version of the Oldest Hatred and What to Do about It by Jake Wallis Simons (Constable, £11.95) is available to pre-order on Amazon now.

Rob Rinder will interview Jake Wallis Simons about Israelophobia at JW3 on September 12. Tickets cost £15. Visit:

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