New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristoff offered an interesting parenthetical remark on August 4: “(Whenever I write about Israel, I get accused of double standards because I don’t spill as much ink denouncing worse abuses by, say, Syria. I plead guilty. I demand more of Israel partly because my tax dollars supply arms and aid to Israel. I hold democratic allies like Israel to a higher standard — just as I do the U.S.)”

It’s nice that Mr. Kristoff recognizes Israel as the democratic ally it is. As it happens, Israel as a Jewish state should and does hold to—if not always meet—the highest standards. But expecting more of Israel does create a double standard. This is particularly troublesome in the face of Syria’s repression of its own people, a response so blatant and violent that Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah demanded “an end to the death machine and bloodshed.” And let’s face it. The Saudis run a pretty tight ship when it comes to human rights and dissent.

Israelis and Jews in general are only human. Witness the Book of Deuteronomy, which we’re now studying. In verses 28:15–68, Moses offers the Tokechah (reproof)—a list of curses in ascending severity that will befall the Israelites if they fail to heed God’s commandments. God has set the very highest standards of human behavior. But the Israelites remain only flesh and blood in spite of being created b’tzelem Elohim—in the image of God. Otherwise, the Tokechah would have been irrelevant.

If Mr. Kristoff feels the need to point out modern Israel’s failings, fine. Israelis and Jews worldwide do, too. Israel has always been filled with political debate and expression. Last Saturday, 250,000 Israelis protested wage disparities and costly housing. No batons. No bullets. How’s that for meeting a higher standard than in Cairo, Hama or Tehran?

Nonetheless, injustice follows when the world fails to hold other nations to Israel’s standards. Hypocrites dismiss those nations’ violence and hatred then present Israelis as wrongdoers for fighting back when violence and hatred are directed at them. Such warped thinking makes targets of Jews everywhere.

In the contexts of both the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the Arab Spring, the concept of higher standards also establishes Arabs—particularly Hamas, Fatah, Hezbollah—and Iranians as childlike and undeveloped. They act badly because they simply don’t know better. Thus they can’t be expected to meet accepted standards of decency. No matter how terribly they speak and act, they don’t disappoint and so fail to draw condemnation. It is Israel that, when attacked, must defend itself against accusations of “disproportional response.” Given the demands that democracy makes on any nation and the hopes that democracy may some day flourish in the Middle East, how condescending is that?

So please, Mr. Kristoff, don’t put Israel and Jews on a pedestal. We do enough of that ourselves. Double standards serve only to turn world opinion against us for no good reason while providing Syria’s Bashar Assad and other Middle East tyrants a pass to act outrageously. As a columnist for the Times, shouldn’t your writing meet a higher standard?

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1 Comment

  1. Carolyn Power on August 13, 2011 at 9:35 pm

    A complex issue. I’ve always said that Israel needs better PR.

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