Imagine what the world reaction would be if Israel, in order to suppress civilian demonstrations among Arabs, were to unleash its army, killing up to 150 unarmed people in a few days of fighting in Israel proper or the West Bank.
The world would be – figuratively if not literally – up in arms. The United Nations would condemn it in the strongest terms. The Arab League would call for solidarity against the Zionist murderers. The progressive Jewish organizations in the United States that routinely criticize Israel for its unwillingness to make concessions in the “peace process” would justifiably criticize Israel again.
One needn’t imagine the slaughter of 150 Arabs in the Middle East. It happened early this week, at the start of Islam’s Ramadan month of fasting and introspection. In Syria. Five months into the Arab Spring uprising against tyrants in the region, President Bashar al-Assad called out his troops, who used tanks and bulldozers and firearms to brutally quell dissent and silence dissenters. The army even attacked mosques, in the biggest crackdown since a 1982 massacre in Hama took an estimated 10,000 to 20,000 lives.
And one had to imagine the worldwide outrage, because it did not happen. While countries like the U.S. and France called for sanctions against Syria, along with the European Union, silence reigned in the Arab League, in the UN, in progressive Jewish circles. No condemnation, no resolutions, no press releases.
In part that is because the army attacks against brave Syrian citizens seeking basic democratic freedoms have been going on for months, amidst Assad’s pattern of offering various reforms in public pronouncements and then continuing to arrest and kill his own people.
Israeli officials are said to be torn over what outcome they would like to see in Syria. There are those who feel that the devil you know is preferable to the unknown, and that chaos and civil war could be the result if Assad steps down, with Iran hovering next door.
Others note that Syria is about 75 percent Sunni, and that Assad’s clan, the Alawites (a Shiite sect), make up only about 15 percent of the country. If Sunnis controlled the country, the argument goes, Israel would be in a better position to establish relations down the road with a more moderate regime.
Washington wavers in its response to Assad’s brazen actions. On the plus side, the Obama administration has been talking tough and tightening sanctions. Sending the U.S. ambassador to visit Hama, where he was warmly received by the citizens, sent a strong signal to Damascus. But President Obama has not called for Assad to step down, as he did with Mubarak in Egypt and Qaddafi in Libya. And that hesitancy reverberates in Arab capitals and around the world.
In Arab countries some critics were appalled by the silence in the wake of the most recent killings.
“Most Arab States and Arab media have chosen to remain silent” in the face of the killings in Syria, the Global Arab Network’s website reported this week. “The international stance has been disappointing but the shameful Arab silence in baffling.” The GAN called the Arab League “impotent … interpreted by many as backing a murderous regime and giving it the green light to continue with its brutal abuse of the Syrian people.”
This is familiar to defenders of Israel. This double standard, taking every opportunity to take up verbal cudgels against the Jewish state while procrastinating when an Arab country is the perpetrator, is the norm in diplomatic and activist circles. But it is still offensive.
The latest round of violence in Syria, where, according to many reports, at least 2,000 protestors have been killed since March and where journalists’ access to the scenes of fighting is banned by the government, points out some uncomfortable facts for Assad’s apologists:
• Freedom of assembly is an everyday reality in Israel, a death sentence in Syria.
• Freedom of the press is a protected right in Israel, a fantasy in Syria.
• Syria’s stature as a partner with Israel in a peace settlement is, at best, highly questionable.
If this is how Syria treats its own citizens …
To their credit, several Jewish organizations issued statements critical of Syria this week. “Until now, the UN Security Council has remained deafeningly silent about Syria,” AJC executive director David Harris said. “The stumbling block has been the opposition of several key members” – i.e., Russia and China – “unwilling to adopt a resolution critical of the Assad regime. This is beyond shameful.”
With the EU and Western diplomats urging the UN to take action, the Security Council was to meet this week to consider the situation in Syria. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he was “deeply concerned,” which, England’s Guardian newspaper stated, “usually means nothing will happen.”
Which is not to say that the UN is ignoring the Middle East. In recent days UN officials visited Palestinian homes in the West Bank that had been demolished by Israel, investigated an “exchange of fire” along the Israel-Lebanon border, and recommended that Israel lift its blockade of Gaza.
A headline in the Christian Science Monitor this week asked “Will outrage over bloody pre-Ramadan crackdown in Syria move UN to act?”
In other words, will the usual chorus of voices against Israel be raised against Syria this time?
We’re afraid we know the answer.