Israel at 60: So vilified, yet so deserving of praise

The world should appreciate what it has accomplished.

As Israel celebrates 60 years of nationhood this Thursday, and looks ahead to the next 60 years, the world should appreciate what the Jewish state has accomplished.

Built on the ashes of the Holocaust, Israel's birth was followed by a massive attack from all sides by the surrounding Arab nations. Threatening another genocide, they managed to kill 1 percent of Israel's population, but Israel survived – and even thrived.

In the years since, the Jewish nation has turned deserts into gardens, swamps into orchards, sand dunes into cities. Lacking the natural resources of its neighbors, Israel made the best of what it had. It became a high-tech giant, specializing in life-saving medical technology. Indeed, it ranks second only to the United States in NASDAQ listings.

Faced with barren land, Israel has also developed agricultural technologies that maximize food production, and exported these life-saving and life-enhancing technologies to the rest of the world.

This young nation has also produced more art, literature, music, academic articles, and books than most countries triple its size. As Jeffrey Goldberg wrote in an otherwise critical article in The Atlantic:

"Israel is, by almost any measure, an astonishing success. It has a large, sophisticated, and growing economy ... the finest universities and medical centers in the Middle East; and a main city, Tel Aviv, that is a center of art, fashion, cuisine, and high culture spread along a beautiful Mediterranean beach. Israel has shown itself, with notable exceptions, to be adept at self-defense, and capable (albeit imperfectly) of protecting civil liberties during wartime.... Zionism may actually be the most successful national liberation movement of the 20th century."

Israel's Arab citizens, numbering 1.2 million, live longer, healthier lives, and have lower infant mortality, better educational opportunities, and more basic liberties than the Arab population of neighboring states.

Even in its efforts to defend itself from aggression – it was attacked by Arab states in 1948, 1967, and 1973 – Israel has exemplified restraint and high ethical standards.

Although Tel Aviv was bombed by the Egyptian Air Force in 1948, Jerusalem was rocketed by Jordan in 1967, and several Israeli cities were threatened by Syria in 1967, Israel never bombed Cairo, Amman, or Damascus. (It did attack terrorist bases in the suburbs of Beirut in 2006.)

In its efforts to protect against terrorists, it has also complied with a high standard of human rights, even while its enemies have targeted Israeli civilians while deliberately hiding behind human shields in densely populated civilian areas.

When I speak at university campuses, I issue the following challenge: Name a country, faced with comparable threats to its own citizens, that has ever tried harder to comply with the rule of law or human rights than Israel.

No one has ever named such a country, nor could they. Certainly not the United States, which repeatedly bombed enemy cities (Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Dresden, Tokyo, Cologne). Certainly not Britain, which in addition to bombing cities fought one of the dirtiest colonial wars in Kenya. Certainly not France, which also fought a brutal colonial war in Algeria. Not Russia. Not China.

This is not to say that Israel's actions have always been commendable. They have not. Israel deserves perhaps a grade of B-minus, but in a world where 'C,' 'D,' and 'F' is common, that's pretty good.

Yet, despite this remarkable history of achievement, not only for its own people, but for the world in general, Israel remains a pariah nation.

It is reviled by the United Nations, which helped create it, and by a large number of the world's countries and people. It has been condemned by the General Assembly more than all the other nations of the world combined – a world that includes such tyrannies as North Korea, Iran, Cuba, China, Syria, Libya, Belarus, and Saudi Arabia. It has been subject to calls for academic boycotts, despite having one of the highest levels of academic freedom in the world. It has been threatened with divestment, though it exports more life-saving technology per capita than any nation on earth.

What explains this vast disparity between Israel's accomplishments and the near-universal condemnation it has received? When one of the world's best nations is condemned as the worst, we must consider the motives of those who are condemning.

Let me be crystal clear: I am not suggesting that criticism of Israel is anti-Semitic. To the contrary, criticism of Israeli policies and actions is healthy. I have been on the forefront of criticizing Israel for establishing civilian settlements on the West Bank. Within Israel itself, criticisms of Israeli policies and actions are pervasive. Just read the Israeli press. Or attend the numerous antigovernment demonstrations in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. What I am talking about is not criticism of Israel but rather demonization, delegitimization, and disproportionate attacks that go to the very essence of the legitimacy of the Jewish state.

Consider the following question: Would any other country that struggles so hard for its survival, while at the same time trying so hard to remain within the rule of law, be subject to the kind of irrational hatred to which the Jewish nation is exposed? Is the Jewish nation now being treated with the same irrationality with which "the Jews" have been treated for centuries? This is the daunting question that must be faced by those who single out Israel for unique condemnation as it celebrates 60 years of unequaled accomplishments.

Imagine how much more Israel could contribute to the welfare of the world during the next 60 years if it were blessed with peace and were allowed to turn its swords into plowshares!

Alan M. Dershowitz is the Felix Frankfurter professor of law at Harvard Law School. His latest book is "Is There a Right to Remain Silent?"

of stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.