Monday, August 09, 2004

When in Doubt, Blame Israel

Jonathan Edelstein notes that the Sudanese government has reached for that age-old standby of Arab governments caught red-handed engaging in foul crimes - in case of emergency, blame the "Zionist Entity."

The Sudanese Foreign Minister has accused the leaders of the Justice and Equality Movement, one of the main rebel factions in Darfur, of "making regular visits to Israel." Both the JEM and Israel deny the accusation, and its timing is, to say the least, suspicious. There have been no previous reports of Israeli involvement in Darfur, and Khartoum's announcement comes at a time when it is trying to rally Arab support against Western intervention, and playing the Israel card seems calculated to do just that.
That Israel may indeed be offering assistance to the Justice and Equality Movement cannot be ruled out a priori, as Jonathan notes, but I think he goes too far in lamenting the possible dire consequences of Israeli involvement.
... any credible reports of Israeli involvement might complicate the task of other countries that want to help Darfur, and would aid those who are trying to turn the Darfur conflict into another front against the West. The people of Darfur are already in danger of being lost between those on the American right who are seizing on the conflict as an excuse to Arab-bash and Arab nationalists who view any humanitarian intervention as a cover for Western imperialism, and Israeli assistance to the JEM will aid the cause of the latter. If the JEM has accepted help from Israel, the very act of reaching out to Israel will make it a pariah in the eyes of many Arabs who might otherwise support it. This is obviously what the Sudanese government is hoping to accomplish, and it is the reason - however morally justified Israeli support for the JEM might be - that I'm hoping the accusations will eb proven untrue.
Let's face it - even if Israel had nothing whatsoever to do with what's going on in Darfur, the Sudanese government and more than a few Arab commentators would still see "evidence" of Israeli hands at work in the attention being paid to the conflict: people willing to blame Israel for Pokemon and teenage hormones on overdrive* are hardly to be expected to be reasonable about a serious matter like Arab inaction and even complicity in the crimes underway in Darfur.

What is more, it seems to me that Jonathan's viewpoint, however well-intentioned it may be, and however pragmatic it may be, essentially concedes to the view that Israeli assistance to any country is by definition immoral and illegitimate; instead of hoping that Israel hasn't been involved in the conflict in Darfur, wouldn't a better position to take with those Arab voices who try to raise the issue be "So what? Let's get back to the point under discussion"?

I for one am sick of Arab double-standards where human rights are concerned, and I refuse to cede a millimetre of moral authority to a collection governments nearly all of which have been and continue to be guilty of affronts to human dignity far worse than anything being experienced by the Palestinians. If any governments deserve pariah status, the great majority of the Arab league's membership ought to be high on the list. The real problem isn't that Israeli support for Sudanese rebels may taint their cause - as if Arab governments could ever be expected to be sympathetic to any cause fighting against Arab hegemony - but with those demented governments and NGOs that see fit to regard Israeli support as stigmatizing, while Egyptian, Saudi Arabian and Syrian support is not.

*Israeli "sex candy" was rumored to be driving chaste Egyptian young women to surrender themselves to the ravagings of their male peers. Needless to say, if such a product did exist, and did work as advertised, Israel would currently be the world's wealthiest country on a per capita basis.