In conversation: Israel

Saturday 18 October, 12.00 until 13.00, Cinema 3, Barbican Eye on the World

Following the discovery of the bodies of three murdered Israeli teenagers in the West Bank at the start of July, Israel launched a military offensive against Gaza. Over the next few weeks, the UN estimates that over 2,000 people in Gaza were killed by air strikes, artillery bombardment and ground troops before a ceasefire in August; around 70 people were killed on the Israeli side. The Israeli authorities argued that the action was necessary to prevent rocket attacks and the threat of incursions into Israel from hidden tunnels by Hamas. But Israel’s actions were widely condemned by Western governments, campaigners and commentators as being disproportionate – as evidenced by the imbalance in the numbers killed on each side. There have been widespread calls for boycotts of Israeli goods, academics and artists. Indeed, Israel is seen in some quarters as a unique symbol of ‘evil’.

However, some have questioned the focus on Israel’s actions, which seemed to displace coverage of other international hotspots, from Ukraine to Syria and Iraq, almost completely. While the death toll in Gaza was considerable, the number of fatalities in eastern Ukraine was comparable while the civil war in Syria has been much bloodier and long-lasting. Only after the ceasefire did attention turn to the blood-curdling insurgency by Islamic State in Iraq. In such circumstances, why does Israel attract so much attention and criticism? For some, it is Israel’s claim that it is part of the democratic West that demands that it should be subject to higher standards than other countries in the Middle East. For others, the response is indicative of a resurgence of anti-Semitism, post-colonial guilt, and even a more general questioning of the traditional nation state itself – and of Israel’s right to exist in particular.

Why has there been such a backlash against Israel? How should we understand the way that Israel responds to the attacks upon it? Is Israel still the West’s chief ally in the Middle East, as it was during the Cold War, or has it become an embarrassment for Western governments? Should people in the West take sides in the conflict and who should they support?

Watch the debate:

Listen to the debate:

Brendan O'Neill
editor, spiked; columnist, Big Issue; contributor, Spectator; author, A Duty to Offend: Selected Essays

Karl Sharro
architect; writer; Middle East commentator; co-author, Manifesto: Towards a New Humanism in Architecture

Nathalie Rothschild
freelance journalist; producer and reporter for Sweden's public service radio
Recommended readings
Why we’re against the demonisation of Israel

Podcast: Brendan O’Neill talks Israel, Gaza, the West and anti-Semitism.

Brendan O'Neill, spiked, 31 July 2014

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