September 23, 2012

Hello, World? Meet Israel, the Victim State.

As world leaders gather in New York for the annual opening of the United Nations General Assembly, the Israeli Government and Jewish organizations have pulled off a great feat: a quasi-official UN event focused on the Jewish refugees from Arab countries, most of whom were expelled from their homes in the immediate aftermath of Israel's 1948 founding. This big diplomatic breakthrough follows on the UN's first-ever official Holocaust commemoration, back in 2005.

Surely, this was a coup for Israel in its diplomatic score-keeping against Iran, the Palestinians and the Arab states, but how does this help the Jewish State on a world stage, as embodied in the UN General Assembly opening?

Israel stands for so many achievements, cultures, aspirations and industry -- and what it chooses to show the world is martyrs and victims? The Holocaust remains unique in terms of its focus, scale, and ingenuity. Unfortunately, our world has since eclipsed the Holocaust's depravity and numbers of dead, but the Holocaust -- while not Israel's most forward-looking message -- rightly demanded inclusion in the UN's pantheon of historic events and founding lessons, appropriately devoid of political overtones.

This latest UN event has trivialized the Middle Eastern victims thanks to its explicit "me too" purpose of matching any Palestinian grievances with Jewish counter-suffering. Anyone following the daily massacres in Syria and elsewhere might be wondering why the suffering of onetime Jewish refugees should rival that of present-day Palestinians, Somalis, Libyans, or Sudanese (some of whom are now facing mob violence, detention and Israel). What universal lesson can be applied from this experience: That Jews can also be victims (yet again)?

Israel ranks as a major world player in medicine and science, technology, democracy, humanitarian assistance and development, economics, and so many other fields. Its leaders are routinely consulted by their counterparts across Europe and Asia on a host of pressing issues... or at least they used to be.

It certainly stands as a tribute to the Middle Eastern Jews who endured suffering and dislocation so many years ago, and they have every right to seek maximum exposure and recognition. But Israelis and Jews at large need not have made this our opening pitch, underscoring our collective weakness and shared suffering (a classic anti-Semitic image, by the way) rather than our vision for a better world and a better region.

Like so many other enterprises these days, I get the sense that Israel's government arranged this latest promotion because it was able to do so, not because it was the best way to advance Israel's interests. Or maybe we've all just run out of ideas.

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