Skiing in France and the (Un)Popularity of Israel May 16, 2012 00:43

While skiing in France, I got talking to a barman in a restaurant who was interested in what language I was talking to my children. When he found out where I was from (and after we got over the initial "but you don't look Pakistani"), he mentioned that I was the first Palestinian that he met. I suggested that perhaps not many of our people were in the privileged position of being able to go skiing in France, and perhaps that was why.

What was interesting was his subsequent conversation. Not to tar the French with one brush, but noisy subsections of French society have often come out with racist diatribe that has been both anti-Jewish and Islamophobic. But this man was not making comments aligned with them. No, he was far more specific than that.

"I don't like the Israelis" he ventured.

"Why is that?" I asked, somewhat nervous about what he might say.

"Whatever they have is never enough. They always want more. More land. More everything. Never enough".

As a Palestinian, I am very careful with my words to ensure that people understand that it is the policies and greed of the Israeli state and Zionism that I find abhorrent, and not Judaism, which I respect as a venerable religion. This doesn't stop many from launching onto an anti-Jewish soap box expecting me to sympathise, and being surprised that I don't. I suspect many will launch onto an Islamophobic box given half a chance with an audience ready to listen. This is why I was pleasantly surprised that this French barman had steered away, quite naturally it seemed, from making an anti-Jewish comment. No, he was far more precise. It was the Israelis who were meeting his opprobium. But equally, it was also a very broad-brush comment. "Israelis". Not "Israeli policy" or "Israeli apartheid". No. "Israelis".

I found it fascinating that while I, and many other Palestinians, are very careful about these semantics, he, alongside many other nationalities as we had seen travelling in South America, were far less concerned about this, and tagged an entire nationality with the criminal and greedy behaviour of the policies of its leaders.

And then lo and behold, Globescan releases its report for the BBC on the popularity of nations, and finds that "The most negatively rated countries were, as in previous years, Iran (55% negative), Pakistan (51% negative), and Israel and North Korea (both 50% negative)."

It seems that while most Western media outlets and governments are continuing in the main with the lie of Israel as a well behaved member of the international community, the reality of Israel's crimes and abuse is becoming more widely known. The report notes that the most broadly held reasons for the negative views of Israel are its foreign policy (45%) and how it treats its citizens (27%). Not anti-Judaism (or anti-semitism as it will be labelled), as Israel is bound to cry out. No. Just the way it treats others, and the way it treats its own citizens. It seems that our experience while travelling was not anecdotal.

While the way to fix this lack of popularity for Israel would be to start treating Palestinians as humans with the rights to dignity, life, education, property, and all other aspects of humanity, I suspect this will not be how Israel reacts. No, the more likely response will be to cry out that this is even more reason why it needs to "defend" itself and to use it as justification for continued brutality and crimes against Palestinians. Thereby guaranteeing a worsening position for itself in the world, while continuing to be an ethnic cleanser and abuser.

Expect the governments of the West to rise up and start to condemn Israel in line with the views of their populations. Or not.