Israel’s Peers and Neighbors

Observers of Israel often consider the appropriate benchmark for the country. To whom should Israel be compared? Against the Western world or its neighbors in the Middle East?

Western World Peers

The arguments to compare Israel to western countries such as in Western Europe and North America are plentiful.

Democracy: Israel is a democracy in which all citizens of the country elect its leadership, similar to the western world. That is in stark contrast to its neighbors that have monarchies and dictatorships.

Freedoms: Israel believes in various freedoms, including of religion, assembly and press. Such freedoms are cornerstones of western values, but difficult to find elsewhere in the Middle East.

Economy: Israel’s economy is based on capitalism. It has been termed the “start-up nation” due to the tremendous number of companies that are launched by ordinary Israelis. This compares to the economies dominated by oil money controlled by governments among Israel’s neighbors.

The long list of commonalities is detailed in “Israel, the Liberal Country of the Middle East.”  The peer group for Israel according to its principles and values is indeed the western world, not the MENA region.

Neighbors in MENA
(Middle East and North Africa)
Arab World

Israel resides in a predominantly Arab neighborhood.  The people of the Arabian Peninsula spread en masse from the region shortly after the founding of Islam, during the 6th and 7th centuries.  In some locations, like Turkey, the Arab invasion was repelled, even while the Islamic religion still took hold in the area.  There are now 22 Arab countries and 57 Muslim countries, most of which surround Israel.

Muslim World

While Israel is unique in being the only Jewish State in the world, it’s uniqueness is magnified within its neighborhood that is almost uniformly Arab and Muslim.  Many of these Muslim countries are governed by Sharia, Islamic law, while others have laws that are Sharia-inspired.  These laws have little in common with laws found in western countries.  This is even true where the British held Mandates after World War I, such as in Jordan and Iraq.

Judging Peers

English Common Law has a concept that a person should be judged by a group of one’s peers.  The rationale for this provision was to afford context and humanity to the cold rule of law.  As peers should know a defendant better than a judge, those individuals in the jury could fine-tune the rule of law for the specific case and party.

In the United States, the concept of “peers” has been adjusted to “neighbors.”  The jury pool in the US courts system pulls in people from an entire region.  The individuals in such neighborhood likely have a wide range of backgrounds, including: race; religion; occupation; wealth; political views, to name a few.  US law requires that any party that knows the defendant – presumably who are more likely to be “peers” – to be excluded from the jury so as to avoid favoritism.  As such, the US system has moved from a court of peers to one of neighbors.

What happens when one’s peer group and one’s neighbors have nothing in common?  An extreme example happens every day in the court of world opinion regarding Israel.

Judging Israel

Neighbors: Israel’s neighbors have opposed the very existence of the Jewish homeland since such concept became international law in the 1920 San Remo Conference and the 1922 British Mandate for Palestine.  Sporadic riots in the 1920s became a multi-year war 1936-9, when the Arabs convinced the British to roll back the essence of the laws to curtail Jewish immigration and cap the number of Jews in Palestine, as well as to limit where Jews could live.  When Israel declared independence in 1948, Arab armies from that surrounded Israel fought to destroy the country.

The parties have been at war ever since, with the exceptions of Egypt and Jordan which made peace with Israel in 1979 and 1994, respectively.

Today, the 57 Muslim nations that comprise the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), vote as a bloc at the United Nations, and consistently condemn Israel for anything and everything, as they view the “Zionist entity” as illegal and unjust.

Clearly, this is not a group of neighbors that can be used as a “jury of one’s peers” to assess whether Israel is acting appropriately in any given matter.

Representatives of the OIC

Peers: Israel cares about the opinions of its peer group in western Europe, North America and Australia.  These countries share Israel’s values and have ongoing trading and commercial relationships with Israel.

Much of the criticism against Israel from its peer group relates to Israel’s activities in the disputed territories east of the Green Line (EGL/West Bank). Some governments claim that Israel “occupies” the Palestinian people and takes over “Arab land.” Those critics call out Israel for its use of its military and point to lopsided casualty figures in Israeli-Arab wars. They protest Israel’s use of roadblocks, the security barrier, and of house demolitions of terrorists.

The flaw of such commentary is that it inherently assumes that Israel’s peer group exists – or could exist – in the same environment as Israel.

A Mile in Their Shoes

As detailed in “Israel: Security in a Small Country,” Israel is almost 1/500th of the size of the United States, but has three times as many neighbors. It is half of the size of the Netherlands, but no Dutch neighbor refuses to recognize its right to exist. Israel may have a similar number of countries bordering it as Argentina, but none of Argentina’s neighbors have launched numerous wars against it over the past decades.  The United Kingdom may have knowledge of the region from managing the Palestine Mandate from 1924 to 1948, but when was the last time England had foreign tanks and fighters on its home soil?  France may have experienced terrorism, but is there a country working to obtain nuclear weapons that threatens to wipe it off the map?

In short, Israel’s values’ peers do not have comparable security issues.

conflict map
Israel’s values’ peer group of western Europe, North America and Australia
are peaceful relative to the raging conflicts in MENA

When countries in the western world do have moments of inflamed security concern, such as when France suffered from terrorist attacks in November 2015, that country quickly went on the offensive. It instituted curfews. It performed raids on apartments. It curtailed a range of freedoms…. much as Israel does when it confronts security concerns on a continual basis.

Members of French special police forces of the Research and Intervention Brigade (BRI) and forensic experts are seen near a raid zone in Saint-Denis, near Paris, France, November 18, 2015 during an operation to catch fugitives from Friday night's deadly attacks in the French capital. REUTERS/Christian Hartmann - RTS7R5L

Members of French special police forces of the Research and Intervention Brigade (BRI) and forensic experts are seen near a raid zone in Saint-Denis, near Paris, France, November 18, 2015 during an operation to catch fugitives from Friday night’s deadly attacks in the French capital. REUTERS/Christian Hartmann – RTS7R5L

After the United States was attacked on September 11, 2001, it went on a multi-year, multi-country war, which is still ongoing in Afghanistan.  Many more people have been killed in the US wars on terror, than were killed on 9/11.

Israel has faced more than a terrible day of violence; it has daily assaults.  Israel has faced more than just terrorism; it has existential threats.  And it has continued to confront these security concerns, ever since the country was reconstituted in the 20th century.

Israel’s peers have not walked a mile in Israel’s shoes.  They have simply put them on and taken an uncomfortable first step.  And as they have done so, they have shown their determination to protect their civilian population and way of life.

Israel shares the democratic values of much of the western world. The critics from Israel’s peer group should recognize and celebrate the society that Israel has been able to create inside the illiberal Middle East. Those peers must also come to recognize and differentiate between the peaceful environment in which they live and the hostile environment in which Israel resides.

Related First.One.Through articles:

A Flower in Terra Barbarus

Murderous Governments of the Middle East

Seeing Security through a Screen

Obama’s “Values” Red Herring

The Disproportionate Defenses of Israel and the Palestinian Authority

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19 thoughts on “Israel’s Peers and Neighbors

  1. Why not compare Israel to the West — but compare apples to apples; how do Western countries treat issues of civil rights during wartime. After all, Israel is in the midst of an existential war. The closest European countries came to such a threat was during WWII — so if you want to hold Israel to the standards that Western European countries held themselves during WWII, be my guest. Then acknowledge how incredibly liberal, progressive, and tolerant Israel is as compared to the relative savagery of Western Europeans.


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