Earlier this week, the Islamic State launched a ground offensive into a Palestinian neighborhood in Syria, the Yarmouk refugee camp. Just five miles south of Damascus, the settlement was once home to some 180,000 Palestinian refugees, but the war has been catastrophic. For two years, Yarmouk was besieged by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s army, the population dwindling to just 18,000 as tens of thousands of fled; those remaining have been living in utter deprivation. At least 2,000 Palestinians have died since fighting broke out in Syria, 200 of them starving to death, including children. On April 1, ISIS entered Yarmouk, reportedly beheading a number of Palestinians from a military group that defends the camp, along with at least one imam.
The events have garnered news coverage, and yet, some feel that ISIS’s capture of Yarmouk hasn’t gotten the coverage it deserves. But left-wing activists aren't the ones complaining most vociferously about the lack of media attention; it's staunch supporters of Israel.
“Thousands of Palestinians face a humanitarian crisis that one official calls ‘beyond inhumane,’ including rapes, beheadings and mass starvation,” writes the New York Post editorial board. “Yet for once this suffering has brought no mass public outcry — no angry rallies in the streets or on college campuses, no calls for economic sanctions. Not even a Twitter hashtag campaign. Why? Because Israel has nothing to do with this nightmare.”
Brendan O’Neill, in the UK’s Jewish News Online, asks, “Where is the Twitter outrage? The talk of holding public protests? The angry articles by Palestinian solidarity activists? The discussions about sending aid to Yarmouk, as those preening politicians, authors and others did in relation to Gaza in 2010? All these things are conspicuous by their absence. The deprivations of the Yarmouk Palestinians don’t seem to have pricked Western radicals’ conscience, certainly not in the way the Gaza war did last year.”
“While the Israeli Defense Force were storming into Gaza the streets of Europe were overrun with demonstrators,” writes Marc Goldberg at the Times of Israel. "This time there aren’t tens of thousands demonstrating on the streets. There are no demonstrations at all. There are no rallies. There are no screams of massacre. There are no demands on governments to take action. There is simply a sad, deafening silence.”
If my Facebook feed is any indication, this sentiment resonates deeply with Israel’s supporters in the U.S. and abroad. The feeling that the world pays too much attention to Israel relative to its “crimes” is strong with many, and ISIS’s offensive in Yarmouk sparked deep-seated feelings of unfairness. Many took it one step further, seeing in the “deafening” silence surrounding Yarmouk further evidence that all anti-Israel sentiment is anti-Semitic.
And yet, one can’t help but feel that using ISIS’s invasion of Yarmouk might have been a bit hasty. First of all, the claim that there is no public outcry is untrue. The hashtag #SaveYarmouk is alive and well on Twitter, and the events have been covered by many organizations.
More importantly, complaining that Israel receives flak for actions that ISIS gets a pass for, so to speak, creates an unintended equivalence between ISIS and Israel, unwittingly suggesting that the actions of the two are somehow comparable because they're both contributing to a Palestinian humanitarian crisis. In reality, of course, they aren’t comparable: ISIS is a death cult, whereas Israel purports to be a country trying to protect itself. But for the sake of “exposing” the left’s hypocrisy, these critics have accidentally exposed themselves as believing Israel’s actions to be worthy of criticism.
Why aren't people demonstrating over ISIS' Yarmouk offensive? It's rather simple. People protest against Israel for all the reasons it’s not like ISIS. For starters, it’s a state. People don’t get outraged at terrorists because that's what terrorists do: commit terror. So pouring into the streets to protest ISIS would be foolhardy. But countries, especially western countries, are expected to be accountable to the rule of law—and to the citizenry. Outrage and protests geared at Israel’s treatment of its Palestinians makes sense precisely because of Israel’s claims that it is a democratic country designed to respond to—or at least, engage with—the will of the people. Protests get leaders' attention, and perhaps even influence policy.
Some anti-Israel sentiment is, of course, driven by anti-Semitism. But comparing Israel and ISIS is hardly the best way to address the issue. While Israel should not be judged any differently from other western countries, surely we can all agree that it should be held to immeasurably higher standards than ISIS.