Why Does Israel Get So Much More Left-Wing Criticism than France?
Sasha Volokh is right to point out that not all left-wing criticism of Israel is anti-Semitic or otherwise biased, even in cases where the critics attack Israel while ignoring other government that are guilty of similar offenses to a much greater extent. As Sasha puts it:
For instance, one might think that only Israelis are sane, basically rights-respecting, and receptive to basic Western values — so that one can appeal to Israelis' basic principles in arguing that they're acting wrongly. Or one could believe that only Israel — and not Sudan or China — has a healthy enough democratic culture that this sort of treatment will change its policies. In other words, far from being an anti-Semitic policy, the boycott could be an act of deep respect for Israel, essentially saying: "Only you guys aren't savages; we think you might actually listen."
But I am skeptical that this distinction really does account for the vastly disproportionate focus on real and imagined Israeli offenses in many left-wing quarters. The problem is that even other liberal democracies don't get even a fraction of the criticism that Israel gets when they enact comparable policies.
Consider the case of France, which doesn't get so much as a tiny fraction of the hostility directed at Israel, even though most of the accusations typically made against Israel could just as easily be leveled at the French government. The French comparison is far from the only example of anti-Israel double standards. But it has the virtue of highlighting that double standard with unusual clarity because the main arguments used to defend the double standard in other cases simply don't apply to France. The French surely accept "basic Western values," and have a "healthy democratic culture" at least as much as the Israelis do. Let's consider the bill of indictment that left-wingers could make against France were they so inclined:
I. Human Rights Violations.
The French state's likely complicity in the 1994 Rwandan genocide (see here and here) by itself dwarfs all the human rights offenses that can reasonably be charged against the Israelis. France's draconian anti-terrorism laws infringe on civil liberties as much or more than Israel's do, and much more than those of the US. Yet even utterly bogus claims of Israeli "genocide" get more attention than France's role in Rwanda.
II. "Imperialist" Occupation.
For those who believe that occupation is the greatest of all evils, there is the fact that French troops have repeatedly occupied various African nations over the last 40 years in order to prop up regimes that support French economic and political interests or help overthrow those that don't. This, despite the reality that the security threat these governments pose to France is negligible compared to that posed to Israel by its Arab neighbors. When it comes to the traditional left-wing bete noir of "imperialism," the Israelis are pikers compared to the French.
III. Mistreatment of Muslim minorities.
Finally, France's treatment of its large Muslim minority leaves - to put it mildly - a great deal to be desired, and is hardly better than Israel's treatment of its own Muslim Arab minority (which, I agree, includes a great deal of unjustified discrimination). France's restrictive labor policies have led to 14% unemployment among the country's mostly Muslim immigrant population, with much higher rates than that among the young. The government has also forbidden Muslim students to wear veils and other religious symbols in public schools - a restriction on Muslim religious expression that goes far beyond anything done by the Israelis.
I do not claim that all these French policies are completely indefensible (except for the Rwanda case). To the contrary, there are at least minimally plausible arguments for all of them. For example, I have some sympathy for French arguments that the regimes their troops prop up in Africa are often less bad than the likely alternatives.
But similar arguments can be used to defend the parallel Israeli policies; If French-supported African dictators may be better than their rivals, there is at least an equally strong case that the Palestinians are better off under Israeli occupation then left to the tender mercies of Hamas and Fatah (the realistic alternatives). Despite their many (often legitimate) grievances against the Israeli government, Israeli Arabs almost uniformly reject proposals to transfer their villages and towns to Palestinian rule. The Israeli withdrawal from Gaza has not noticeably improved the lot of Gaza's Arabs, and may well have worsened it.
It is, I think, still possible to make a left-wing case that, overall, Israeli policies are, say, 10% worse than French policies. Perhaps even 50% worse. I don't agree with such claims, but they are not wildly implausible. However, it is utterly impossible for a fair-minded observer with typical left-wing values to conclude that Israel is 100 or 1000 times worse than France. Yet the ratio of left-wing criticism of Israel to left-wing criticism of France is far closer to 100-1 or 1000-1 than 1.5-1.
Perhaps the difference is due to ignorance. Many of those who spend lots of time and energy attacking Israel may simply be unaware of comparable French policies. Perhaps it is due to the far greater media coverage of Israel. But that only begs the question of why so many left-wing intellectuals and activists spend so much more time and effort learning about Israeli shortcomings than French ones, and why a mostly left-liberal media does the same.
Not even the alleged left-wing bias towards "underdogs" and against "the powerful" can explain the disjunction. France is much larger and more powerful than Israel (with about 10 times Israel's population and GDP), and France's enemies are weaker than Israel's are. From any objective viewpoint, France's policies are far more important than Israel's and deserve far greater attention. Perhaps not ten times more, but certainly not 100 times less.
Is anti-Semitism the only cause of the disproportion between left-wing criticism of Israel and those of France? Almost certainly not. Perhaps it is not even the most important cause. But the other likely causes - bias against a nation perceived as more of a US ally than France, sympathy for France's (pre-Sarkozy) anti-American rhetorical stance, an implicit belief that Jews should be held to "higher standards," etc. - are only marginally more defensible.
UPDATE: In case it wasn't clear enough in the original post, I am NOT analogizing France's treatment of its Muslim citizens with Israel's treatment of West Bank or Gaza Palestinians. I am analogizing that French policy with Israel's treatment of its Arab citizens.
However, I AM analogizing the condition of West Bank Palestinians to the condition of Africans living under dictators propped up by French occupying troops. Thus, claims to the effect that "France treats its Muslims better than Israel treats West Bank Palestinians" do not undermine my argument in any way. Defenders of the double standard between Israel and France must instead show that the condition of the West Bankers is overall worse than that of Africans living under dictators installed or propped up by the French military.
As I noted in my original post, both the French and Israeli military occupations can be supported on the grounds that the available alternatives (Hamas, Fatah, various repressive African rulers) are worse. Thus, I'm not necessarily condemning either. I do, however, insist that both be judged by the same standards.