About the crowds on Friday in Paris chanting “Palestine will overcome” and “Israel, assassin”: Where were they a few days earlier when the news broke that over the previous weekend Syria’s civil war had produced 720 more dead, adding to the 150,000 others who have not had the honor of demonstrations in France?
Why did the protesters not pour into the streets when, a few days before that, the well-informed Syrian Network for Human Rights revealed that so far this year Damascus’s army, which was supposed to have destroyed its supply of chemical weapons, carried out at least 17 gas attacks around Kafrzyta, Talmanas, Atshan and elsewhere?
Will these people, “outraged” for a day, claim that they did not know, that they saw no images of the others who died, and that today only images have the power to stir them to action? That is not going to work. Because they had seen what was happening in Syria—as reporters later discovered, those same grisly images, or older versions of them, were appropriated, doctored and retweeted by organizers of the anti-Israel demonstrations under the dishonest hashtag GazaUnderAttack.
Will the protesters claim that they were rallying against French President François Hollande and a policy of unilateral support for Israel that they do not wish to see conducted “in their name”? Perhaps. But conducting outward politics for inner reasons—converting a large cause into a small instrument designed to salve one’s conscience at little cost—reflects little genuine concern for the fate of the victims. Even more pointedly, should not the same reasoning have filled the same streets 10 or 100 times to protest the same president’s decision, likewise taken in their name, not to intervene in Syria?
Will they say that it is Israel’s disproportion in force that is shocking, the imbalance between an all-powerful army and defenseless civilians? That argument has some merit, but in the end it also doesn’t hold up. For if that were the reason for protests—if one were primarily concerned about the Palestinian children whose deaths are indeed an abomination—one would demand that Hamas operatives leave the hopital basements where they have buried their command centers, move the rocket launchers that they have installed in the doorways of United Nations schools and stop threatening parents who wish to evacuate their homes when an Israeli leaflet informs them that a strike is imminent.
Moreover, if alarm about disproportion and asymmetry were the true wellspring of the protesters’ rage, would they not have had at least a passing thought for another disproportion that, not so far from Gaza, now afflicts the most wretched of the wretched, the most defenseless of all, the Christians of Mosul? Hamas’s “brothers” are offering these Iraqis the following ultimatum: Embrace Islam or die by the sword.
The truth is that these protesters—most of them young members of the self-proclaimed “Gaza generation,” for whom the latest in chic is to sport a kaffiyeh made in Palestine—assume that it is normal for Arabs to kill other Arabs.
They are also unperturbed upon learning, from the very mouth of the Hamas leadership (Journal of Palestine Studies, Vol. 41, No. 4), that in 2012 alone the construction of the infamous Gaza tunnels cost the lives of 160 Palestinian children who were turned into little slaves and buried in the rubble.
And the truth is that for these selectively conscientious objectors—the oldest of whom also missed the chance to mobilize in favor of the 300,000 Darfurians massacred by Sudan; the 200,000 Chechens whom Putin, in his own elegant phrase, “kicked into the crapper” not so long ago; and the Bosnians who were besieged and bombarded to general indifference for three years—indignation arrives only when one has the opportunity to condemn a military consisting mostly of Jews.
The double standard is odious. And it has become increasingly evident across Europe in the past month. Bluntly anti-Semitic slogans have marred most European demonstrations “in support of the people of Gaza.” Residents of Frankfurt and Dortmund were horrified in mid-July to see neo-Nazi groups join hands with left-wing Islamists in a grim chant: “Hamas, Hamas, Jews to the gas.” The center of London was blocked on July 19 by thousands who gathered in front of the Israeli embassy in Kensington to shout their hatred for Jews.
Not to mention Amsterdam, the city of Spinoza, Europe’s capital of tolerance, where in certain neighborhoods it has become practically impossible to wear a yarmulke in public without running the risk of being insulted or assaulted.
For someone who has advocated, as I have, for nearly half a century the creation of a Palestinian state alongside a fully recognized Israel, this is truly discouraging. That there are sincere men and women among the demonstrators I do not doubt. But I would urge them to think twice before letting themselves be manipulated by those whose motive is not solidarity but hate, and whose true agenda is not peace in Palestine but death to Israel—and, as often as not, alas, death to Jews.
Mr. Lévy’s books include “Left in Dark Times: A Stand Against the New Barbarism” (Random House, 2008).
This op-ed was translated from the French by Stephen B. Kennedy.