The Western news media’s deeply ingrained habit of elevating the Israeli-Palestinian conflict above all other conflicts in the world, and of bias against Israel, has fostered what Matti Friedman terms the “Cult of the Occupation.” Israel’s military control of the West Bank (and, somehow, its non-occupation of Gaza) is held to be the root of the Middle East’s problems and the world’s greatest injustice. Such an absurd belief can stem from but one place: hatred of Jews, who are now seen, just as in older forms of anti-Semitism, as a living symbol of the major social and political concerns of the day:
The West today is preoccupied with its feelings of guilt about the use of power. That’s why the Jews, in their state, are now held up in the press and elsewhere as the prime example of the abuse of power. That’s why for so many the global villain, as portrayed in newspapers and on TV, is none other than the Jewish soldier, or the Jewish settler. This is not because the Jewish settler or soldier is responsible for more harm than anyone else on earth—no sane person would make that claim. It is rather because these are the heirs to the Jewish banker or Jewish commissar of the past. It is because when moral failure raises its head in the Western imagination, the head tends to wear a skullcap.
One would expect the growing scale and complexity of the conflict in the Middle East over the past decade to have eclipsed the fixation on Israel in the eyes of the press and other observers. Israel is, after all, a sideshow: the death toll in Syria in less than four years far exceeds the toll in the Israel-Arab conflict in a century. The annual death toll in the West Bank and Jerusalem is a morning in Iraq.
And yet it is precisely in these years that the obsession has grown worse. This makes little sense, unless we understand that people aren’t fixated on Israel despite everything else going on—but rather because of everything else going on.