Hau Lung-bin on Israel
Attending an exhibition titled The 60th Anniversary of Israel — Birth of a State Photo Exhibitions of Paul Goldman and David Rubinger & the Art of Design: Dan Reisinger, co-organized by the Taipei Fine Arts Museum and the Israel Economic and Cultural Office in Taipei on Thursday, Taipei Mayor Hau Lung-bin (郝龍斌) praised Israel’s achievements and said that other countries (ostensibly including Taiwan) should learn from its economic prosperity, democracy and technological achievements.
Such vapid comments could only have been made by someone who either has no clue how the state of Israel came into being or who has bought the false analogy of “Taiwan as the Israel of the East,” which I expose as altogether false and unhelpful in my Nov. 7, 2007, response to the “Our moral nakedness” piece by Ha’artez columnist Adar Primor. Once we look past the facile analogies, it becomes clear that Israel does not serve as a model for Taiwan. In fact, the only thing these two nations have in common is the fact that they are large recipients of US weapons.
On the democracy side, Hau seems to paper over the fact that Israel is a Jewish democracy as opposed to a universal one, meaning that the democratic rights of Jews are fuller, if you will, than those of non-Jews who live in Israel, such as Arab Israelis. This has implications for non-Jews living in Israel, from the ability to work in government to a set of social issues, such as housing. If democracy, as Hau would have us believe, were one of Israel’s achievements we should learn from, we wouldn’t be hearing the Palestinian Prime Minister on Friday saying that Israel is conducting “ethnic cleansing” in East Jerusalem. Although the term “ethnic cleansing” may be a little overdone, it is no less true that in recent years, through unequal laws and social repression, Israel has made life extremely difficult for those who remain in the Arab part of the city. Jewish extremists (how rarely we see the term used) have made no secret of their desire to see Jerusalem in its entirety as the capital of the Jewish state.
The same applies to the prosperity of Israel. Part of this success has been the carte blanche support is has received from the US as well as policies of outright theft of natural resources (mainly water) from Palestinian territories. The military assistance Israel receives from the US is so large that it can afford to develop its economy while it continues the longest occupation of another territory in modern history. Israel’s military-industrial complex, backed by the US, is also quite healthy, and that sector has sold many weapons to China, some of which could one day be used against Taiwan and possibly put at risk the life of the mayor who showered praise on Israel yesterday.
It is about time that those who ascribe to the “Israel as Taiwan,” or the “David of the Far East” analogies abandon them, for the similarities between the two nations are in fact minuscule. As I have argued before, the view that Israel and Taiwan are two small democratic islands surrounded by hordes of barbarians is not only misleading, but it fails to bring to the surface the root causes of that “hatred” and does not take into consideration the quite different power imbalances involved in those conflicts. In the Levant, Israel is very much in a position of power, and no group, state or combination of state could ever mount such a force as would threaten the survival of Israel. It is that advantage in military might, added to its indiscriminate use with full backing of the US, that has generated the resentment. One finds no equivalents in Taiwan’s situation. Whatever hatred Chinese may have for Taiwan certainly does not stem from Taipei’s military advantage against China, or use of force against it. Taiwan does not flex its muscles abroad; it does not occupy a people and its main backer, the US, never hesitates to berate its client publicly whenever the latter is perceived to be heading in the wrong direction (e.g., Washington’s overt criticism of Taiwan seeking to develop offensive weapons; of Taipei changing the “status quo” or, more recently, of its desire to hold referendums on joining the UN).
All that to say, if we really wanted to force the “Israel as Taiwan” analogy down people’s throat, a more militarized and less law-abiding Taiwan would have to invade and occupy a weaker people in, say, the southern Philippines, kill its people (mostly children and civilians) at a 1-3 ratio, convince the world it is doing so to (a) protect itself and (b) as part of the “war” on terrorism and receive the full moral blessing of Washington. Of course this little scenario is ridiculous, but so are analogies that Taiwan is like Israel, or that it can learn from its democracy and prosperity.
What Hau should have said instead is something like “Congratulations on your first 60 years; let us hope that the next sixty will not be as bloody — and the onus is on you.”