Cairo (Special to Informed Comment) – Western democracy is under strain, and we have been observing the symptoms of its decline for some time now. These symptoms include the rise of far-right extremism, increasing rate of xenophobia, a widening gap between the haves and have-nots, and its questionable efficacy in handling crises. In addition to its internal erosions, Western democracy has been highly challenged on the global stage due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The crisis provided an opportunity for authoritarian, regimes particularly China and Russia, to spotlight what they perceive as the shortcomings of democracies in responding to the pandemic, in contrast to the perceived effectiveness and decisiveness of authoritarian regimes.
These challenges to Western democracies had not subsided when the events in the Palestinian-occupied territories erupted. For Western democracies, the history of the Arab- Israeli conflict only started on October 7, 2023. This misleading narrative has provided cover for Israel’s ruthless attack on Gaza’s civilians. It simply disregarded the fact that Israel has been occupying Palestinian lands for over 75 years, and subjected the Gaza Strip to a sea, air, and land blockade for over 15 years, effectively turning it into an open-air prison.
People in this densely populated area are deprived of their basic necessities, and their fundamental rights as humans. Meanwhile, Palestinians in the West Bank continue to face oppression, displacement from their homes and lands, and the unjust detention of over 5000 of them in Israeli prisons where some of them are minors. The narrative that has dominated since October 7 fails to address these harsh realities, revealing a Western profound conception of selective humanity.
The statements of Western leaders and the media coverage of their countries of the attacks have exposed Western chronic double standards and the hypocrisy of their claimed values. Not all lives matter the same. This is the message Palestinians, Arabs, and Muslims are getting. Western media has focused on the Israelis killed by Hamas describing October 7th as Israel’s 9/11. The Israelis who lost their lives have names, relatives, and many stories to tell about because they are “humans.” Their lives matter and are valuable.
In comparison, Israel has imposed a complete siege on the Gaza Strip accompanied by carpet-bombing all civilian facilities such as houses, residential buildings, schools, mosques, churches, and even hospitals. The Palestinian death toll after almost two weeks reached over 5000 of whom 2000 are children. In front of this mass killing and collective punishment, Western leaders consistently maintain a singular stance: Israel has the “legitimate” right to defend itself and that their primary concern is safeguarding this right, without any further consideration.
This phrase actually means that Israel can kill, as many Palestinians as it likes until feels secure. Why not? They are only “human animals,” in the words of Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, that need to be eradicated. The offensive and racist comment by the Israeli defense minister was never openly condemned by a single Western leader, in a complete acquiescence to the dehumanization of Palestinians. The absurdity of Western mouthpieces reached a level where Israel is praised for its short notice to civilians to flee their homes that are about to be bombed.
Western media and leaders have also widely circulated Israeli propaganda lies without further scrutiny. The US President himself confirmed the fabricated story of the beheaded Israeli babies, a lie that the White House had to distance itself from later. Israeli and Western figures do not even shy away from bluntly calling for Arab countries, specifically Egypt, to accommodate those Palestinians in its Sinai desert, so that Israel would be able to get rid of the Gaza problem forever. As per international law, both coerced displacement and collective punishment are considered crimes.
Occupation itself stands in direct violation of international law and contradicts the fundamental tenets of the international system. In the hypothetical scenario when the occupying force is entitled to “self -defense”, it raises the question of the right to self- determination, freedom, and human dignity for people under occupation. Nonetheless, when Israel is the transgressor, international law and its humanitarian principles seem not to be applicable. This implementation of double standards unveils the insincere adherence to professed Western democratic values, as it become evident that Western interests take precedence, even if the means employed are morally wrong, unjust, and inhumane.
The detrimental effect on the reputation of Western nations’ so- called model democracy did not emanate only from their actions towards the Palestinians. It was also greatly affected by how they managed domestic dissenting opinions towards the ongoing conflict. Several Western “democracies” employed various tactics to stifle any support for the Palestinians and silence any opposing opinions to the unconditional support of Israel. Over the last two weeks, we have seen instances of obstructing demonstrations, prohibiting the display of the Palestinian flag or putting on the Kufiya, making threats about revoking someone’s nationality, expelling or suspending soccer players from their clubs for expressing support, intimidating sympathizers, and accusing anti-aggression activists of being anti-Semites.
The case of Harvard students was particularly alarming. Several Harvard students’ organizations issued a statement in which they “hold the Israeli regime entirely responsible for all unfolding violence.” Jewish and conservative figures were obviously outraged by this, and many conservative websites published what they called the “College Terror List” disclosing information about those students. Bill Ackman, A Harvard alumnus and donor, asked the university to release the names of the students to make sure that the C.E.O. would not hire any of them. Some of these students have also received death threats. Such actions bear a resemblance to those seen in numerous authoritarian regimes in the Arab World and beyond.
Western nations have long extolled the virtues of their democracy, emphasizing principles like freedom, diversity, tolerance, and “humanitarianism”. These unrestricted assaults on freedom of expression, the suppression of opposing viewpoints, and the blatant disregard for human life in Palestine reveal the hollowness of these values. They expose the true nature of Western democracy as selective, one-sided, and hypocritical. The live broadcasts of the Gaza atrocities cast serious doubts on the very notion of Western democracy being a paragon. Western leaders, having played a role in enabling what can only be described as a large- scale concentration camp in Gaza, forfeit any moral high ground to preach about their democratic values. This time, no one can claim ignorance, as they not only witness the on-going genocide, but also lent and lend their support to it. Given that this hypocrisy is the visible representation of Western democracy observed by people in the region, it is hardly astonishing that it generates substantial disdain.