There are horrible things happened at the Yarmouk refugee camp in Syria, which is currently under attack from ISIS forces. Prior to ISIS, Yarmouk had suffered attacks from the current Syrian government headed by Bashar Assad.
As these brutal atrocities unfold, a few folks have argued that the relative silence when Palestinians die this way, as oppose to at Israel's hand, exposes a double-standard. Now we should be clear that, as the above links demonstrate, there are plenty of folks paying attention to what's going on in Yarmouk -- particularly among organs of the Palestinian government itself. But it is fair to say that Yarmouk does not seem to be drawing the eye of the external "solidarity" sorts here in the West. Aren't they hypocritical? Against that view, Batya Ungar-Sargon trots out the familiar chestnut that supposedly explains away the problem: Israel is a democratic state. Of course it is held to a higher standard than ISIS. Do we really want it not to be?
There clearly is something to this, and so I don't want this to be read as a full-throated dissent. But there are several problems with this analysis, and a lot of it has to do with who the supposedly hypocritical critics are.
First of all, it is not the case that there are not other democratic states that do wrong towards local ethnic others or minorities. Even in the Middle East one has Turkey, and after the Arab Spring there are other states in the Middle East that have at least something of a democratic character who do not come in for the same sorts of criticism.
Second of all, it is worth asking why being a "democratic state" should matter at all? At the extremes, this risks a sticky slope problem, whereby precisely because Israel is relatively good on issues of human and minority rights (compared to, say, ISIS, or Iran, or Syria), it gets treated worse among some sectors. But putting that aside, the argument alleges that we justly expect more from Israel, as a democratic state, than we do of roving thug gangs like ISIS. "People don’t get outraged at terrorists because that's what terrorists do: commit terror," as Ungar-Sargon puts it. And those of us with a particular stake in Israel's behavior -- because we are Jewish, or Zionist, for example -- have a particular and specific interest in having a country we care about conform its conduct to standards we can be proud of.
What's notable about this argument is who it is focused on. It is perpetrator-perspective logic -- it focuses on the alleged wrongdoer, not the victims. And there is a place for that, certainly, particularly where we very much care about the supposed perpetrator and want it to reform. This explains why I write a lot more about Israel's wrongs (and rights) than those of, say, Gabon or Bulgaria. I have a personal connection to Israel that is relatively unique, and so it makes perfect sense for me to talk about it more. It's the old caring equally problem.
But not everyone has that relation to the Palestinian situation. Some folks are concerned about this not because Israel is the alleged perpetrator, but because Palestinians are the victims. For them, it shouldn't much matter whether the victimizers are folks we should "hold to a higher standard" or not. It's the "Palestine Solidarity Committee", for example, not the "Make Israel Live Up To Its Values Committee". In short, if you care about Palestinians qua Palestinians; not as a vector for being critical of Israel, then the "it's a democracy" excuse falls by the wayside.
Finally, the other reason why this apologia sometimes rankles, though, is because it feels very disingenuous. After all, many of those being accused of hypocrisy do not really believe that Israel is a democracy, or even a valid state at all. They do not speak or act as if they are trying to get a basically liberal state to live up to its stated commitments. They think the liberal commitments are an outright lie and the entire endeavor is fundamentally brutal. In short, while I see a very substantial difference between Israel and ISIS, they don't share that perspective -- hence the popularity of the #JSIL hashtag which explicitly draws the equivalence. For people who have long spoken about Israel as thought it were an ISIS-type organization -- engaged in the rhetoric of demonization and apocalyptic violence -- silence when an actual ISIS comes along can't be chalked up to understanding of the distinction.
All of this goes back to a point I've stressed for a long time, which is that the trouble is not and never has been with people "critical of Israel" in some generic sense. It has always been particular criticisms made in particular ways in particular contexts. The complaint here isn't being leveled at persons who criticize Israel in the context of it being a liberal democracy. It's being leveled at those who have sought to portray Israel as the Fourth Reich. Those people genuinely have something to answer for -- but then, for those people it has always been less about "Palestinian solidarity" and more about beating up on the Jews.