Stop Comparing the United States to Israel

Among the many insensitive, uninformed, or simply ridiculous responses to Friday’s tragedy that I’ve heard, one that continues to befuddle me is the suggestion, made mostly by Libertarians, that everything would’ve been okay if only the teachers had had guns too–if, in fact, carrying concealed weapons were a standard practice among American citizenry.

Leaving aside the fact that most of us do not want our classrooms and public places turning into Wild West-style shootouts, it’s particularly irritating when these people point to Israel as some sort of shining beacon of what a country with an armed citizenry could be like. In Israel, I’m constantly being reminded, ordinary citizens prevent mass shootings all the time.

It’s immediately evident to me that most people who argue this point have never been to Israel and know very little about its culture, because this comparison fails for many reasons.

1. Israel has an entirely different culture from the United States. It’s a collectivistic culture; there’s an expectation that everyone look out for each other and keep each other safe. I’d love to see some studies on the bystander effect in Israel, because my guess is that it’s less prevalent there.

2. In Israel, every single person (except those who get exemptions) does at least two years of military service when they’re 18. Many Israelis have fought in wars. All those “ordinary” citizens suddenly whipping out guns and taking down shooters? Where do you think they learned how to do that?

3. In Israel, there are metal detectors and armed guards who check your bags at the entrance to every major public building. Going to the mall? Get your bags checked. Going to the bus station? Get your bags checked. That certainly makes things a little different. In fact, if we’re going to take any examples from Israel, I’d focus on this one, not on the guns.

4. Israel actually has very strict restrictions on who can have a gun. In fact, it rejects 40% of applications for gun permits–the highest rejection rate of any country in the world. It’s not that people want guns and feel entitled to them; it’s that certain people actually need guns and they’re the ones who are allowed to have them.

5. On a related note, Israel (like Switzerland) has recently tightened its restrictions on guns, and fewer people have them than before. So most people making this argument are just ignorant, anyway.

6. When mass shootings happen in Israel, it’s almost always an act of terrorism. Whatever your opinion on why Palestinians commit acts of terrorism against Israel, agree that this is quite a bit different from most mass shootings in the U.S., so comparing the two situations is bound to be fruitless.

7. In Israel, everyone–even children–knows that they are living under the constant threat of war and terrorism. When citizens have guns, it’s not just for the hell of it or to make some sort of proud statement about how much they love the Second Amendment. It’s because their lives may depend on it. When you insinuate that the U.S. should be more like Israel, think about what you’re saying. The fact that many people own guns in Israel isn’t something to be proud of. It’s nothing to cheer about. It is a devastating fact of life and you should be fucking thankful that we don’t live like that here.

To me, this just points to the need to be cautious when comparing different countries and cultures in the attempt to make a point. Comparing the U.S. to other industrialized Western nations is probably more effective, but even then, there are cultural, institutional, and even geographical factors that differ. And although we tend to classify Israel as a Western country, in many ways it’s not.

Regardless of the similarities that there are between the two countries, the United States is not Israel. It will never be, and, for the most part, that’s a good thing.

Stop Comparing the United States to Israel

15 thoughts on “Stop Comparing the United States to Israel

  1. 2

    I have nothing to add but this is a great point. Also, for the people praising Israel, do they realize how collectivist and socialist the country is? I mean, that’s what it has in common with other places with low rates of violence, more so than the prevalence of guns.

      1. That’s a point that I think is often missed for a lot of various arguments, not just gun-control: some things are harder to scale up than others, and US is a big country compared to Israel, and also European countries that are often used as comparisons for healthcare, economy, education, etc…

    1. 2.2

      I hate it when clueless Americans talk about “socialism”. Socialism = communism, as you might get the clue from the former USSR, “Union der Sozialistischen Sovietrepubliken”. Although what they tried had nothing to do with either, it was a party capitalism, where the party elite dictated the rules.

      I was a Marxist/Leninist at one time in the distant parts with some study of Marx and Engels as well as Lenins and Mao’s work., and living close to the “socialist workers paradise” that was the former GDR.
      So the conflation of Social Democracy or Social Market economy (as in Germany) with Socialism is nothing short of infuriating

      At maximum Israel is a “social democratic country, a capitalism with some restrictions on exploitation and with a social safety network. That is all.
      And actually – that social democracy is turning into a social nightmare:

      “Throughout the country, public housing – the issue that was at the heart of the social protest of summer 2011 – has seen no improvement. On the contrary: the government opposed the promotion of affordable housing legislation while continuing to systematically eviscerate the current pool of public housing units. Likewise, the fundamental right to water was significantly harmed when rates were allowed to rise sharply without any mechanism in place to protect people with limited means and elderly or disabled people.

      In the West Bank, the right to shelter and water is even more tenuous. The Israeli military regularly issued and executed demolition orders for homes and humanitarian structures such as cisterns throughout Area C. These efforts, coupled with proposed legislation and the government-commissioned Levy Report (which claimed that the West Bank is not an occupied territory), indicate a creeping de facto annexation of Area C, in which Palestinian and Jewish residents are subject to two different legal systems.”

  2. 4

    Actually the US and Israel do have much in common. In particular, both are composed of immigrants from all parts of the world, many of whom were fleeing oppression in their native countries.

  3. 5

    Good points. Little bit of a quibble: Not all people go into the military. Many go into national service, another program, or are exempted. The ultra-orthodox in particular have very low draft rates (~30%, IIRC) because they have an exemption where they can study Jewish religious stuff for a couple of years and skip the draft (its a relic from the start of the state when there were very few of them, and they were expected to die off, not multiply).

    There are a couple of funny consequences of the universal draft/armed state though. Like how carrying around an assault rifle about the least suspicious thing you can do. Or an ad campaign to get former soldiers to return military equipment that included a video of a man going through a bag check, and the security guard pulls out a rocket launcher from his bag and basically says “you know, you really shouldn’t have taken this with you.”

  4. 6

    If you want to compare gun use in the US to another country, try the Philippines. Guns are readily available (home made guns are not uncommon) and are often used in crime, from robbery to terrorism. Nearly every large public building (shopping malls, hospitals, metro rail stations, government, banks, etc.) have armed guards outside, either shotguns or pistols. They also have bag searches and pat-downs.

    I was on vacation there a few years ago and read a news item in a paper. Two police officers had an argument and pulled guns on each other inside their police station. It wouldn’t surprise me to hear that happen in the US; there are already many incidents of confrontrations between cops (usually different deparments or jurisdictions).

      1. I’m not expert on the country, only what I’ve read in newspapers while there and from the outside. The only weapons I witnessed were carried by police and licensed guards, but newspapers regularly reported gun crimes. From a Philippine government website:

        From what I’ve read there is some gun control, but there are also a lot of armed criminals. And there is supposedly a large industry of “homemade” or zip guns. And given rampant corruption in the Philippine government (and probably military and police as well) there are likely “legal” guns finding their way into the hands of criminals or islamic extremists, much the same way US guns are ending up in the hands of Mexican gangs. Here’s one recent news item, and one from 2010:

        There are also many news stories of kidnappings and murders in the Philippines, many involving guns.

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