Israel: the state they love to hate
spiked editor Mick Hume in The Times (London), on why there is little positive in today's Israel-bashing.
Your enemie’s enemies are not always your friends. Having long supported the Palestinian right to self-determination, I find that I am no fan of today’s fashionable anti-Israeli mood. Israel’s newfound critics reveal more about problems in the West than any solutions in the Middle East.
The Israeli state stands internationally despised and isolated as never before. The assassination of Hamas leaders has been condemned by those, such as the British Foreign Secretary, who have no problem with American attacks on suspected leaders of al-Qaeda or Iraqi militia. Everybody, from a BBC reporter to a veteran Zionist such as Gerald Kaufman MP, now feels free to attack Israel in language that, until recently, would have been the preserve of the far Left, while the internet is packed with campaign websites denouncing the ‘ZioNazis’.
It is popular to condemn George Bush as ‘the most pro-Israeli US President ever’. A more sober assessment, however, might think it remarkable how far this right-wing Republican Administration has gone along with the turn against Israel. Of course, Washington arms and finances Israel. But President Bush has also become the first to commit America to supporting a Palestinian state. If his predecessors had backed the speedy withdrawal of Israeli troops and most settlers from the Gaza Strip and West Bank, it would have been seen as a disaster for Zionist expansionism. Yet when Bush endorsed Ariel Sharon’s withdrawal plan, he was accused of betraying the Palestinians in tones that suggested he had given Israel’s Prime Minister his personal permission to bulldoze Arab villages.
What is behind this new anti-Israeli mood? If anything, the Israeli military is less trigger-happy than in the past. It’s ‘targeted assassinations’ of Hamas leaders are now widely condemned, but there was little ‘targeted’ about the invasion of Lebanon in 1982 that led to the massacre of Palestinian refugees. Western peace activists who travel to Palestine might get a thrill from calling Israelis ‘ZioNazis’, but it is unlikely that they would be so keen to face the guns of the real Third Reich. No, the turn against Israel can be explained only as a result of changes in Western attitudes. Partly this has to do with a pragmatic shift in the strategic view of the Middle East. Even the Americans recognise that Israel can no longer play its Cold War role as the West’s gendarme in the region.
Away from diplomatic considerations, however, there has been a more fundamental change in the way that people view the attitudes and values that Israel is supposed to embody. The Israeli state has long been seen as a sort of ersatz America, an outpost of Western civilisation in a hostile Muslim world. That was once its strength, from which it drew its international support. Now, however, those same qualities make Israel a liability in many eyes.
Israel’s traditional insistence on national sovereignty and fighting to defend its interests sit uneasily in a more uncertain world where Western states feel comfortable only when acting in the name of multilateral humanitarianism. The old values that Israel has symbolised for the West are distinctly out of vogue. It is not just that they are hated by Islamic extremists in the Middle East. More importantly, many in our own societies are embarrassed by Israel because they now fear the worst about Western civilisation.
It seems as if a downbeat, defeatist mood within the West has found an outlet in Israel-bashing. When protesters carry those banners declaring that ‘We are all Palestinians now’, it is not about supporting their right to political self-determination. It is about empathising with Palestinians as the ultimate victims of our victim-centred culture, somehow wanting to purge our guilt by feeling their pain and suffering. Jenny Tonge, the Liberal Democrat MP, was sacked for claiming that she could feel where Palestinian suicide bombers were coming from. But her revelling in their feelings of powerlessness and oppression spoke for many today.
This mood seems to say more about self-loathing in the West than anything to do with peace in the Middle East. The Israeli state may still be reactionary, but there appears little that is liberal, liberating or progressive about the arguments of its new-found critics.
More than a century ago, when it became fashionable to attack something called ‘Jewish capitalism’, August Bebel, a German colleague of Karl Marx, described this confused outlook as ‘the socialism of fools’. Today’s tendency to indulge dubious sentiments in the guise of solidarity with the Palestinians looks just as foolish.
This article is republished from The Times (London)
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