The Magazine

Israel, the West, and the Rest


The recent unpleasantness in eastern Mediterranean has unleashed a torrent of self-serving nonsense on both sides of the issue. In reality, it was a sordid affair. A bunch of nasty Jihadist types and their enablers who have taken over the government in Ankara devise a brilliant scenario for drawing Israel into a lose-lose situation. The Israelis play on cue, with their customary subtlety and sensitivity. Most of the rest of the world recoils in shock and horror. The elite class of the Western world is enjoying itself with a fresh focus for externalized self-hate, now that the Serbs are down and most Afrikaners out. (And needless to say, amidst the general brouhaha nobody takes notice of the jihadist murder of Roman Catholic bishop Luigi Padovese in Turkey…)

What is a man of the Right with no horse in this race to do? He needs to ask himself, “How does this business affect the survival prospects of my demographically, culturally and morally decrepit civilization?”

For all their differences of emphasis and substance in foreign-policy making, Western Europe and North America share objective interests in the Middle East that require broadly similar policy responses. Since the notion of interests and the policies that they engender are defined by the ideological framework in which they are embedded, let me open my ideological cards before proceeding.

Wilsonianism, Neoconservativism and Realism have dominated American thinking on world affairs for some decades now, with the last of the three barely able to keep a toehold inside the Beltway. Wilsonian paradigm (to which most Europeans subscribe even without being aware of that fact) is embodied in Obama, Pelosi and the Clintons here, Javier Solana and Tony Blair in Europe, and George Soros everywhere.

The neocons include Marxist intellectuals like Podhoretz, Kristol, or Muravchik, and policy gurus like Wolfowitz, Perle, and Feith. Their blanket depictions as redesigned Trotskyites need to be corrected. In several important respects the neoconservative world outlook has some striking similarities with Stalinism and German National Socialism. Today’s neoconservatives share with Stalin and Hitler an ideology of nationalist corporatism at home and internationalist imperialism.

Though differing in practice, both Wilsonianism and Neoconservatism derive their assumptions from 18th century rationalist utopianism. Both hold that peace and stability are the natural order of the world and that Man is improvable, that violence and barbarity are either socio-political pathologies or the fruits of flawed policies by “the West.”

Wilsonians find remedies in multilateralism, foreign aid, and efforts at nation-building, while neoconservatives rely on the use of military power to impose their peculiar brand of “benevolent global hegemony” on a supposedly grateful world. On the whole, while the neoconservative mindset is apocalyptic (which is totalitarian trait), rather than utopian (which characterizes the Wilsonians), both are conducive to making the world as we want it to be, rather than dealing with it as it is, which produces policies that are invariably flawed, and occasionally fatal.

It is realismthat, unlike either utopian school, accepts the tragic human condition and immutable human nature, and places national interest, pragmatically defined and quantifiable, as the basis of world affairs. It accepts, in sorrow rather than anger, the reality of a world where might is right and violence the norm.

Given the realities of the region, it is clear that the Middle East is too important an issue to be ceded to the anxieties and obsessions of either Wilsonians or neocons.

The realist knows that our primary interests in the Middle East are not to defend human rights, or to promote democracy, or to build a Palestinian state, or to treat Israel as an existential American ally “with no space between us whatsoever.” Our interests are continued access to oil resources that demand regional stability and containment of the Jihadist menace -- which entails countering the terrorist threat and stopping the immigrant invasion of the West. Only secondary interests include ameliorating the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and finding a solution that will leave both parties equally dissatisfied.

Peripheral interests lie in opening the region to trade, encouragement of more pluralist forms of governance, promotion of the rule of law, human rights, free enterprise, diversity, pluralism, tolerance, anti-discriminationism, multiculturalism, multiracialism, inclusivism, environmentalism, free abortion on demand, constitutionally guaranteed gay marriage, healthy diet and exercise, non-smoking, animal rights, prevention of global warming, etc, etc.

Secondary and peripheral must remain subordinate to the primary interests when policy outcomes come into conflict. Should we promote “democracy” even if its beneficiaries are Osama and Ahmadinejad? Should we seek “justice” for the Palestinians -- however defined -- at the cost of risking the disappearance of the state of Israel? No, heck no!

Even if an evenhanded and generous agreement were to be offered to the Arabs -- including the establishment of a viable Palestinian state, an equitable sharing of natural resources, and a generous compensation package that would resolve the refugee problem -- it would be unworkable in the long term -- the notion of Israel’s legitimacy is simply unacceptable to traditional Islam.

The tragedy of the Israeli-Arab conflict is that a problem that may have been amenable, a few decades ago, to the conventional conflict-resolution approach has morphed into a civilizational and religious dispute beyond politics. Most principal actors now perceive it as a zero-sum game.

Before 1967, Arab nationalism had tended to be secular, socialist, and anti-Western.  Its opposition to Israel also took a secular form: Israel was seen as a Western colony settled by Europeans and Americans in an Arab land. Europe and the United States created it both as a strategic outpost and as a means of getting rid of their Jewish populations.

Until roughly 1990, broader Arab trends also applied to the Palestinian political and intellectual mainstream. The opposition to Israel, in the occupied territories and in the diaspora, depended for support on pan-Arab sentiment, notably embodied in Egypt’s Nasser. Parallel with that sentiment, a nondenominational Palestinian identity was actively promoted. It was rooted in the myth of an idealized pre-1947 polity, and it amounted to a belated attempt to build a nation without a state and without much of the claimed land.

The great realignment came with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the disappearance of its satellite regimes -- notably in East Berlin, Bucharest, and Prague -- that had provided help to various Palestinian factions when Moscow was reluctant to be seen as doing so itself. In the absence of the failed secular god, young Arabs turned to Allah in droves. The fall of the Berlin Wall was soon followed by the defeat of militant Islamists in Algeria and Egypt, forcing them to shift their focus from the internal to the external front.

The founder and leader of Hamas, the late Sheikh Ahmad Yassin, blended the nationalist slogans of the secularists’ pre-1990’s struggle against Israel with principles derived from the doctrines and values of Islam. The Islamic component in the equation, however, goes well beyond inspiring youngsters to sacrifice themselves and to hope for either victory or martyrdom: “Nationalism, from the point of view of the Islamic Resistance Movement, is part of the religious creed.”

From the orthodox Muslim point of view, there is nothing remarkable about such statements. They are derived from the Koran, and from the political tradition and social outlook of 13 centuries. Relinquishing any part of Palestine at the negotiating table is a disobedient act of blasphemy against Allah, and the alternative is the only right way (al-hal-wahid). As a modern Muslim commentator points out, “Such an outlook renders struggle a religious duty, not a nationalist or patriotic one.” The struggle against Israel is more than a “war of national liberation”: It is an act of worship for which God rewards a struggler in the form of victory in this life and eternity in the hereafter. Islamic groups have brought a qualitative change to the Middle Eastern discourse: no permanent peace is possible because it would be against Allah’s will to grant any piece of land once controlled by the faithful to non-Muslims.

A mirror image of this view, of metaphysical sophistry seeking to push its way into legitimate discourse, is the claim -- embraced by many in the American evangelical movement -- that the modern state of Israel is the embodiment of a biblical covenant: in other words, a Waqf under another name. Eretz Yisrael is the visible expression of the faithful God Who wills by covenant the permanence of the Jewish people (klal), whether Jews live in Israel or elsewhere. Israel “is the beginning of the flowering of messianic redemption” (resheet tzmihat geulateimu). The Jews have the right and the duty to settle the entire land, Eretz Ysrael: as per the book of Numbers, “the people that dwells alone, and that will not be counted among the Nations.”

The development of a Realist anti-jihadist strategy should go hand-in-hand with demystifying the relationship between America and Israel, redefining it in terms of mutual interests devoid of metaphysical or emotional mists. This would help Israel mature into a “normal” nation-state and help her to overcome the paradox that the state of Israel, instead of solving the perennial problem of Jewish insecurity, remains beset by it. Her real and eminently legitimate security concerns after 1948, and notably after 1967, were aggravated by the reemergence of an outlook predicated upon the premise of an inherently hostile world at large. America should grasp the causes of that insecurity from without -- by scrutinizing the structure of the Middle Eastern conflict and the nature of the Islamic threat -- rather than pander to its symptoms from within by the undissenting acceptance of whatever Israel does as her right to do, from U.S.S. Liberty 43 years ago to the Gaza flotilla today.

Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was on to something real when he declared, in December 1992, that his country’s “struggle against murderous Islamic terror is also meant to awaken the world, which is lying in slumber.” In the aftermath of the Gaza convoy we should be no less aware, however, that the problem of global Jihad -- real and present as it is -- can be used by Israel as a cover for actions that facilitate its expansion.

The common Western interest demands the destruction of global jihad in all its forms and the continued existence of the state of Israel, but both these imperatives are based on geopolitical and realpolitical, rather than emotional, moral, or scriptural grounds. Giving aid and comfort to the cynical plotters of the bloody flotilla farce is not a step in the right direction.