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Why America Must Support Israel By: Bruce S. Thornton
FrontPageMagazine.com | Friday, June 14, 2002


TELL PEOPLE YOU SUPPORT ISRAEL and they often assume that you're either Jewish or a fundamentalist Christian monitoring Israel's starring role in the drama of Apocalypse. As important as ethnic or religious solidarity is, though, supporting Israel is more firmly based on principle, morality, and national interest.

Principle. Israel is a Western society, like ours the heir of Athens and Jerusalem. This means it is a liberal democracy organized politically to protect the rights of individuals and ensure their participation as citizens in the running of the state. Protecting the freedom of the individual person as a person--not as the member of a category--is the primary aim of such a government.

Other features of such a society include: an economic system run to some extent on free-market principles; civilian control of the military; free speech; equality between the sexes; a circumscribed role for religion in government; and a generally secular, rationalist outlook that prizes tolerance and openness rather than the blinkered narrowness of the tribe, clan, or sect. In short, like America Israel is a society of laws rather than powerful men--whether thugs, priests, princes, or bureaucrats-- who monopolize force and run society for their own benefit.

This is the ideal, one that no society, Israel or our own, perfectly realizes. Yet considering that Israel has since its birth lived besieged by incessant aggression against its very existence, the issue is not that Israel compromises on some of these principles in order to survive, but rather that it embodies any of them. An Israeli Arab member of parliament can rise up in the Knesset and publicly criticize the Prime Minister, something he could not do in any other Arab state, at least if he wanted to stay out of jail or survive the night.

As the only liberal democracy in the whole Middle East, then, Israel demands our support-- if we believe in the principle, as we say we do, that such a society is the best way for people to live, no matter what their race, national origin, or religion, for it maximizes the freedom and prosperity of the greatest number of individuals.

Morality. Despite the media's rhetoric of moral equivalence (often the last refuge of the morally bankrupt), there is a clear right and a wrong in this conflict. If we cut through the fog of "checkpoints" and "settlements," we can see clearly the source of the conflict: the Arab attempt to destroy Israel. Does anyone really think that if the Arabs had sincerely accepted Israel in 1948 that the subsequent fifty years would have been as bloody and miserable as they have been for both sides? Quite simply, Israel kills Palestinians and restricts their movements because for fifty years Palestinians have murdered Israelis, egged on by Islamic nations whose populations outnumber Israel 100 to one.

Thus whatever Israel's mistakes or injustices, they have been the byproducts of Israel's attempt to defend its very existence against a sustained, fifty-year assault by terror, guerilla action, and three wholesale military attacks. And whatever the Palestinians have suffered has its ultimate origins in the existence of a critical mass of Arabs who do not accept Israel's right to live and hence compel Israel to defend itself, with all the tragic, unforeseen consequences that always accompany even the just use of force.


The old Greeks understood the moral principle very well: "The doer suffers." He who initiates violence and aggression and threatens another's existence will unleash a defensive response and suffer the consequences. I'm not speaking of the media's "cycle of violence," a phrase that obscures moral responsibility, as though Palestinian murder of civilians and the Israeli defensive response are natural phenomena like the seasons. Violence used to defend is morally different from violence used to destroy.

Finally, there is one critical moral distinction that needs to be affirmed: the inadvertent death of civilians resulting from the use of force to defend one's self is utterly and absolutely different from the planned targeting of civilians to destroy another. A man who shoots at your family while hiding behind his own bears all the responsibility if his family is killed when you defend yourself.

Let us state once more the obvious: if Palestinians stop killing Israelis, Palestinians will stop dying. But the reverse is not true: Oslo has shown that the more Israel accommodates Palestinian aspirations, the more Israelis who will die.

National Interest. In the short-term, defending Israel might appear to be contrary to our national interests. After all, there is no oil in Israel, and supporting her annoys those larger, more strategically placed nations who do possess oil. But this way of thinking is dangerously shortsighted.

Our national interests are more easily served and defended the more liberal democracies there are. Societies of free citizens and free markets are more stable and peaceful, and less prone to aggression against their neighbors. Given that there are no genuinely free societies in the Middle East, it is definitely in our national interest to defend and support a trusted and loyal democratic ally, and to work at creating more such democracies in the region. An ally like Saudi Arabia might serve our short-term interests, but its chronic instability and dysfunctional political order is a time bomb that someday will explode in our faces.

More important, though, after 9/11 we now know that it is very much in our interests to defeat terror, and Israel is the key battleground in the war on terror. Quite simply, if homicide-bombers work in Israel, or even appear to be working, then the rest of the world will regularly suffer from such attacks. Those who think terror is a legitimate instrument for achieving their aims must be utterly and thoroughly defeated and convinced that terror will never result in anything other than their own destruction.

All of us, then, should support Israel--all of us, that is, who believe in a world ruled by law and respectful of individual freedom. As rare and fragile a plant as such freedom has been in human history, principle, morality, and interest all tell us that we cannot afford to see it uprooted anywhere.


Bruce Thornton is the author of Greek Ways and Decline and Fall: Europe’s Slow-Motion Suicide (Encounter Book}. He is 2009-2010 National Fellow at the Hoover Institution.


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