When debating the subject of the Middle East and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, we should keep in mind that no history is pure since it is necessarily made by human beings. As all human beings are complicated mixtures of traits both benign and malign, it follows that the history of any people will be a much-chequered fabric of both good and evil.
The history of the Middle East is no different in this regard, except insofar as it has been subject to a greater degree of obfuscation than is usually the case, and therefore requires a corresponding degree of diligence and application in disambiguating its complexities—which is to say, in clarifying its oversimplifications.
The major form of obscurantism in Middle East analysis is the myth of Israeli malfeasance and Palestinian rectitude, of Israeli guilt and Palestinian innocence, which has now acquired so much momentum that facts are almost useless and truth a frequent casualty before its relentless career. The myth consorts with our penchant for easy solutions to intractable problems and our romantic intoxication with the “noble” underdog, the colonial oppressed and the Third World “freedom fighter,” idols to which we bow in misconceived adulation. For in supporting these mau-mauing zealots and cult figures—read “Hamas,” read “Hizbullah”—we engineer our own unhappiness.
But it is a large and active sector of our so-called intellectual elite whose effect is particularly noxious. Without knowing the densely layered history of the region, often without even a tentative grasp of the languages or at least a mastery of the salient texts, and without the slightest apprehension of daily life with bombers or the generational anxiety of living in constant expectation of the next suicide attack and incoming rocket or the experience of constant hatred directed at themselves and their families simply for being who they are, our vocal know-nothings have made a cottage industry of talking down to Israel while continuing to stigmatize it for every imaginable crime in the book.
Others, presumably more competent, are effectively on the Islamic payroll: scholars, university departments, the textbook publishing industry, media personalities, former diplomats and political officials who profit from the high salaries, lucrative contracts and monetary grants steered their way. Jimmy Carter’s Peace Center and even Bill Clinton’s Foundation are prominent institutional instances. Middle Eastern Studies programs, in particular, are fumetted with Arab money. But this is only a kind of inset of a much vaster process, the wave of Judeophobia sweeping across the world under the guise of anti-Israelism.
The vilification of Israel, however, should be set within the framework of our own fear and ignorance—what George Weigel in The Cube and the Cathedral has called the “failure of moral reason.” Israel is only a reflection of our reluctance to gaze into the mirror of time and trace the contours of our own beleaguered condition. For the jaded sensibility, the simplifying lie is far more palatable than the candid recognition of our bewildering historical situation. Intellectual maturity and a careful reading of the geopolitical map would help us to understand that, as Eric Hoffer put it in a famous article for the Los Angeles Times in 1968, “as it goes with Israel, so it will go with all of us.”
Certainly, not until we can arrive at some understanding of the upsurge of Jew-hatred in the West and the red herring of anti-Zionism, whether in the form of public odium and acts of antisemitic vandalism or in the flagrant anti-Israeli drift of the media, the Academy, the Churches and the European polity, will we be in a position to confront our weakness and complicity. Only when we realize that, in adopting the Islamic attitude vis à vis Jews and the Jewish state, we are seeking to conciliate rather than confront the forces arrayed against us—that in buying in, we are selling out. For such capitulation only renders us more vulnerable in the long run.
Today, the irony of our situation is especially apt. The shoe is on the other foot—which turns out to be the same foot. The West is beginning to learn what it feels like to be a Jew, to wait for the next murderous assault to break out, to anticipate the next attack upon its homes and places of business or worship, although it has not yet experienced a conscious revelation. A terrorist attack on New York, Madrid, Moscow, London, Paris or any other city is only a pogrom by another name, kindled by religious hatred, applied to a greater range of targets and involving not just Jews but anyone who happens to fall within its radius of destruction.
The global village is becoming the new shtetl, the next Pale of Settlement, the ghetto behind whose political, economic and civic gates the international community now finds itself exposed to punitive expeditions and sudden devastations. A reconsideration of those celebrated lines from a 1946 poem attributed to Pastor Martin Niemöller would not be amiss in the present circumstances:
First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a communist;
Then they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a socialist;
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a trade unionist;
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew;
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak out for me.
Yet, instead of recognizing a newfound solidarity with its ancestral victim whom it is coming to resemble, the West has chosen to make him responsible for its own, largely self-inflicted distress. It has been, to use Phyllis Chesler’s word, “Palestinianized.” It has not understood that the Jew is neither provocation nor scapegoat. His presence is not the cause of our troubles and his absence is not the answer to our problems. Today especially, he represents precisely both our dilemma and our future.
After the 1980 bombing of a Paris synagogue which killed four people, French Prime Minister Raymond Barre condemned “a despicable act that sought to target Jews…and which struck innocent Frenchmen…” Gevalt, such a mistake! Succumbing to a frivolous distinction, Monsieur Barre did not draw the appropriate conclusions then and neither have we today. The popular slogans propagated by the myrmidons of the Left, the “Israel Apartheid” mongers and the “peace” marchers of our time—“We are all Hamas” and “We are all Hizbullah”—are no less quaint than they are suicidal.
The fact is, whether we know it or not, we Westerners are all Jews now. And we are all Israeli.