Israel Report

May 2002         

On Hating Israel

What we know but can't say out loud.

by Victor Davis Hanson - May 7, 2002
Europe, the United Nations, many elites in America, and, of course, the entire Arab and Islamic worlds, are against Israel. Their venom arises from three pretexts.

1. Occupation?

Israel purportedly occupies land that is not theirs — a travesty said to be wholly unique on the world stage, and so deserving of special and universal condemnation. Yet contra the Palestinians' constant lament, there is a great deal of occupied territory in the world today — tragedies that completely evade the moral radar of the United Nations and are unimportant to any of the self-proclaimed moralists of the Arab world.

Since 1974, a good part of Greek Cyprus has been under Turkish control — the homes and property of the Greek-speaking Cypriots confiscated, the native population expelled, and the island partitioned. The entire country of Tibet has been annexed by China, quite illegally and without much complaint from any besides a few in the United States.

What happened to Lebanon? The Syrians have occupied the entire country, where Palestinians find themselves helots, and the Lebanese themselves are little more than butlers to their Syrian overlords. Kurdistan is the property of three different countries; the Balkans are a mess with literally millions of ethnic Slavs, Albanians, Serbs, and Greeks living in lands controlled by others. A quarter million, not three thousand, have died there in the last fifteen years. What gives Russia the right to hang on to Japanese islands they confiscated in the closing weeks of World War II? Terrorist organizations — similar to Hamas and Hezbollah — in Ireland and Spain seek similarly to blow people up to claim for themselves an autonomous and hereditary homeland.

What is different in many of these cases is that the Tibetans did not try to invade China on three occasions. Greek Cypriots did not, in a series of wars, try to push all the Turks into the Mediterranean. Nor did the Lebanese seek to storm Amman, lose a war against Syria, and thereby lose the autonomy of their homeland. Clearly there is something else going on in Palestine besides the world's moral indignation over the principle of occupied lands.

2. Borders and Refugees?

Wars have a bad history of displacing residents. I doubt whether millions of Germans will ever get back any of their land in what is now eastern France and western Poland. Thousands of Russians have been finding themselves increasingly unwanted in the Baltic states. Will Ionian Greeks — residents of the Western coast of Turkey since the 11th century B.C. — ever return to their homes after the brutal expulsions of the 1920s? Millions of Islamic Pakistanis and Indian Hindus find themselves living in artificial countries in which they were not born.

By any fair measure of ancient or modern history, the situation in Palestine is not unique. Indeed, Israel is trying to be far more just to its defeated enemies than most victors — whether Turks, Poles, French, or Chinese — have been in the past. I omit questions of body counts and collateral damage. Pace the United Nations and the Palestine-propaganda machine, the real killing in the world today is going on in Central Africa, the Amazon basin, the former Soviet Union, and India. What is amazing is not that Palestinians have died in the fighting, but that in comparison to urban fighting in Chechnya, Mogadishu, and Panama, so few have perished. In that regard, Mr. Arafat's invocation of Stalingrad is as historically silly as it is obscene to the memory of those hundreds of thousands who perished on both sides in the winter of 1942-43.

3. Racism?

A constant charge — most recently and repugnantly made by a freed Mr. Arafat — is that the Israelis bear a racial grudge against the Palestinians. He has alleged that, like Nazis, Israelis seek to cleanse non-Jews from the West Bank. The U.N. itself for years tried to pass resolutions equating Zionism with racism. Yet by any fair measure the Israeli government is light-years ahead of the Arab world in terms of racial and religious tolerance. Privately, Arabs would concede that they are treated far better in Tel Aviv than any Jew would be now in Cairo, Baghdad, Damascus, or Amman. We do not read in the Jerusalem Post, as we do in the Arab dailies, that Palestinians are "monkeys" and "vampires." Nor is there a sizable literature in Israel — as there is in the Arab world — devoted to proving their enemies are subhuman. Real racism and hatred exist in this present conflict, but they are expressed almost entirely by Arabs, not Jews. Had a paper in Tel Aviv alleged that Arabs drink blood and are related to primates, the world's outrage would be second only to the moral indignation in Israel itself.
If Israel is guilty of little more than defending itself, and of not allowing its defeated adversaries their land back until the Jewish state is guaranteed security, what then really is at the heart of the world's hatred against the Israelis? The answer is rather transparent and can be summarized easily by five general considerations.

1. Realpolitik

We must never forget the crass self-interest of states — a trait that the Greek historians felt was at the heart of most conflict, albeit often crudely disguised by pretexts such as "justice" and "fairness." There may be nearly half a billion Arab-speaking peoples. Millions of Islamic citizens reside now in the West. Just a few hundred miles of the Mediterranean separate Europe from medieval regimes in Libya, Algeria, and Syria. The importance of the Arab world vis — vis Israel, then, can be gauged in an array of cultural, economic, and political fears and opportunities — from the size of expatriate populations to profits to be made from expansive trade and enormous markets. Were Israel large — say 400 million Jews — and the Arabs around them scarce (perhaps 10 million), then we would see dozens of U.N. resolutions condemning Mr. Arafat, for everything from murdering U.S. diplomats in the past to his present complicity in ordering suicide bombing.

2. Oil

Somewhere between one-quarter and one-third of the world's oil reserves are beneath Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Iraq. For the next 30 years or so, Europe, the United States, and Japan must depend on this steady supply of imported petroleum. And while these Western economic powerhouses obviously try to seek alternative suppliers in Russia, South America, and Norway, the fact remains that for the foreseeable future, in such an interconnected global economy, Middle Eastern oil — and its unstable and unsavory caretakers — are essential to the world's economic health. We have seen various efforts by these regimes to disrupt such supplies — from Saudi Arabia's oil embargo of 1974 to Iran's bombing of tankers in the Persian Gulf to Saddam Hussein's torching of the Kuwaiti oil fields — and so realize that prejudices, internecine wars, and inexplicable feuds at any hour can incite all these autocracies. Far easier — and cheaper — to keep silent about their routine horrors, or indeed actively abet their often absurd agendas.

Moreover, the income from oil brings these dictatorships Western technological expertise and military hardware — and hence the sympathy of millions in the West, who depend on selling them everything from cell phones and computers to jets and drill bits. The thousands of Europeans and Americans who buy, trade, and ship crude oil can hardly risk the ire of their own benefactors. So they usually cloak their crass utilitarianism in more patriotic slogans of "national interest" and "economic security." Had Israel 25 percent of the world's oil reserves and her Arab neighbors none, the European Union would now be damning the Palestine bombers as the thugs and terrorists they are.

3. Terrorism

The majority of the world's international terrorists of the last 30 years — the very worst killers who blow up international jets, storm the Olympic Games, murder Western diplomats, storm embassies, take hostages, and vaporize civilians at work — have been in the service of radical Islamic and Arab causes. That is not to say that Japanese, Irish, Basque, Malaysian, white racist, and Armenian terrorists have not murdered frequently — only that Arab assassins have been far more likely to attack on a global scale, especially against Europe and America. Since at least the 1967 war, the world has known that supporting Israel might well result in the killing of diplomats, athletes, tourists, and soldiers in their sleep, at the office, and on vacation. In contrast, had the Mossad been murdering Frenchmen, Americans, and Germans all over the world, politicians would now be scrambling to assuage Israeli discontent and seeking to ascertain the "root causes" of such grievances.

4. Anti-Semitism

We do not quite know why anti-Semitism persists in a supposedly educated and modern Western world at a time when assimilation, integration, and intermarriage are ever more common and a crass secularism has blurred distinctions among the major religions. Traditional stereotypes and hatred, of course, are always passed on to each new generation; and we must never forget the power of envy that highly educated, competent, and professional Jews incur from the less gifted and less successful. Nevertheless, the current rise of anti-Semitism is quite blatant — especially the shameful blasphemy in the indiscriminate use of the words "holocaust" and "genocide," and in the sudden reappearance of swastikas next to Stars of David. I am a 48-year-old Swedish-American Protestant and have expressed support for Israel for 30 years — but never once before had I been asked, "Are you Jewish?" This past year alone, however, that question — usually framed as an accusation — has arisen at least 50 times — along with printed and electronic invective that would make Mr. Goebbels proud.

Here we must be frank: The Arab world bears a great deal of the blame for the current new hatred. Islamic prejudice is the engine that drives European anti-Semitism. The state-run newspapers in Egypt and Saudi Arabia are no different from those in Germany in the 1930s. Saudi diplomats and religious figures unapologetically voice loathing right out of Mein Kampf — itself a bestseller in parts of the Arab world. The truth is that had the Palestinians been attacked and won four wars against the Israelis, and so right now found themselves occupying the state of Israel, much of the world would say, "More power to you for defeating and occupying those pesky Jews."

5. Aristocratic guilt and the cult of the underdog

With few worries about hunger or drudgery, and with ever-increasing material appetites, many Westerners have used that indulgence of affluence to condemn the very culture that produces such a good life. Nihilism, cynicism, and sarcasm are the symptoms we see among our bored and guilt-ridden elite, who belittle both the capitalists who manage their wealth and the arms and backs of the purportedly crass middling classes who actually produce it.

Radical environmentalism, romantic multiculturalism, and authoritarian utopianism all reflect a rather smug idealization of the disadvantaged and nature in the raw. Central to this creed is identification with the supposedly anti-Western world of the universal downtrodden — and, really, almost anyone or anything else in the past three centuries that has come up against the juggernaut of the dominant culture of Western industrial capitalism.

Thus, for some Westerners, it is not so much the facts of the last 50 years in the Middle East that drives their hatred of Israel. Nor the plenitude of Arabs and paucity of Israelis nor, perhaps, even worry over the price of gas for their Volvos and SUVs — nor their fear of bombs and germs, nor envy of Jews. Rather, the Palestinians are weak and the Israelis are strong. So — like the hosts of disadvantaged in America — Mr. Arafat and his minions are deserving of injured-party status as their birthright, getting a pass from liberal censure to mouth hatred and prejudice. In turn, the Israelis — almost like white affluent Republicans in America — are thought to be so strong and confident precisely because they are exploiters, and thus are held collectively responsible for the oppression and current plight of their long-suffering "victims."

Partly Marxist, partly ignorant, and mostly naive, these insufferable and affluent European and American leftists see their solidarity with Palestinians as inseparable from their own embarrassed personas. It is easy, cheap — and safe — to right the injustices of the world by marching, shouting, and signing petitions, rather than by living among, marrying, seeing daily, or materially aiding the "other." It can all be done in a few seconds on campus, on television, or in the suburb — without any true self-introspection about what really ensures one's own rather comfortable material existence in the university, media, or government.

The truth is that Westerners' support or hatred for Israel increasingly tell us far more about ourselves than they do about the real situation in the Middle East.

©2002 - National Review

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