Here’s another interesting take on that unhinged attack on Israel by The Guardian’s Daphna Baram, by Matthew Ackerman – blogging for The David Project. (See yesterday’s post, by Daphne Anson, on the topic here)
An article published yesterday on the Comment is Free section of the Guardian’s website is a good example of the intellectual tactics that will increasingly be used against Israel.
To be as fair as one can be, the article does speak to a series of related, dramatic occurrences in the last year or so in Israel. Avigdor Lieberman’s Israel Our Home party surged to a third place finish in the February 2009 election to the Israeli Parliament, largely on promises to ensure greater loyalty toward and integration into the Jewish, democratic state of Israel by all parts of Israeli society, Arab and Haredi included. A new organization, If You Will It, has raised the heat against the New Israel Fund for its support of Arab and other groups that actively campaign to overturn Israel’s Jewish character or support international delegitimization campaigns. And there has been an increased willingness to question the privileged cocoon enjoyed by many Israeli academics, a position many use to not only advocate against the existence of Israel but even of a Jewish people.
All of this is to say nothing of the growing conviction of the center of Israeli society that the Arabs are not amenable to a peaceful existence with a Jewish state any time soon and that the growth of ideologies, both at home and abroad, that attack the intellectual foundations of Zionism is a threat to be taken seriously. (A sustained suicide bombing campaign that takes more than 1,000 lives mixed with international condemnation of your long-delayed efforts to defend yourself will do that to you.)
This particular article, written by one Daphna Baram, is such a good example because of its promiscuous use of the charge that this policy or way of thinking is “racist” and its constant invocation of ill-defined notions of “human rights.” Baram has previously written that similar trends had “exposed the absurdity and the moral unacceptability of the whole Zionist idea,” and one can hope that that would suffice to not take her particular complaints with the “whole Zionist idea” seriously. The charges she makes aren’t interesting for their content. They are interesting for the strategy they employ, and the political thinking they reveal of many in the West.
For Baram and her fellow-travelers, perhaps the most unacceptable thing about Israel (and America for that matter, but that’s another topic) is that its public does not share the self-loathing of its intellectual elites. Maybe the deepest political axiom for this camp, and the European publics that have followed them, is that the West is bad. Moral failings – best exemplified by the history of slavery, colonialism, expansion, and fascism – run to the West’s core, making any intellectual defense of a Western society as a Western society at best suspicious. Hence the “moral unacceptability” of Israel’s intellectual self-defense.
The only acceptable position one can take is in defense of a vague “liberalism” far removed from the Enlightenment ideals – individual liberty, freedom of conscience, representative government, etc – that used to be thought of as “liberal” and still (albeit in many countries just barely) underpin the liberal democracies of the West. This new liberalism – never well-defined by its defenders – isn’t really about liberalism at all, but about expanding the sexual rights and welfare promises enjoyed by an ageing West that it is thought should gladly welcome its political eclipse. The invocation of human rights and the charge of racism have been extraordinarily effective in ensuring massive social changes in Western societies whether or not they are in the best long-term interest of those societies.
For people who think this way Israel is an especially galling problem. A state that defines itself as Western and obviously is Western in its political organization and culture, it has no problem defining itself as also “Jewish” and seeking to cement a solid Jewish majority of its citizenry for generations to come. A small country subject to a generations-long siege by vastly larger non-Western states, it has the disquieting habit of winning, often spectacularly and usually unapologetically. And rather than curling up in the face of repeated denunciations by European politicians, international bodies, and human rights organizations, its internal self-assurance remains remarkably robust, if concerned about the future. All of this raises the idea that their might just be something valuable in Western ideas.
Just, then, as the Islamists see the struggle against Israel as an embodiment of their political ideals, so too do Western leftists increasingly see Israel as the central symbol of their own political grievances. The latter’s principal weapon is moral shame. As Israel and her defenders sharpen their defensive strategies, they should be prepared for many more of these kinds of arguments and from more influential quarters than the pen of Dapna Baram.