Accusations by Western commentators that Israel has betrayed its noble founding principles are ubiquitous and often serve one end: to allow the writer to demonise the world’s only Jewish state whilst maintaining a posture of moral purity. They love what a nation-state of the Jewish people created after the Holocaust represents as an ideal, but not what it has become in reality. Though such commentators typically explain their ‘lost’ love of Israel as a natural result of the nation’s putative ‘move right’, the ‘what it has become’ narrative often reflects, in the accuser, a kind of petulance over Israel’s stubborn insistence over seven decades to use statecraft as others have, both militarily and diplomatically, to defend it’s very existence.
Thus, Benjamin Netanyahu’s allegedly ‘delayed’ and ‘muted’ response to antisemitism at the Charlottesville hate rally has been contextualised by many as another example of Israel’s flight from moral decency, and betrayal of its mission.
Unsurprisingly, the Guardian has – more than any other media group – exploited the row to impute maximum malevolence to Israel. As we noted last week, their long-time columnist Giles Fraser went beyond merely criticising Netanyahu for his response. He actually suggested it was a derivative of certain ideological similarities which exist between white supremacism and ‘right-wing Zionism’ – an odious comparison which comes close to falling within the widely accepted definition of antisemitism.
Fellow columnist Hadley Freeman, in her recent Guardian column (My great-uncle was alienated in postwar France. Now Americans know how he felt, Aug. 26), leveled a similarly loaded charge.
Hadley set up her piece by evoking the memory of her great-uncle, Alex Maguy, who lost a brother in Auschwitz. Maguy was sent to the camps himself, but somehow escaped and joined the underground French resistance. Hadley notes that Maguy described Israel, in his unpublished memoirs, as “the realisation of all of my dreams”.
Hadley then pivots to Charlottesville:
I wish I’d had longer to get to know Alex, but I’m glad he is not alive now to see how the realisation of his dreams has betrayed its roots. Last week, Israel’s communications minister, Ayoub Kara, who calls Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a “close friend”, told the Jerusalem Post that staying on the right side of President Trump was more important than condemning the neo-Nazis marching in Charlottesville, Virginia. In other words, for Israel, Trump trumps Nazis, because that’s where we are in 2017.
“Due to terrific relations with the US, we need to put the declarations about the Nazis in the proper proportion,” Kara told the Post. “We need to condemn antisemitism and any trace of Nazism… but Trump is the best US leader Israel has ever had… and we must not accept anyone harming him.”
Hadley then adds:
So Israel will do what it can to stop the spread of Nazism, except criticise a man who insisted there were some “very fine people” marching with neo-Nazis earlier this month. Whoa, don’t strain a muscle, Israel, you’re doing some pretty extreme backwards bends there!
Then, after criticising Americans who defend Trump’s reaction to the Charlottesville rally, Hadley turns again to Israel:
There is a word for people who support and normalise Nazis and Nazi defenders, and that word is “appeasers”, and that now includes, shockingly, Israel, as well as the conservative Jews in Trump’s circle such as Jared Kushner – like me, a grandchild of a Holocaust survivor. But a heads up to those groups: this tactic generally does not work out well for you.
Let’s be clear: Whatever one thinks of Trump and his reaction to Charlottesville, Israel’s close relationship with the US – as Karo and others, such as famed Nazi hunter and Holocaust historian Efraim Zuroff, have stressed – represents one of the key pillars of its defensive strategy. For Israel to continue defending millions of Jews in the Jewish state, and continue to serve as a safe haven for Jews fleeing antisemitic persecution around the world, requires close political, diplomatic and military ties with the world’s only superpower. Israel’s unbreakable alliance with the US is good for Israel, good for Jews and bad for anti-Semites.
Of course, if American Jews were really in serious danger, Hadley would have a point. However, despite the presence of a relatively small number of active white supremacists and Muslim extremists in the US, nobody can seriously deny that, outside of Israel, Jews in the US today are safer and more prosperous than at any time and place in Jewish history. The safety of American Jews after Charlottesville, thankfully, didn’t hinge on the words or deeds of Israel’s prime minister.
Maintaining Israel’s strategic alliances – vital to projecting the soft and hard power necessary to protect its own citizens and serve as a refuge of last resort to world Jewry – often requires careful and measured statements from Jerusalem – rhetoric driven by a sober analysis of its likely real-world impact. Israel’s fealty to its founding mission – as ‘Guardian of the Jews‘ – is best demonstrated not by vacuous virtue signalling, but by wisely and judiciously employing diplomacy and, when necessary, force to defend its interests.
Though reasonable people can of course disagree with Netanyahu’s response to Charlottesville, to characterise the prime minister of the Jewish state as an “appeaser” of anti-Semites who needs lessons in courage from a Guardian journalist is a breathtaking display of hubris.