For those, particularly in the timid or intimidated U.S. foreign-policy elite, who still pretend or somehow make themselves believe that Israel is not absolutely central to the neo-conservative worldview, I commend this week’s Thanksgiving editorial by Bill Kristol, scion of one of the movement’s two founding families, in The Weekly Standard, entitled “The West Fights Back”. While it deserves to be read — and deconstructed — in full, here’s the meat:
For what the West stands against is terror—whether the terror of modern secular totalitarianism or the terror of an older, and now revitalized, religious fanaticism. From the Great Terrors of Stalin and Hitler to the attacks on New York and Tel Aviv, and on Madrid, Bali, and Mumbai, terrorists of all stripes know who their enemies are. They attack across the world and kill Jews, Christians, and Muslims alike—but they grasp that the centers of resistance, the nations that stand most squarely in their path, are the United States and Israel.
And so these two very different nations—Christian and Jewish, large and small, new world and old (though the new world nation is older than its newly reborn old world counterpart)—find themselves allied. More than allied: They find themselves joined at the hip in a brotherhood that is more than a diplomatic or political or military alliance. Everyone senses that the ties are deeper than those of mere allies. Israelis know that if the United States fails, so shall Israel. Americans sense, in the words of Eric Hoffer, “as it goes with Israel so will it go with all of us. Should Israel perish the holocaust will be upon us.”
This argument has been around for some time, but it’s not something that neo-cons and their allies like to talk about too openly lest they be accused, in a very literal sense, of dual loyalty — that is, both to the U.S. and to Israel. Of course, Kristol co-founded the thoroughly obnoxious Emergency Committee for Israel two years ago. And it was his Project for a New American Century (which morphed in 2009 into the Foreign Policy Initiative, subsequently becoming Romney’s neo-con brain trust) that pushed precisely the same line back in its post-9/11 heyday: even as U.S. troops were pouring into Iraq for what would be a disastrous adventure, Kristol and his fellow-neo-cons were advising Bush that “Israel’s fight against terrorism is our fight.” As Bill Bennett, a gentile neo-con for whom Kristol used to work, put it shortly after 9/11: “America’s fate and Israel’s fate are one and the same”.
The point here is “Kristol” clear: On foreign policy issues relevant to both countries, the U.S. and Israel should be “joined at the hip”, even in ways that other historic U.S. allies, like Britain or Canada or France are not or never can be. This is Kristol’s vision; this is his goal. If Bibi Netanyahu wants to expand settlements, invade Gaza, attack Iran, the U.S. should remain, in his words, “loyal and steadfast.”
Again, I will leave it to others (hopefully our own Daniel Luban) to deconstruct Kristol’s latest meditation on Western civilization, modern liberalism, Leo Strauss, Israeli democracy, the restoration by the “Almighty” of the Jewish homeland, and the relationship of Thanksgiving to Hebraicism. But to the degree that the Kristol family, now headed by Bill, has played a leading role in the neo-conservative movement over the last more than 40 years, I think it’s way past time for the centrality of Israel to the movement’s foreign-policy worldview to be openly recognized, acknowledged, and discussed by the foreign-policy elite, as well as a public that is sick and tired of Middle Eastern wars.
Just a couple of other observations about Kristol’s little essay that I found particularly irritating. He asserts that the “West was saved, primarily by Britain and the United States” from destruction in World War II. Of course, to admit that the Soviet Union under Stalin may also have played a key role in destroying the Nazi regime may detract from the standard neo-con argument that “western civilization” has had to endure a series of deadly totalitarian/terrorist/Islamofascist challenges, one after the other. But, really, to omit any mention of the Soviet role offers yet another example of the neo-con tendency to invent or ignore historical facts when they find it convenient to do so. And then to go on, as Kristol does, to suggest that the “[West’s] revival after the war was somehow exemplified by the founding of the state of Israel” is particularly ironic, given Moscow’s critical role — Czechoslovakia was the main supplier of weapons to the embryonic state during and immediately after the independence war — in Israel’s creation. True to the neo-cons’ Trotskyite origins, historical facts can always be air-brushed out of the picture.
Second, Kristol quotes Strauss in 1956 as celebrating Israel’s status as “an outpost of the West in the East,” a quote taken from a letter to the National Review which, at the time, was anti-Zionist. A few months after the letter was published, Israel proved just how valuable it was to the “West” when it joined Britain and France in attacking Egypt — an act of rather blatant aggression strongly opposed and indeed eventually undone as a result of excruciating pressure exerted by Kristol’s other savior of western civilization, the United States. So, for which “West” was Israel an outpost?
Of course, Strauss’s “outpost” observation — one wonders whether he and Kristol saw apartheid South Africa in a similar light — was made when Israel was dominated by the Ashkenazi-led Labour Party which took quite seriously western liberal concepts even if it failed to consistently apply them vis-a-vis its own Arab population. But, as Kristol presumably knows, that Israel is long gone. What with the ’67 war, the ascendancy of the Likud and the settlement movement, and the huge immigration from the former Soviet Union (which brought us, among others, the charming Avigdor Lieberman) — not to mention the existence of an occupation that has lasted more than 45 years — Israel is a very different polity than it was in 1956 (or in 1968, when Hoffer wrote of his “premonition”). Indeed, in an interview earlier this year, one of Israel’s leading civil libertarians, attorney Michael Sfard, spoke openly about the “fascization” of his country, a process that threatens the very western liberal values that Kristol claims — and I emphasize claims, because I frankly don’t believe him — should make the U.S. and Israel the foreign-policy equivalent of Siamese twins.
What makes this trend worthy of being described as fascism are the extreme nationalism that sees the People and the Nation as something metaphysical, organic, alive; and the rejection of liberal values that are seen as being detrimental to this nationalist zeitgeist. Israel has always been a very nationalist country – Zionism is, after all, a nationalist movement.But at least until today there was the aspiration and the pretence – pretence is important, even if it’s only pretence – that this can walk hand in hand with liberal values, especially where Jews are concerned. So we had this quaint mix – very strong nationalism hand in hand with freedom of speech, which was one of our strongest values, and as a lawyer who deals with this issue quite a lot, I can tell you that many Western countries could be proud of the way freedom of speech has been enshrined here in Israel. And these values are currently being taken apart.