Bret Stephens and Israel’s Liberal “Friends”

Bret Stephens has an excellent piece up at the WSJ about the attitude of liberals towards Israel. A few comments sprinkled throughout… (HT/LK)

Israel and Its Liberal ‘Friends’
Why don’t they apply the same tough love to the Palestinians?
By BRET STEPHENS

Comments (230)

Questions for liberals: What does it mean to be a friend of Israel? What does it mean to be a friend of the Palestinians? And should the same standards of friendship apply to Israelis and Palestinians alike, or is there a double standard here as well?

It has become the predictable refrain among Israel’s liberal critics that their criticism is, in fact, the deepest form of friendship. Who but a real friend, after all, is willing to tell Israel the hard truths it will not tell itself? Who will remind Israel that it is now the strong party, and that it cannot continue to play the victim and evade the duties of moral judgment and prudential restraint? Above all, who will remind Israel that it cannot go on denying Palestinians their rights, their dignity, and a country they can call their own?

The answer, say people like Peter Beinart, formerly of the New Republic, is people like . . . Peter Beinart. And now that Israel has found itself in another public relations hole thanks to last week’s raid on the Gaza flotilla, Israelis will surely be hearing a lot more from him.

Of course, Beinart is just the current poster-boy. (I still haven’t fisked him, although is article cries out for it. One of the best responses was Noah Pollak’s. But the real flotilla of liberal “friends” is at J-Street.

Now consider what it means for liberals to be friends of the Palestinians.

Here, the criticism becomes oddly muted. So Egypt, a country that also once occupied Gaza, enforces precisely the same blockade on the Strip as Israel: Do liberal friends of Palestine urge the Obama administration to get tough on Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak as they urge him to do with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu? So a bunch of “peace” activists teams up with a Turkish group of virulently anti-Semitic bent and with links both to Hamas and al Qaeda: Does this prompt liberal soul-searching about the moral drift of the pro-Palestinian movement? So Hamas trashes a U.N.-run school, as it did the other week, because it educates girls: Do liberals wag stern fingers at Palestinians for giving up on the dream of a secular, progressive state?

Well, no. And no. And no. Instead, liberal support for Palestinians is now mainly of the no-hard-questions-asked variety. But that is precisely the kind of support that liberals decry as toxic when it comes to Western support for Israel.

I leave it to others to decide whether this is simple hypocrisy or otherwise evidence of how disingenuous claims by certain liberals to friendship with Israel have become. Still, these liberals insist that their remonstrances are necessary because, without them, Israelis won’t get the tough love they need.

Really? Consider a sample of recent clippings from the Israeli press. An editorial in Haaretz: “Like a robot lacking judgment . . . that’s how the [Israeli] government is behaving in its handling of the aid flotillas to the Gaza Strip.” A columnist in the Jerusalem Post: “As evil as these jihadists [aboard the flotilla] are, they were acting in a cause the whole decent, democratic world knows is right: Freedom for Gaza. Freedom for the Palestinians. And end to the occupation. An end to the blockade.” A member of Israel’s cabinet: “We need to ease the population’s conditions and find security-sensitive, worthy alternatives to the embargo.”

None of this indicates a society lacking in a capacity for self-criticism. Yet that capacity hardly has any parallel in the closed circle of Palestinian media or politics, a point that ought to bother Western liberals.

It doesn’t. One wonders why.

Part of the reason surely has to be intellectual confusion, an inability to grasp the difference between national “liberation” and genuine freedom. Ho Chi Minh was not a “freedom fighter,” and neither was Yasser Arafat. How many times does the world have to go through this drill for liberals to get the point?

There’s also a psychology at work. Harvard’s Ruth Wisse calls it “moral solipsism”—obsessive regard for your own moral performance; complete indifference to the performance of those who wish you ill.

I call it moral narcissism.

Finally there’s the fact that liberalism has become a politics of easy targets. Liberals have no trouble taking stands against abstinence educators, Prop 8 supporters or members of the tea party. But when it comes to genuine bigots and religious fanatics—and Hamas has few equals in those categories—liberals have a way of discovering their capacity for cultural nuance and political pragmatism.

As I have repeatedly argued here, the role of intimidation cannot be underestimated here (e.g., Goldstone’s betrayal of Gazan civilians). Criticizing Israel is cost-free; criticizing Palestinians can be very painful to the critic. And then, of course, there’s the Human Rights Complex.

Today, by contrast, the task of defending Israel is hard. It’s hard because defenders must eschew cliches about “the powerful” and “the powerless.” It is hard because it goes against prevailing ideological fashions. And it’s hard because it requires an appreciation that the choice of evils that endlessly confronts Israeli policy makers is not something they can simply wash their hands of by “ending the occupation.” They tried that before—in Gaza.

Is there a liberalism that is capable of recognizing this? Or are we again at the stage where it has been consumed by its instinct for fellow-traveling? In 1968, Eric Hoffer wrote: “I have a premonition that will not leave me; as it goes with Israel so will it go with all of us. Should Israel perish the holocaust will be upon us.” By “us,” he meant liberals, too, and maybe most of all.

Precisely. As Dennis Praeger put it (in an article whose title is much better than the content), “If Israel Is Not Evil, the World Is in Big Trouble.”

10 Responses to Bret Stephens and Israel’s Liberal “Friends”

  1. Jamie Holts says:

    Just wanted to say HI. I found your blog a few days ago on Technorati and have been reading it over the past few days.

  2. incognito says:

    Do liberal friends of Palestine urge the Obama administration to get tough on Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak as they urge him to do with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu?

    What, after the Cairo speech? He was pretty clear about muslim ass-kissing.

    As I have repeatedly argued here, the role of intimidation cannot be underestimated here (e.g., Goldstone’s betrayal of Gazan civilians). Criticizing Israel is cost-free; criticizing Palestinians can be very painful to the critic. And then, of course, there’s the Human Rights Complex.

    Bingo. That’s the major part of the problem. The left is also particularly sensitive to the volume of grievances, and not to their substance. If you scream you surely have a just reason, particularly if you are willing to die for it.

    Is there a liberalism that is capable of recognizing this?

    That kind of liberalism is long gone (e.g. Berman). What you have now is the “liberalism” produced by western academia — that is ignorane, inability to reason, conformism and moral narcissim. A la Rachel Corrie.

  3. Eliyahu says:

    The left is also particularly sensitive to the volume of grievances, and not to their substance. If you scream you surely have a just reason, particularly if you are willing to die for it.

    Much as I hate to agree with my old pal, Incog, he put the problem very well. The louder you are, the more violent you are, the more just your cause.

    Following this logic, Bill Ayers represented a just cause because he planted bombs. Muhammad Atta killed thousands [not alone to be sure]. Therefore, Mr Atta represented a just cause. Back in the sick Sixties, one of the arguments was that you were not genuine in the cause of peace or of civil rights, etc., if you were not willing to be violent. That was a twin notion to Don’t trust anybody over 30. After all, people over 30 are less inclined to be violent. Of course, everybody who said back in the Sixties, Don’t trust anybody over 30 — is now over 30– if he is still alive [Abby Hoffman z'l]. Of course, the Sixties proved something else, if it needed to be proven. College students can be manipulated psychologically like almost anybody else.

    One of the points that I liked in the Latma satire was that “reason” is out of fashion. Another point is that “for facts there is no demand.” That’s the 21st century. Back to the Middle Ages.

  4. incognito says:

    Boy, am I good at predictions:

    US twists Israel’s arm to placate Erdogan, destabilize Netanyahu
    http://www.debka.com/article/8843

  5. Zach says:

    I wanted to post this article but didn’t have a subscription to WSJ! It was a great one.

  6. E.G. says:

    The Israeli Knight of the Order of Lamentation replies to Bernard-Henri Levy:
    http://www.haaretz.com/opinion/in-response-to-bernard-henri-levy-1.295283

    I’ve hardly ever read a more ridiculous argument:

    A large Israeli supermarket holds 10,000-15,000 items; in Paris there are surely more. Yet Gaza is allowed 97. One would expect greater understanding for gastronomic needs from a refined bon vivant such as yourself, of all people.

    How many kinds of ham needed in Gaza?
    Why can’t those poooooor people have the right kind of bacon with their preferred brand of eggs?!

    But here comes the demopathy:

    True, Bernard-Henri, the world demands more of Israel than of dictatorships. This is not the “confusion of an era,” as you put it, but a new (and just) era, in which the world demands Israel pay a price for its conduct as a democracy.

    Demonization? Perhaps, but the way to fight that is by imposing a siege on its arsenal. Were it not for the blockade on Gaza, were it not for the occupation, there would be no cause for demonization. Was it too much to expect of you, once the voice of conscience, to understand that?

    Levy vs. Levy. Tsk Tsk. One of them is calling the other a traitor.

  7. Cynic says:

    incognito,

    WRT #5, I posted a link to an article (Hebrew) in Globes
    in the previous post by RL:
    “The Consequences of Media Failure: Demopaths Setting the Global Agenda”,
    which if it pans out will show that the US has not the foggiest clue to the region or Obama is creating a crisis to not let an excuse go to waste.

  8. incognito says:

    will show that the US has not the foggiest clue to the region or Obama is creating a crisis to not let an excuse go to waste.

    I keep asking: why not both?

    He is creating a crisis to exploit but because he has not a clue he will fail to achieve what he wants short of screwing up Israel. He wants to achieve that, true, but he also believes that will be embraced by the arabs. That won’t happen because the arabs are contemptuous of him and will go for the Iran/Turkey, the strong horse.

    They may use him — e.g. the pals get him to pressure Israel and squeeze money out of him — but they won’t ally with him, certainly not against strong horses.

  9. Eliyahu says:

    re #7,

    Gisha is lying. There is no list forbidding 97 products. Rather, the Israel army agency in charge of Israeli shipments into Gaza, COGAT [coordinator of govt activities in the territories] gives priority to items on lists drawn up by the recognized international humano orgs operating in Gaza, UNRWA, ICRC, et al. The little luxuries that Gisha complains are not allowed in are not priority items. Since COGAT has limited resources in manpower and time to inspect shipments of what seem frivolous items, they are not brought in. Again, the int’l orgs set the priorities.

    Anyway, why does Israel have to feed Gaza anyhow?? It is a hostile state or semi-state entity. No decent person should support Hamas or complain about the very partial blockade.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>