Israel, the double standard, and power

Kendrick Macdowell | Contributor

The United Nations refuses to condemn North Korea for deliberately sinking a South Korean ship and killing 46 South Koreans, but erupts, along with the rest of the European and American Left, over Israel killing nine people who attacked Israeli commandoes.

33 of the most recent 40 resolutions passed by the United Nations Human Rights Council have condemned Israel.  Current member states include Cuba, Libya, and Saudi Arabia.

Syria declares publicly that “Israel is a state based upon crime, slaughter,” and Hugo Chavez denounces Israel as a “genocidal” state.

Israel takes some Darfur refugees, but not all, and is condemned, while Egypt sends them back to Sudan, without comment.

The United States and Russia achieve multiple targeted killings of terrorists, without comment (or indeed celebration), but Israel, upon whom the targeted terrorists have inflicted the most slaughter, targets terrorists and the world erupts.

The mainstream media (AP) provides a helpful list of all terrorist incidents that have occurred globally — but excludes any terrorist incident directed at Israel.

Israeli leaders cannot go safely into some European countries for fear of being arrested for war crimes under the faux-doctrine of “universal jurisdiction,” while children-targeting murderers such as Hamas face no such international reproach.

Leftist filmmakers, writers and actors abuse their celebrity to try to coerce the Toronto International Film Festival into banning Israeli films — though Israel has by far the most robust free press and free speech standard of any country in the Middle East, and these celebrities have nothing to say about Saudi Arabia, which prohibits movie theaters, or Iran, which issues death-dealing fatwas against artists insufficiently respectful of Islam.

What’s going on?

Not having been born Jewish, and therefore perhaps less sensitive to the easy hatred of Jews in many cultural narratives, the explanation of anti-Semitism doesn’t satisfy me.  Though at times anti-Semitism has seemed the only explanation left, it doesn’t satisfy me because the Left — and that is where the bulk of anti-Israel sentiment now resides — simply does not rally around disgust at a nation based upon its minority ethnicity.  Call the Left what you will — racially opportunistic (overplaying the race card), racially profligate (every modern conservative notion can be explained by racism), racially condescending (“those racists in the South”), racially hypocritical (“loves the black race, hates the black man”) — the Left is not simplistically “racist” in the traditional sense of that term and would not be at a bigoted war with Israel simply because it is populated by Jews.

Something else is going on.

It is, I believe, because there is a place, in the middle of Dar al-Islam, where Jews are powerful — or more precisely, powerful vis-a-vis Muslims.  It is the power dynamic that disturbs the Leftists.  For which we need some background.

The Left has long made a fetish of power and its illegitimacy, its cynical perpetuation, its deconstruction.  Power is always a proper target because it has almost always, in the Leftist narrative, acquired its status by means of the other Leftist fetish: oppression.  Once the Left identifies “oppression” — and very few historical occupants of superior political, economic, military, or cultural position (meaning Western cultures) are exempt from the charge of “oppression” — the Leftist sensibility reflexively defines itself in opposition to this oppression.

In the Leftist lexicon, the oppositional defining force is “liberation.”  Watch carefully how this word is used throughout world revolutionary, protest, and left-despotic history.  In human history, we have yet to witness a successful Leftist “liberation” that resulted in more freedom for its people — or even less slaughter and repression.  To be sure, there have been successful (usually short-term) movements from right or center-right to center-left — but never a full-fledged Leftist liberation that resulted in anything other than, ironically, greater oppression, and typically greater slaughter.

Yet the Left routinely uses “liberation” as a semantic device to justify the opposite of whatever virtue it purports to promote.  “Liberation” means liberation into what you are not now and what you must become (emphasis upon must), because it defeats the European oppressor and is therefore ordained.  And thus has the Left reconciled the remarkable cognitive dissonance of selectively opposing some oppression and winking at abundant other oppression.

The best example is Leftist hero and cultural Marxist Herbert Marcuse, whose 1965 essay Repressive Tolerance had a profound impact upon Leftist ideology and academia.  Therein, Marcuse wrote, “liberating tolerance” would consist of “intolerance against movements from the Right, and toleration of movements from the Left.” Marcuse advocated “the withdrawal of toleration of speech and assembly from groups and movements which promote aggressive policies, armament, chauvinism, discrimination on the grounds of race and religion, or which oppose the extension of public services, social security, medical care, etc.” After all, Marcuse concluded — with unapologetic hostility to the “sacred liberalistic principle of equality for ‘the other side,'” —  “there are issues where … there is no ‘other side’ in any more than a formalistic sense.”

In short, Herbert Marcuse made it bizarrely fashionable in some parts of America, chiefly academia, to be intolerant of any tolerance extended to conservative (or arguably moderate) thinking.  The phrase, “scratch a liberal, find a fascist” comes to mind, for what is more disturbing than a liberal decrying the “liberal principle of equality” by maintaining that there really isn’t anything “equal” to our ideas because any disagreeable idea doesn’t even deserve the status of legitimate idea?

Herbert Marcuse therefore gave the Left a language to oppose Israel, to turn facts on their heads, to oppose, as not even deserving the status of ideas, the Israeli claim to the right to exist.

How could this be?  How could any American embrace not merely disagreement, not even violent disagreement, but disqualification from that which we even need bother disagreeing because the contrary notion doesn’t even qualify as a debatable idea?

Part of the answer lies in very different European cultural traditions (which still manifests regrettably in American politics as European sycophantism).

The Treaty of Westphalia in 1648 acknowledged across Europe, in the interest of ending religious wars, that each prince would have the right to determine the religion of his own state (among Catholicism, Lutheranism, and Calvinism), and that adherents of religions (Catholicism, Lutheranism, and Calvinism) other than the state religion were guaranteed the right to practice their religion.  Importantly, in the interest of ending the horrible bloodshed of religious wars, the principle of inviolable national sovereignty emerged — the principle that a king next door could institute something thoroughly obnoxious to me, and I would have no legitimate cause to object, as least not militarily, so long as the noxious decree dwelt within his own borders.

Obviously the Treaty of Westphalia did not put an end to European wars — but it did ensconce in the European sensibility a steadfast belief in national sovereignty — it being agreed that there could never be a universal agreement on how states should conduct themselves.  And as long as states were not predatory — did not invade other sovereign states — then what they did within their borders could never be a legitimate cause of war.  This was an easy conclusion in Europe because there could be so many reasons to war with another country based upon what it did outside its borders.  Carve out, at least, as no longer legitimate casus belli, whatever happened inside sovereign borders.

Thus was it excruciating for Europe to come to grips with genocide in the 20th and 21st centuries — as long as the genocide occurred within sovereign borders. Hitler’s genocide was different because it was pan-European and driven by invasion and occupation of multiple sovereign countries.  What began as ambiguous score-settling among Serbs, Bosnians, and Croats — based upon the latter two’s Muslim alliance with Nazis in World War II and including Croatian modern revival of certain Nazi symbols — morphed into Serbian slaughter on a genocidal scale (significant events of which remain disputed).  Europe dithered.  The United States, spurred by a Republican Congress, said no, and bombed the Serbs to the bargaining table (without the backing of the UN Security Council).

It was not an easy call.  Except that it was.  Whatever the origin of Serbian fury, it could never justify mass slaughter of innocents.  Europe couldn’t quite get there because it all occurred within what had been the sovereign borders of Yugoslavia.  America had no such compunction because mass slaughter of innocents is wrong wherever it occurs.  America dithered longer than it should have — President Clinton was not comfortable with any American military projection — but bombing seemed a sufficiently safe and distant projection of American military power.  Not surprisingly, China condemned America for imperialistic determination to control Eastern Europe.

America may say, respectfully, to Europe, we understand your Westphalian grounding. We understand your reluctance to conclude that anything happening within the sovereign borders of another country is unacceptable.  We understand that you fear where this analysis may take you internally, as Europe, and how it resurrects centuries old European demons.  But we, America, are not so constricted.  Objecting to something manifestly evil within sovereign borders does not take us to a dangerous place.  We have never been territorially imperialistic and the wars we have fought have never been about taking over countries or expanding anything like an actual American empire.  We can fight against something because it is evil without desiring that the population of the place submit to American dictate indefinitely.

In this role, America performs a tremendous service to Europe.  Individual European countries cannot countenance aggression against a particular country, however evil and even though its conduct inside its borders is hideous, because there is no European cultural principle necessarily thwarting opportunistic aggression.  Once the genie is out of the bottle…  (Interestingly, it is European countries that have no history of opportunistic aggression, such as Finland, who see the double-standard, and react rationally.)

America, on the other hand, has a rich and textured cultural tradition against opportunistic aggression.  To wit, World War I, World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War (even if we had won it), the first Iraq war, the Afghanistan war, and the second Iraq war have not produced a single square inch of American territory, and never will — and in each of these wars, the enemy was a bigoted despot that oppressed his people and oppressed or threatened to oppress other people, often with genocide.

The Westphalian principle may aptly hold Europe together — but it is no model for America.  The fact that Europeans understandably cannot do what is necessary for fear of unleashing European demons does not mean that America cannot do what is right.

With respect to Israel, the Westphalian principle should have accorded Israel full sovereignty, and thus absolute, respectful non-interference.  Indeed, given that every square millimeter of tiny Israel was either conferred upon it by international blessing, or won in wars of unprincipled aggression launched against it, the Westphalian principle would seem to dictate respect for Israeli sovereignty and non-interference with respect to Israeli decisions within its borders.

Israel did not “invade” and conquer its territory.  Israel was created by international consensus because Jews had a homeland there stretching back thousands of years — and painfully obviously, no homeland in Europe where they had been murdered by genocide, and no homeland in any Middle Eastern country, from where they had been brutally expelled. Israel did not expand its territory by invasion, but acquired additional territory in the course of wars of extinction waged against it — and held some, but not all (e.g., Sinai), of this territory defensively.

Israel, unfortunately for its international status, prevailed.

Co-opted by the predominant European Left, the Westphalian principle in Europe got turned on its head and serviced the following counter-historical propositions: (1) Israel is part of Arab Palestine (though there is not and has never been any such entity) and thus subject to whatever Arab aggression therein occurs, with which one cannot properly interfere; and/or, in more fawning interpretations, (2) Europeans, out of European guilt, carved out Israel in the middle of Dar al-Islam, and Israel is therefore in fact an illegitimate colonial state within Dar al-Islam (notwithstanding the steady presence of a substantial Jewish population for thousands of years in what was indisputably the Jewish/Israelite homeland, and the absence of any corresponding “Palestinian” state, nation, or homeland).

Thus, coming full circle to Marcuse, the Westphalian principle is fatally subject and subordinate to the principle of leftist anti-power politics — the opposition to any “European” winner, any European power, that can be stretched into role of oppressor.  This distorted Westphalian-Marcusean thinking, therefore, gives cover to European countries with substantial and growing Muslim populations to oppose Israeli “oppression” and favor Muslim “liberation.”

In this paradigm, if Israel ceased to win, if Israel got a little bit, but not totally, slaughtered, one can imagine Europe getting preachy against the slaughter of Israel.  Can’t have mass murder of Jews happen again.

But unlike Europe, Israel does not have the philosophical luxury of permitting partial slaughter, gaining world opinion, and then averting total slaughter. Too many actual human beings die.  But more importantly, the effort at partial slaughter is in fact the effort at total slaughter, and Israel must vigorously oppose both — as would any other nation.

It is evidently unfortunate, for Israel’s world stature, that it is powerful.  It is necessary, for Israel’s survival, that it is powerful.

Kendrick MacDowell is a lawyer and writer in Washington, D.C.

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