Liberalism and the Jews

By David Solway on February 11, 2010

One of the strangest and, at first blush, inexplicable aspects of the current social and political scene, remarked upon by many writers, is the swelling tide of antisemitic sentiment and the orchestrated, international campaign against the very existence of the Jewish state. We see it in the divestment campaigns of the churches, NGOs, and trade unions, in the proliferation of “Israel Apartheid Weeks” on university campuses, in the modern blood libel perpetrated by the Swedish press, and in the ramifying anti-Israel resolutions passed by the United Nations, exemplified most recently by the mendacious Goldstone report. Why should this be so? It is no accident, I would suggest, that this storm of resentment and hatred against the Jewish people is accompanied by another bizarre phenomenon, namely, the “unholy alliance” that has been forged between the proponents of Western secularism and the armies of Islam ranged against it. Judeophobia and Islamophilia go hand in hand. We need to start here if we wish to understand why Israel and Jews have been targeted by the liberal West.
Various reasons have been suggested for the bizarre collaboration between Islam and the West: the inability of many public intellectuals to temper what Paul Hollander in Political Pilgrims has described as a species of “moral indignation and compassion set and guided by their ideologies and partisan commitments”; the liberal delusion of multicultural equivalencies; and what I have elsewhere called “the utopian prepossession of the modern mind,” predicated on the chimerical notion of the brotherhood of man that transcends all national and ethnological boundaries. Although, it must be admitted, it is a rather selective brotherhood, since a “Restricted” sign has been planted at its entrance.
To begin with, making sense of the liberal-left communion with an implacable theological adversary, at the expense of its Jewish ally and friend, seems a puzzling proposition. To quote Nick Cohen’s What’s Left: How Liberals Lost Their Way, we seem to have forgotten about the belief of majority Muslims “in the literal truth of an early medieval book, the elevation of their god over free men and women, their hatred of intellectual freedom, their homophobia, their antisemitism, their supernatural conspiracy theories, their misogyny, their use of state oppression.”
Worse, we do not seem to be overly concerned that we may one day find ourselves living in a Press-1-for-English world. Although it is moot whether the liberal-left has been punk’d by Muslim window-dressing or is, in fact, fully aware of the Islamic commitment against the weal of the democratic West, there is little question that it has come to behave like the cadet branch of Islam, assuming the proper qibla line (direction of prayer).
A glaring and most disturbing feature of this entente, as we have seen, is the cresting wave of antisemitism in the West, particularly in Europe but increasingly on this side of the Atlantic as well. This phenomenon is especially baffling when one considers that almost everything that Islam stands for, certainly in its present embodiment, is inimical to the welfare of the liberal West, while Judaism with its emphasis on the concept of a universal moral law, the exercise of skeptical inquiry into the claims of arbitrary authority, and the importance of individual choice and judgment in taking responsibility for personal salvation would appear to be our natural confederate.
But, upon reflection, perhaps the Western tendency to come to the defence of Islam, under the sign of combatting a non-existent “Islamophobia,” while simultaneously countenancing Jew- and Israel hatred, accusing Jews in the West but not Muslims of “double loyalty,” targeting a presumably nefarious “Israel lobby” for condemnation, regarding Zionism as a form of racism and falsely castigating Israel as an “apartheid state” is not all that difficult to account for.
To begin with, there’s the census. Muslims weigh in at one and half billion people, Jews at a paltry 12 million, many of them lapsed and many of them frankly self-hating. What we are observing is a conflict between an ever bigger Goliath and an ever smaller David. But, of course, like the caricature of the proverbial dumb blonde, the world goes where the muscle is.
Then there is the fear factor. Jews do not issue fatwas, attend violent protests, scream obscenities and threats, outfit suicide bombers, hijack airliners, kidnap foreigners, launch terrorist raids and blow up buildings. This obviously puts them at a distinct disadvantage with the Western media, political classes and large segments of the general public who cringe before the menace of Muslim reprisals for perceived offences.
Allied to this faintheartedness is a corresponding element which is nothing less than admiration for and envy of a world-historical force convinced of its own righteousness and unafraid to stampede the public square. The other face of our timidity is the capacity to be impressed by the genuine passion and sincere conviction we are unable to muster in ourselves. Paralyzed in the deepest recesses of the self, we piggyback along for the ride, experiencing vigor by proxy. In a debased and timorous age, Jews cannot compete with Muslims as carriers for our repressions and undisclosed lusts.
I am reminded in this connection of Eugène Ionesco’s play Rhinoceros in which we observe the metamorphosis of an entire population, with the exception of a single refusenik, into primitive pachyderms. Having grown tired of their common humanity, people begin to feel that the calloused, dark-green armour of the rhinoceros is preferable to the pale flabbiness of their own skins and welcome the transformation, rejoicing in the group feeling of the trampling herd. What has afflicted the West today is merely a variant of galloping rhinoceritis. The refusenik Jew, like the Bérenger character in the play, has little luck persuading the multitudes to re-think their fellow-traveling mutation of sensibility.
Then we have the petroleum factor, which is so obvious as to scarcely require comment. An Arab/Muslim embargo would have a disastrous effect on Western economies. At the same time, we fail or refuse to understand that should Israel, the national incarnation of the Jew, ever decide to boycott the world rather than vice versa, our cellphones would stop ringing, our computers would shut down, and many people with serious illnesses would be deprived of their medications. (The Israeli pharmaceutical company, Teva, is the world’s foremost supplier of antibiotic drugs.) But Arabs are conspicuous in the power of their oil cartels. Israelis, like the Intel microchips, Pentium microprocessors and Google search algorithms developed in the country, are hidden inside their technology.
Yet another issue involves the spectacle of Western venality. Universities and their Middle East Studies departments, practising academics, “peace” centers, former diplomats, ex-Presidents and many other individuals and institutions are the grateful recipients of Arab largesse—mainly Saudi-Arabian, but the Emirates have ponied up as well. Even if it were the intention of some putative Jewish cabal, there simply isn’t enough Jewish money to go around to accomplish the same result, despite the universal canard of shadowy Jewish financiers secretly controlling the dispensation of the world’s fortunes. So the Muslims have the field. Ask Jimmy Carter. Ask Charles Freeman. Ask Ramsey Clark. Ask George Galloway. Ask Rashid Khalidi. Ask John Esposito. But don’t hold your breath if you’re waiting for an honest answer.
Jamie Glazov in his recent book United in Hate adduces still another factor to account for the “war against Jews.” Jews are guilty “because as a people, they are synonymous with liberty and the veneration of life on earth.” Thus, for “Islamists—as for leftist believers,” who personify “the impulse to destroy and perish…such a disposition is tantamount to a declaration of war.” We have, in essence, betrayed our own civilizing imperative of which Judaism, along with classical Greece, is the fount and origin.
The issue is further ravelled by the liberal impetus toward a transnational authority that seeks to overcome the presumed limitations of the nation-state in a globalizing world. This is the malware lodged in the liberal hard drive. Israel, however, is perceived as an obstacle to this hegemonic drive toward post-constitutional supranational governance. Treated as an anomaly, a misfortune, a historical vestige, a pariah, a dispensable construct or a political retrogression, Israel is nevertheless a nation that up to now has tenaciously fought for its existence rather than acquiesce in its disappearance or subsumption into an authoritarian, all-embracing, superordinate, administrative organism, let alone a regional confederacy. Canadian historian Ramsay Cook, who considers nationalism a “reactionary ideology,” long ago understood the significance of the Zionist experience for the modern world. In his 1965 essay, “The Historian and Nationalism,” he writes: “It is no accident that the first Western people with a historical consciousness is also the people whose history provides the archetypes of modern nationalism: the Jewish people.” The liberal-left today, in its castigation of nationalism as an organizing principle of political life, has strongly endorsed this position. But Zionism is a different matter altogether. As Mark Lilla suggested in a New Republic essay, “Once upon a time, the Jews were mocked for not having a nation-state. Now they are criticized for having one.”
Add all these factors to the motherlode of ancient and doggedly irrational Jew-hatred and scapegoating that has always subtended the world’s transactions with its scattered Jewish communities, and that continues to sustain its animus against the state of Israel, and we should have no trouble making sense of what might otherwise seem an insoluble paradox. Together, they serve to explain why we collude with our antagonists and favor those who would destroy us rather than embrace and defend the very people with whom we share a common civilizational patrimony.
It is as if the existential core of our collective being has become so viscous that we no longer have identities, only itineraries. Like Paul Hollander’s “political pilgrims,” we migrate not where reason, integrity and survival might dispose, which should in all propriety be our stable and collective address, but where fear and avarice dictate. And in so doing, we bend the knee to our enemies while kneecapping our friends and allies.


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