Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Israel as a Nation-State


To continue with the discussion of Yoram Hazony's Virtue of Nationalism, I would also like to say something about Hazony's understanding of Israel as a nation-state. I agree with Hazony that the chief source of opposition to Israel from the modern left is the fact that Israel is a self-conscious and unapologetic nation-state. So Israel, from the perspective of the hard left, is automatically racist. A soldier who shoots a Palestinian terrorist is not morally different from a Nazi. It is irrelevant that one is engaging in self-defense. In both cases, they are defending racism. A world in which Jews were driven to the sea would be a world with a little less racism.

The backflow from this venom even influences mainstream journalism and fuels the habit of disingenuous headlines in which Palestinian terror attacks are described in passive terms while Israel's response is active and terrorists are placed in the same category as civilians. So for example, you can have a headline of "Israel Kills Palestinian in Response to the Death of Two People in an Attack." Now, the article, itself, will go on to explain that Israel killed the Palestinian who carried out the attack. Technically, the headline is accurate, but it is clearly designed to give the impression that Israel kills random Palestinians as revenge for "misfortunes" that occur to Israelis that are not the fault of the Palestinians.

If this was simply an anti-Semitic conspiracy on the part of journalists to defame Israel, we might have an easier time combating it. The reality is that such headlines are the product of a particular narrative and a desire, at all costs, to avoid an alternative one. If Palestinian nationalism is itself an Arab supremacist ideology that exists simply as cover to murder Jews then there is really nothing Israel can do to bring peace. Israel is left with simply trying to maintain the status quo or to pursue some kind of mass expulsion of Palestinians. Until some radical reform happens within Palestinian society, something outside of Israel's control, Israel cannot be expected to make any concessions. Once we rule out that possibility even from consideration by denouncing it as racist, then we are forced into the anti-Israel narrative. Palestinian terror attacks can only be the product of misguided individuals and not of any organized ideology. Since it is "unthinkable" that the Palestinian leadership would teach people to murder, if Israelis are killed it must be because of anger over the "occupation." In the end, mainstream western public opinion needs to believe that there is some concession that Israel can be pushed to make that can bring peace. The alternative is simply too uncomfortable for them to consider.

To be fair to Israel's critiques, ultimately, Israel is a racist state in the sense that any nation-state is racist. Israel was created to solve a particular Jewish problem and not to help humanity as a whole. Much as a person's love for their family means that their children matter than random children on the other side of the planet or down the block, a nationalist values his people more than foreigners. Now, this does not mean that you are a Nazi and believe that your people are better than everyone else and that it is morally acceptable to abuse or even murder people outside of your group. The fact that I love my children more than yours does not mean that I think my children are better. On the contrary, if my love for my children was because they were ubermenchen, it would not be parental love. I love my children for no other reason than they are my children. I intend no harm to anyone else's children and I expect other people to love their children more than mine. In fact, I would be terrified of any stranger who claimed to love my children equal to theirs.

Similarly, I love Judaism because I identify myself with Jews. By extension, I identify with Israel as the nation-state of the Jews, even though I do not live actually live there. Perhaps Jews have some special divine mission. This still does not make Jews better than anyone else, something the Bible is quite clear about. I am sure there is much to love about Korean culture and it is right that Koreans should cherish being Korean to the extent of building a nation-state of Korea by having agreeable property owners coming together to form a social contract. Both Israelis and Koreans could then live in peace together in perfect respect as they would have no true disagreements.

Ultimately, Israel's enemies are able to cynically make the jump from Israel is a nation-state to Israel is a Nazi state as a means of promoting violence against Israelis as part of precisely the kind of ethno-religious supremacism that Israel is wrongly accused of. This thinking seeps into mainstream opinion because most people today have not been taught to distinguish between liberal nationalism and xenophobia.

Now, this raises a question; if Israeli nationalism is racist, what about Palestinian nationalism. I think that Hazony is being simplistic with his claim that the West ignores Arab nationalism because it believes that non-Europeans are developmentally behind and so lack the enlightenment to abandon nationalism. On the contrary, non-Europeans are taking a step-forward from petty tribalism when they embrace nationalism. What Hazony misses is that the left does not believe that non-Westerners can be racists as they are perceived as lacking power. On the contrary, racist seeming actions by non-whites are attempts to seek empowerment in the face of white racism. From this perspective, Palestinian statehood is not really a nation-state and cannot be racist. On the contrary, the vilest expressions of anti-Semitism are simply products of Zionist racism.

For Israel to win its public relations struggle to justify its own existence, it is going to need the West to rediscover the virtues of nationalism. For that to happen, we are going to need actual nation-states. For example, instead of a European Union, we need an England, a France, and a Germany. For that matter, we need an independent Scotland and Catalonia. Similarly, the United States is not a nation-state and should be broken down into units that can serve as such. Feel free to suggest your own alternative maps.