Why Israel has become the world’s whipping boy.
In his thought-provoking book The Lucifer Principle, Harold Bloom, relying on years of zoological research, points out how “a strange thing happens when humans and other animals are cornered by the uncontrollable. Their perceptions shut down, their thoughts grow more clouded, and they have a harder time generating new solutions to their problems.” This kind of syncope can manifest itself in a number of different ways: a feigned lack of interest when presented with a threat, as when a once-dominant ape pretends to focus on a banana peel rather than respond to the challenge mounted by a formidable claimant to his throne, or when a rat frustrated by its powerlessness before an intimidating rival will attack a lesser member of the pack.
These are useful concepts and insights that can help us get a bead on the crucial issues of the day. Nature is of a piece. What goes for the ape and the rat, solacing themselves with avoidance mechanisms or the fiction of authority, goes for the individual human being as it does for the nation as a whole, and, indeed, for the very framework of the civilization of which they form a part. When an organism or a “superorganism” senses that it is losing control, that its favored position atop the dominance hierarchy is no longer assured and that it is facing the prospect of imminent dispossession, as if by reflex it turns aside, practices the art of studied indifference or develops an array of subterfuges—what Bloom terms the “endorphin strategy” that makes us feel good while it dulls the senses and cripples the intellect. It almost invariably contents itself by blanking out the menace or mugging its weaker partners and cohabitants.
This description, then, of animal and primate behavior has profound implications for the trajectories of entire societies, cultures and civilizations, that is, “superorganisms.” As they rise to the top of the international or global “pecking order,” they experience a “testosterone surge” of power, confidence and exploratory vitality, which impacts the very psychology of its constituent “cells” or members—individual human beings. They do not feel the need to apologize for their triumphs, expanding economies and higher standards of living. They move into the future with flexed assurance and a proud conviction of their civilizing mission and justified ascendance.
However, when these larger groupings intuit that they are slipping from their privileged position above the common ruck and are beginning to slide inexorably down the scale of power and preference, they proceed to espouse various delusionary measures to evade the shock of recognition. Rather than struggle to preserve or regain their pre-eminence, they concentrate on the banana peel, as it were, pretending that no challenge is being posed to their fading hegemony. Or they turn upon their own, whether individuals, groups or nations, whom they blame for their evident discomfiture and, indeed, for their unadmitted but darkly sensed weakness. They may even begin shilling for the enemy, whom they profess to see as an equal, a potential benefactor, a friend in the making or a collaborator in some noble cultural initiative. As Bloom reminds us, “In a world where some cultures elevate violence to a virtue, the dream of peace can be fatal.” Moreover, so ignominious a surrender tends, ironically, to strut under the banner of “peace, freedom and justice.”
And this, I fear, is precisely what is happening in the contemporary West. “Peace” means that we are no longer willing to fight for the principles and traditions that have raised us to the top of the dominance hierarchy and that we are ready or eager to submit to a clear ideological foe. “Freedom” means that we have accepted the growing likelihood of defeat and comparative servitude. And “justice” means the acknowledgment of the “rights” of our adversaries to game the social, political and legal systems of their host countries to their advantage, in other words, to insinuate their norms of conduct and cultural presuppositions into a way of life we have long taken for granted and are now prepared to surrender piecemeal to the claims of the “other.”
The symptoms of capitulation are unmistakable, not only with regard to the increasingly muscular, secular autocracies, like China and Russia and their allies, which we try desperately to pretend away as they ascend the scale of power and control at our expense. The signs of cultural enervation are also evident in our yielding bit by bit to the relentless march of militant Islam from country to country and into the very entrails of the democratic body politic. As Bat Ye’or has shown, the dhimmification of Europe is well under way and is probably irreversible. And now the pathology of appeasement and submission has begun to infect the collective psyche of America itself, especially its current leadership, the left-liberal media, the majority of public intellectuals who have come to act like cheerleaders for the other team, and far too many of our academics who inhabit the dank mausoleum of the modern university. The moribund walk to their second extinction. As James Lewis remarks, “American liberals and European socialists…happily collude in their own subjection and degradation.” A recent book by Wells Earl Draughon, While America Sleeps, meticulously corroborates the peril we face and reads like a death sentence we have little time to repeal. Its message might awaken us from our dogmatic slumber, alerting us to the avoidance syndrome that guarantees our eventual eclipse.
This is where a wide-awake Israel comes into the geopolitical equation. It is no secret that Israel is the only legitimate democracy in the Middle East, that it is a loyal compatriot of the United States, that its structural roots are planted in European soil, that it is a vigorous, advanced and technological and scientific leader among the nations, and that it is surrounded by bellicose and regressive Islamic states that wish to erase it from “the page of time,” to cite Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. These are the same Islamic states that have embarked on a virulent offensive against the democratic West through the exercise of terror or the prosecution of “stealth jihad,” or both.
And yet, unable or unwilling to grasp that Israel is perched on the frontier of a world-historical conflict, exemplifying the values and usages of the West and coming under almost daily attack from a common enemy, so-called “freedom loving” nations have turned against the Jewish state, defamed it in the corridors of power, vilified it in the media, acquiesced to the corrupt and slanderous assaults on its moral and physical integrity via the offices of the United Nations, pursued boycott, divestment and sanctions campaigns, winked at Israel Apartheid Weeks suppurating on our campuses, imposed coercive measures to restrict building projects and the establishment of secure borders, and both subsidized and glorified the terror-sponsoring cartels that go by the name of the Palestinian Authority and Hamas-ruled Gaza. It is as if Western-oriented Israel and not extremist, Western-hating Islam has come aberrantly to be perceived as the West’s nemesis and scourge.
Many different reasons have been put forward to account for so strange a reversal of political sentiment, ranging from the inscrutable decisions of policy makers pursuing the phantom of realpolitik to the very sophisticated theory propounded by Yoram Hazony in his provocative essay, “Israel through European Eyes.” Hazony sees the abhorrence with which Israel is regarded as the result of a “paradigm shift,” an idea originally developed by Thomas Kuhn in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. According to Hazony, the nation-state paradigm originating in the Treaty of Westphalia of 1648 has now been jettisoned and replaced by the paradigm of transnational governance, as exemplified by the European Union. Israel is thus denounced as adhering to the old and discredited archetype of the nation state as the source of war, oppression and social disparities. From this distorted perspective, Zionism is duly condemned as a racist movement and Israel is viewed as the new Nazi Germany.
Interesting as Hazony’s analysis may be, it fails to explain the continued acceptance of the many nation-states apart from Israel that proliferate around the globe and that plainly have no intention of giving up their sovereignty and folding themselves into a larger transnational whole. No one appears to have lodged an objection to Canada or Iceland or Iraq or Australia or Switzerland or Saudi Arabia or Tanzania or Brazil or a hundred other countries affirming their independent statehood. Further, the new paradigmers have invested heavily, politically and fiscally, in the emergence of a Palestinian state, in complete violation of their basic doctrine, and would have no compunction against sinking Israel into a bi-national state with a Palestinian majority. Something doesn’t compute. Hazony’s thesis leaves out too many countervailing instances in its elucidation of Israel’s plight to be comprehensive and persuasive. And so the farce persists. The totalitarian Arab states, which seek to undermine the Western polities, are given carte blanche while democratic Israel remains the bête noir.
There is no sensible way to explain such counter-intuitive and destructive behavior unless a potent, subliminal motive is at work, which is not particularly hard to detect. Israel stands as a perpetual rebuke to the craven and obsequious West that strives to accommodate and even to ingratiate itself with the forces marshaled against it. (Of course, there is a fiscal component as well; Western nations have succumbed to what we might call a condition of petrofaction.) Israel, on the contrary, has stood its ground, defending itself with martial courage and refusing to concede to an alien imperium. As such, it represents a searing condemnation of Western compliance and servility before a determined assailant, a J’accuse which Europe in general and influential elements in the United States cannot honorably answer or evade.
Bloom refers, in the context of Western diffidence and inertia, to Lewis Carroll’s Alice Through the Looking-Glass. “It takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place,” the Red Queen lectures Alice. “If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that.” But we have stopped running altogether and slumped into our ample easy chairs, which is why we cannot forgive Israel for not abandoning the race and for running twice as fast to maintain its edge. A deep resentment plies its mischief. We cannot accept being outpaced and having our mental lethargy and endemic defeatism brought home to us; therefore Israel must be punished for our own sins of omission.
The easy (and reprehensible) face-saving solution to the West’s dilemma is to tumble reality on its head and label the Jewish state as the aggressor in the Middle East, as a moral delinquent and the historical source of the ongoing conflict, effectively denying its right to exist. The treatment meted out to Israel is the most obvious specimen of standard biohistorical practice. The “superorganismic” West, sensing that it is canyoneering down the global “pecking order” and incapable of summoning the resources to reassert its erstwhile paramountcy, has fallen back on the classic maneuver of all faltering collectives, namely, abusing a smaller member of the parietal community as the ostensible cause of its embarrassment. France, for example, unable to do anything about its restive Muslim population rioting in the banlieues, has salvaged its amour propre by expelling seven hundred innocuous gypsies, an expedient that remedies nothing. In the case of Israel, however, the smaller constituent is not only a convenient target for social and political shame and frustration but, even more intolerably, it is at the same time the most resolute, meritorious and valiant part of the greater collective. The stigma of disgrace is thus compounded and results in even harsher treatment of the presumed but innocent malefactor.
In sum, the West, like the ape and the rat, has adopted its own “endorphin strategy” to meet the predicament that confronts it. It engages in “perceptual shutdown,” denying that it is under attack and directing its attention elsewhere, say, the banana peel of multicultural “outreach” and ethnic harmony with its more ominous immigrant communities. It revels in the warm feeling of moral enlightenment and lofty intentions, which are, be it said, merely the obverse of the real gradients governing its conduct, in short, moral decay and meanness of spirit. Simultaneously, it will apply itself to pummeling the most exposed and vulnerable member of the democratic company in an access of cowardice masking as self-righteousness and a concern for the greater good. In this way a false ecumenicism is consummated in an act of desecration and betrayal, as well as self-betrayal. Meanwhile, the gypsy among the nations must see to it that it does not waver before the international campaign of delegitimation waged against it.
The choice facing the Jewish state is, for all its palpable difficulty, paradoxically a very simple one. It is, in fact, an inescapable binary. Israel can accede to near-universal opprobrium and to its own left-wing fifth column and go down with the West before a triumphant Islam. In so doing, it raises the white flag of “peace, freedom and justice,” which in Orwellian fashion translates for its bearers as persecution, bondage and iniquity. Or it can resist the declension along the slope of precedence and endowment toward the misery of life at the bottom. It can remain stalwart and impenitent, rejecting the condition of dhimmitude that the liberal West is “progressively” and feverishly embracing. In so doing, it raises not the rag of surrender but the torch of both dignity and survival.