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Sunday, November 27, 2005

Israel and the Cause of Freedom

Charles Moore asks readers of the Daily Telegraph how we have forgotten that Israel’s story is the story of the West. He begins with an examination of the career of Ariel Sharon that sees the Israeli PM’s career as emblematic of the struggles of the Jewish State:

If you had followed the British media, particularly the BBC, with average attention over the past 25 years, you would have concluded that Sharon was an intransigent, murderous, semi-fascist. So you would have been perplexed by his sudden announcement this week that he is to leave the "Right-wing" (favoured Western terminology) Likud party and form a "centrist" party of his own. Suddenly, Sharon becomes visionary, peace-seeking. Little would have prepared you for it.

And that is the trouble. Little prepares the post-Christian European audience to understand Israel. By "understand", I partly mean sympathise with, and partly, just comprehend.

Sharon's career is a good place to start, because it spans the history of the Jewish state. He was 20 when it began in 1948, and had been serving in the Jewish Haganah militia since the age of 14. He fought in the War of Independence, and in 1956, and in the Six-Day War of 1967, and in the Yom Kippur War of 1973, when he crossed the Suez Canal and, effectively disobeying orders, advanced to cut the supply lines of the Egyptian Third Army. He became a popular hero.

Then Sharon entered full-time politics. As defence minister, he masterminded the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982, which succeeded in breaking up the PLO infrastructure there. On his watch, Lebanese Christian Falangists entered the Sabra and Chatila Palestinian refugee camps. There they massacred several hundred people: Sharon was officially condemned for this, and forced to resign.

He bounced back, however. As housing minister, he built settlements. Later he was foreign minister, then leader of Likud. In 2001, he became prime minister, swept to power by fear of the new intifada. He ordered the assassination of many Palestinian terrorists. He began the security wall that divides Israel from much of the West Bank. He also ordered Israel's withdrawal from the Gaza strip, the first unilateral withdrawal it has ever made. And soon he will contest elections as leader of a party he has just invented.

Moore thus compares Sharon to Caesar; Israel to Rome; an austere nation building itself up from next-to-nothing in the face of enemy neighbours. But, as Moore notes, there is one important difference; Israel’s wars have been about security, rather than conquest for its own sake. Israeli politics, Moore writes, “for the past dozen years has been the attempt to reconcile extrication from territory with security.”.

The story of the building, and continuing survival of the Jewish State, often against seemingly insurmountable odds is one that should appeal to the right and left alike:

In the history of the West, such a narrative used to command fascination and respect. Many could apply it to their own people. British people whose convict cousins had built Australia out of their barren exile could understand; so could Americans, who had overcome hostile terrain and hostile inhabitants, and forged a mighty nation. So could any country formed in adversity, particularly, perhaps, a Protestant one - with its idea of divinely supported national destiny and its natural sympathy for the people first chosen by God. The sympathy was made stronger by the fact that the new state was robust in its legal and political institutions, free in its press and universities - a noisy democracy.

Anti-imperialists and the Left also found much to admire. They admired people whose pioneer spirit kept them equal, who often lived communally, who fled the persecution of old societies to build simpler, better ones. If you read Bernard Donoughue's diaries, just published, of his life as an adviser to Harold Wilson in the 1970s (a much better picture of what prime ministers are like than Sir Christopher Meyer's self-regarding effort), one difference between then and now that hits you hard is Donoughue's (and Wilson's) firm belief that the cause of Israel is the cause of people who wish to be free, and that its enemies are the old, repressive establishments.

But then, almost overnight, a different narrative supervened.

Once upon a time, the word "Palestinian" had no national meaning; it was simply the description on any passport of a person living in British-mandated Palestine.

Indeed, Ariel Sharon himself used to carry a “Palestinian” passport.

During the 19 years to 1967 when Jordan governed the West Bank, the people there had no self-rule, and no real name. UN Resolution 242, which calls for Israel to leave territories it occupied in 1967, does not mention Palestinians; it speaks only of "Arab refugees". Palestinian nationality came along, as it were, after the fact, a nationality largely based on grievance…

…Israel, which was attacked, has come to be seen as the aggressor. Israel, which has elections that throw governments out and independent commissions that investigate people like Sharon and condemn him, became regarded as the oppressive monster. In a rhetoric that tried to play back upon Jews their own experience of suffering, supporters of the Palestinian cause began to call Israelis Nazis. Holocaust Memorial Day is disapproved of by many Muslims because it ignores the supposedly comparable "genocide" of the Palestinians.

I interpose that this is a depraved rhetoric, with its roots deep in hatred and contempt for the Jewish people. Why are the leaders of the Jewish State almost invariably compared to Hitler? It is not as though the 20th Century has thrown up a lack of military strongmen to whom one could more appositely compare Ariel Sharon and Yitzhak Rabin. Indeed, the fact that we are even discussing the Arab-Israeli dispute in 2005 is eloquent testimony to the historical bankruptcy of the comparison. Had it any validity, there would be no “Palestinians” for the UN and the assorted blowhards of the international community, and of the extreme right and left worldwide to wet themselves over. We should be quite clear about this; Hitler’s Final Solution called for nothing less than the extermination of every last Jew. After decades of terrorism, the Israeli State is still engaging in peace talks with a view to conceding Palestinian claims to land in the former Mandate.

Moore rightly links the fate of the Jewish State to that of western civilisation, as do many of the enemies of both:

In Iran, the new President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad makes the link. The battle over Palestine, he says, is "the prelude of the battle of Islam with the world of arrogance", the world of the West. He is busy building his country's nuclear bomb.

If the western democracies facilitated, or even just turned a blind eye to an Islamic Republic with a plan to nuke 5 million Jews off the face of the earth, would we really have any moral claim to be treated any better when the jihadis came for us?


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