The Bizarre Alliance Against Israel
The Arab Spring has lengthened into Summer. Hoped for political changes and reforms have faltered with the result that the fundamental political, economic and social dysfunction of Arab countries in the Middle East remains. The most committed idealist can find no more comfort in the present behavior of the 21 countries of the Arab League than in the past, divided as they are by civil wars and religious tensions, as daily displayed in Syria, Egypt, Iraq, and Lebanon. They are beset with Islamist insurgencies, enmity between Sunni and Shiite Muslims, and even discord between mainstream and extremist Sunnis. All their governments suffer from a deficit of freedom and political rights. All are non-democratic in character, often corrupt, and are still based on systems that are autocracies, military dictatorships, hereditary family rule, presidencies for life, tribal elders, or edicts of Islamic dignitaries in a theocratic regime. This results in policies that deny basic human rights to women, minorities, and even the general population.
Yet much of the focus of European and American commentators on the Middle East remains concentrated not on the glaring problems of the Arab societies but with Israel. George Orwell offered the pertinent remark that "even an idealistic politics, perhaps especially an idealistic politics, can pervert itself." Armchair revolutionaries, in San Francisco, New York, London, and Paris, in the recent past saw Yasser Arafat as the embodiment of anti-colonial heroism, and of the ideology of third-worldism. In their common hostility to Israel, the European and American self-proclaimed idealists are now allied with Arab groups and causes, the most important of which is the condition of Palestinians. Both sides tend to see Israel as a formidable, even sometimes as the greatest, threat to world peace.
One of the many ironies in this situation is that, with the end of the hateful regime of apartheid in South Africa, radical leftists, many in the academic world, the media, and Arab spokesmen, have shifted their image of the most demonic state to Israel, which they see as an apartheid nation. The result is a bizarre "red-brown-green" alliance of Western leftists and liberals, including Christian humanitarians, anti-globalists, and environmentalists, with Islamic fundamentalists and Arab nationalists. They share a common motif, dislike, even hatred of Israel. They depict Israel as a criminal state and the accomplice or lackey of American imperialism.
This attitude goes so far that academics in European and American universities even register more support for Hamas, the ruling party in Gaza, than does the Palestinian population in the West Bank. Some of the most extreme critics have suggested not only that the actions of the Islamic suicide bombers in New York on 9/11 and elsewhere resulted from alleged control over the United States government and media by Jewish interests, but also argue that Israel provoked the wars against terrorism in Iraq and Afghanistan in which the United States is involved.
The kindest thing one can say about the bizarre alliance is that it stems from an idealist ideology to rectify the wrongs of European and American colonialism, an ideology of third-worldism. Few today are likely to echo the extravagant rhetoric of the famous writer H.G. Wells that "[t]he Soviet Union upholds the tattered banner of world collectivity and remains something splendid and hopeful in the spectacle of mankind." Now that the bloodbaths of the Stalinist era and the brutal murders of 70 million Chinese people by the revolutionary hero Mao Zedong have become known, pessimistic critics of Western culture have redirected their enthusiasm for change to the cause of revolutionary insurgencies and violent energy in non-Western countries.
This ideology of third-worldism postulates a hypocritical, even violent, West eternally to be held guilty for its colonial activity that is alleged to have been destructive of non-Western indigenous cultures. It is noticeable that in this blanket condemnation the proponents of this ideology pay little attention to the important differences among the individual indigenous cultures, but rather lump them all together in one vast "third world."
The main guilty party is Israel, a country which critics see as the embodiment of present day imperialism. The essential irony is that for members of the bizarre alliance the non-West is lauded not for positive reasons, but because it is not Western and does not adhere to Western practices such as liberal democracy, an open economy, rule of law, free elections, personal autonomy, individual and sexual freedom, emancipation of women, and constitutional rights, all which Israel embodies if sometimes in imperfect form, as do all nations.
Critics of Israel and European and American values posture as idealists with high moral standards, but their actions or non-actions, reveal a lack of consistency about those standards. Western radicals have shown more compassion for Arab dictators, especially in Libya, than for democratic Israel. Western feminists and gay and lesbian groups have been silent about the place and treatment of women and homosexuals in Muslim Arab countries. No woman in an Arab country has yet been elected to a prominent position as was Golda Meir in Israel, the first female prime minister elected anywhere who was not the wife or daughter of a previous head of government.
Criticism of the actions of the state of Israel and its personnel is wholly appropriate, but it serves no purpose if it is based not on objective appraisal of those actions but on the endless search for new saviors of humanity who will overcome the imagined evils of Western civilization.
Michael Curtis is a distinguished professor emeritus of political science at Rutgers University.