Dismissing the New Paradigm Imperils Israel

Second Opinion

By Yoram Hazony

Published September 08, 2010, issue of September 17, 2010.
  • Print
  • Share Share

After the Israeli raid on the Turkish blockade breakers’ boat off Gaza this summer, I kept running into the same question: Why does international condemnation of Israel continue to grow ever more virulent? Shouldn’t Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza in 2005, and the withdrawal from the Security Zone in Lebanon in 2000, have led to a decrease in such hostility?

To me, the answer’s clear: If the Israeli withdrawals from Lebanon and Gaza had no effect on the trajectory of accelerating anti-Israel hatred in Europe and on American campuses, it’s pretty obvious this trajectory is being fueled by some factor we aren’t taking into account.

I think there is such a factor: the European Union.

I elaborated on this view in an essay called “Israel Through European Eyes,” which I posted on my blog, Jerusalem Letters. And I was pleased that J.J. Goldberg chose to review the essay in the Forward (“The Israeli Right’s ‘Post-Nationalism’ Excuse,” September 3). But unfortunately, instead of engaging with what I actually wrote about the causes of Israel’s delegitimization in Europe, Goldberg decided what we really need is a column speculating about my motives for writing the essay. That’s too bad, because we can’t improve European views of Israel until we begin giving serious thought to the problem — and to the European political theory that stands behind it.

In 1795, the German philosopher Immanuel Kant took up his pen with the aim of demolishing the idea of the independent nation-state. Kant thought the very idea of a “sovereign” nation, with a right to decide for itself whether to take military action, was a form of barbarism. Individuals enter civilization by giving up the right to violent self-help. In the same way, nation-states will enter the stage of “moral maturity” when they renounce their “brutish freedom,” giving up their right to unilateral armed force.

When Kant wrote, no nation on earth had reached the stage he called “moral maturity.” But in the 1990s, many in Europe believed they’d finally arrived: No more border checks, an international currency, a European flag. These were the outward symbols of a New Paradigm in the thinking of many Europeans about international relations: The nation-state idea was dead. When morally mature nations fight, they don’t go to war – they go to court.

This new European paradigm doesn’t mean every nation is now “morally mature.” In the eyes of New Paradigmers, North Korea, Iran, Turkey, the Arabs and the Third World are still basically primitive peoples, still on the road to consolidating stable nation-states. Like children, they aren’t ready for morality and reason.

But Israel is a different story. Jews are seen as a European people, and we’re expected to renounce our “brutish freedom” like the other European nations. No wonder New Paradigmers hate us: They see unilateral Israeli exercise of force as illegitimate in principle.

That’s what I wrote. Goldberg’s response was, as I say, to guess at my motives: He suggests the essay is pro-Benjamin Netanyahu, although Netanyahu isn’t in it. He says my reasoning runs flak for West Bank settlers, although the West Bank isn’t in it. He says, not once but twice, that the essay calls for a “purge” of anti-Zionist professors in Israel’s universities — even though there’s nothing in it about taking any action whatsoever against anti-Zionist professors in Israel’s universities.

This just doesn’t cut it as a serious conversation —and this isn’t the only instance. The fact is Jewish public discourse on crucial issues is often shockingly shallow, in both Israel and America. The paradigm shift in the way Europeans see Israel is a slightly more difficult subject than what we’re used to. You really do need to know a little about the political thought of Mill and Kant, Habermas and Queen Elizabeth I, to understand what’s happening to us, and to be able to respond intelligently to it.

But instead of rising to this modest challenge, some of us would just rather turn back the channel to what’s easiest: Bibi and the West Bank.

This is a huge problem. Not everything in our national life boils down to yesterday’s headlines. If Israel is to survive, we’ve got to become more sophisticated in the tools available to us for understanding the reality we face. Ultimately, this means establishing colleges where aspiring young leaders, both liberals and conservatives, will be able to study political theorists such as Kant and Mill seriously in light of the challenges facing Israel and the Jewish people. There’s nothing like such a college today. Getting started on it is a strategic imperative.

But even now, before we have such colleges, we should be able to agree on this: Bibi and the West Bank are important, but they’re not everything. Israel’s delegitimization in European eyes is a subject important enough to deserve our attention — without turning the channel.

Yoram Hazony is provost and senior fellow at the Shalem Center, in Jerusalem. His Jerusalem Letters blog is available at www.jerusalemletters.com.

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.

Find us on Facebook!
  • When is a legume not necessarily a legume? Philologos has the answer.
  • "Sometime in my childhood, I realized that the Exodus wasn’t as remote or as faceless as I thought it was, because I knew a former slave. His name was Hersh Nemes, and he was my grandfather." Share this moving Passover essay!
  • Getting ready for Seder? Chag Sameach! http://jd.fo/q3LO2
  • "We are not so far removed from the tragedies of the past, and as Jews sit down to the Seder meal, this event is a teachable moment of how the hatred of Jews-as-Other is still alive and well. It is not realistic to be complacent."
  • Aperitif Cocktail, Tequila Shot, Tom Collins or Vodka Soda — Which son do you relate to?
  • Elvis craved bacon on tour. Michael Jackson craved matzo ball soup. We've got the recipe.
  • This is the face of hatred.
  • What could be wrong with a bunch of guys kicking back with a steak and a couple of beers and talking about the Seder? Try everything. #ManSeder
  • BREAKING: Smirking killer singled out Jews for death in suburban Kansas City rampage. 3 die in bloody rampage at JCC and retirement home.
  • Real exodus? For Mimi Minsky, it's screaming kids and demanding hubby on way down to Miami, not matzo in the desert.
  • The real heroines of Passover prep aren't even Jewish. But the holiday couldn't happen without them.
  • Is Handel’s ‘Messiah’ an anti-Semitic screed?
  • Meet the Master of the Matzo Ball.
  • Pierre Dulaine wants to do in his hometown of Jaffa what he did for kids in Manhattan: teach them to dance.
  • "The first time I met Mick Jagger, I said, 'Those are the tackiest shoes I’ve ever seen.'” Jewish music journalist Lisa Robinson remembers the glory days of rock in her new book, "There Goes Gravity."
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?

We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.