For liberal-hawk supporters of Israel like Jeffrey Goldberg (and Alan Dershowitz and Marty Peretz and a host of other Democrats forty-four and over), the last years have been difficult. They blink uncomprehendingly at how the Jewish state has increasingly been "abandoned" by the left and by liberals. They are personally uncomfortable about the Occupation and the settlement enterprise, but not so uncomfortable as to raise their voices loudly against Israel's human rights violations and systematic discrimination against its Palestinian citizens and subjects. For one thing, Israel is so fundamentally good in their eyes that it is hard to consider them worse than other states who are "existentially threatened"; for another, to speak openly of these matters would be to ally themselves with the "delegitimizers" and the "detractors."
Goldberg blogged about his attendance at the dinner of the new "Friends of Israel" organization founded by the former president of Spain, Jose Aznar, a strong supporter of George W. Bush and an Islam basher. Aznar is a superhawk who sees radical Islam as a major threat to the West. And he sees Israel as standing in the forefront of the battle against this major threat. (I often wonder how some goyyim are so quick to push the Jews to the front of the line when it comes to Armageddon.)
As I have said many times before, it is important for these sorts of "friends of Israel" to know that they include only those "liberals" who supported the Second Iraq War, urge (somebody's) military action against Iran if crippling sanctions don't work, and accept the "clash of civilization" thesis that lumps groups like al-Qaeda, Hamas, Hizbollah, and Iran's government in the same boat.
A glance at the names that the ex-president managed to gather shows the conservative bent of all of them (and not only John Bolton, who is a member of the board). Even Vaclav Havel, who was trumpeted as a human rights defender (like his friend, Natan Sharansky; for the possible Sharansky-Havel connection, see Jim Lobe here and here), has joined the group. I wonder precisely how Havel, who did not attend, reacted to this part of Aznar's speech:
On top of that, Israel is under a new kind of attack. Not conventional war as in 1948, 56, 67 or 73. Not terrorism as we saw in the 70s, 80s and 90s. But a new kind of attack – an attack on Israel's legitimacy, on her right to exist. A "soft-war", where many of its adversaries are employing legal tricks, multinational bodies, and an army of dubious NGO's to present internationally Israel as an illegitimate state, as a barbarian State, a State that should be isolated and converted into a pariah State.
Take that, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, not to mention B'Tselem! How dare you criticize Israeli human rights violations? What, you don't actually question Israel's right to exist? Well, maybe you don't, but you sure bash it enough that it is hard for it to exist.
And that is no doubt why Jeffrey Goldberg is at this meeting of (mostly) out-of-power conservatives. It all boils down to those existential fears which trump everything. As Goldberg puts it,
What other country, sixty-two years after its birth (rebirth, actually) requires advocates to argue that it should continue to exist? Why is it that the world's only Jewish country is the only country to persistently face questions about its own legitimacy?
Actually, it is not the only country to persistently face questions about its own legitimacy. As Paul Woodward of War in Context points out, Taiwan's legitimacy is persistently questioned. He writes (in a personal communication):
The existential threat to Taiwan posed by the People's Republic is vastly greater than that posed to Israel by any combination of Middle East threats one wants to conjure up, but that does not lead the Taiwanese to engage in the same kind of histrionics that the Israelis are subject to.
But here's the main point for the self-styled "Friends of Israel" to consider: What other country founded after World War II involved the displacement of the natives by a foreign settler nationalist movement, plunging the region into a still unresolved conflict, and which has occupied territory for forty-three years, denying basic human rights to the natives while expropriating their land and controlling their lives – AND, all the while, claiming to be a Western-style liberal democracy?
Israel's inability to live in peace with the Palestinians– even if it is not solely responsible for the mess – is primarily responsible for raising the questions not of its legitimacy, but of the root of its persistently bad behavior. It's the Occupation and the Conflict, stupid. If the Occupation were to end and a just solution to Palestinian statelessness would arise, then Israel would still have plenty of foundational problems, especially in its discrimination against its non-Jewish citizens. See here for the latest. But the world would not care about those, just as it now does not care about those now.
Surely Goldberg realizes that no Zionist ever maintained before the nations of the world that the price for a Jewish state in Palestine would be unending war and deprivation of basic human rights, unless the Palestinian natives capitulated. Even Lord Balfour would not have issued a declaration for that sort of Jewish homeland.
So the issue is not whether Israel is a liberal state or not, or a state of which liberals can be proud. Goldberg writes:
Israel's many flaws have not (yet, at least) overwhelmed the fundamental truth that it is the safest and best place in the Middle East to be, among other things, a woman, a gay person, a journalist, and a dissident
This is true, and worth being proud about, though the trends toward increased fundamentalism and illiberalism in Israel are disturbing. (And the fact that Israel is better than Saudi Arabia on this point isn't exactly worth crowing about.) But Israel is also a place of systematic and never-ending discrimination against Israeli Palestinians and deprivation of human rights of all Palestinians. In terms of fundamental human rights, West-Bank Palestinians are much worse off than the Jews of Morocco and Iran.
A true liberal shouldn't crow about a country's liberal achievements and quietly put the violations on the back burner – until peace comes
Goldberg wants to marginalize deligitimization? To do that he is going to have to marginalize a lot of Israeli human rights groups, the New Israel Fund, Meretz, Haaretz newspaper, etc. He'll have to marginalize the people he admires.
And I don't envy him for that one bit.