Burdening Israel: The Weight of Being the Bulwark of Civilization

By O'Neill, Brendan | The American Conservative, March 9, 2009 | Go to article overview

Burdening Israel: The Weight of Being the Bulwark of Civilization


O'Neill, Brendan, The American Conservative


IT IS A "beleaguered, courageous little democratic upholder of freedom and enlightenment." It is defending "the modern world and its achievements" and "the very future of our species." It stands on "the side of morality, justice, and civilization," and anyone who criticizes it is a "fellow-traveller of barbarism." It is possessed of the "values that underscore the Judeo-Christian culture that fostered the Enlightenment" and is a beacon of "political liberty and freedom."

What could these commentators possibly be gushing about? A plucky new political movement that fights for democracy, liberty, and Truth with a capital T? A humanist journal that faces down the tidal wave of relativism and makes the case for Enlightenment values?

In fact, they're writing about Israel, that small, militaristic state in the Middle East, which has just executed a bloody war in Gaza and is increasingly seen by culture warriors in the West as the final defense against barbarism; against the unenlightened hordes; against a one-eyed, militant, global conspiracy that would destroy the Western way of life forever.

There are major differences in the way Americans view Israel--most are generally favorable--and the way Europeans view Israel--many are increasingly hostile to the Jewish state. Yet what unites pro-Israel thinkers on both sides of the Atlantic is a view of Israel as a representative of everything progressive and decent. Across the West, more and more anti-relativist, pro-reason writers are projecting their fears for the future of civilization onto the Middle East, imagining that Israel, that last defender of old-fashioned national sovereignty, is fighting not only for its right to exist but for the continued existence of the ideals of the Enlightenment itself.

This is a mad, bad, ill-informed fantasy. A hundred years ago, the German Socialist August Bebel coined the phrase "socialism of fools" to describe those left-wingers who blamed Jews for the ills of modern society. Today, in the elevation of Israel to the position of protector of "the very future of the human species," we have an "Enlightenment of Fools"--a political posture that both obscures the true origins of anti-Enlightenment sentiments today and places an intolerable burden on the shoulders of the tiny Jewish state.

A new band of writers is continually infusing the squalid wars in the Middle East with a historic, end-of-days momentum. Where many of us recognize that the Israeli-Palestinian clash is a hangover from the national conflicts of the Cold War era, and one that has been exacerbated by the partitionist, divisive politics of the "peace process" instituted by Washington, the Israel-as-Enlightenment lobby sees it as a civilizational war in which Western values might be crushed by the enemies of progress.

During Israel's attacks on Gaza, writer Ruth Dudley Edwards said Israel had "every right to bomb Hamas" because it is fundamentally fighting to "uphold freedom and enlightenment." British journalist and author Julie Burchill, who describes herself as a "philosemite," described Israel as "our Jews," in the sense that if Israel were to be "wiped out," then "we will be wiped out, too, all of the modern world and its achievements--swept back into the Dark Ages mulch from whence we came." Burchill says Israel represents "mankind" and "the very future of our species." Here, rather than seeing the conflict in the Middle East for what it is--a messy, complex clash over territory, sovereignty, and identity--pro-Israel writers reduce it to a simplistic, cartoon war between progress and darkness, in which the fate of Israel gets dangerously tangled up with the fate of the entire modern world.

Earl Tilford writes in Frontpage magazine about the contrast between Israel, a product of the "Judeo-Christian culture that fostered the Enlightenment" and its neighboring states, which are possessed of a "medieval cultural ethos . …

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