TCS Daily

Why Be Partial to Israel?

By Paul J. Cella - October 20, 2003 12:00 AM

The murder of three Americans in Gaza last week again concentrates the mind upon the intractable Middle East conflict. Certainly, the appearance of modern Israel has to be one of the most astonishing developments of modern times. Implausible just does not quite convey it.


I wonder what the Crusaders would think about the following bizarre story: that, many centuries after the bitter disappointments and failures of the Christian men of the Middle Ages in attempting to recapture the Holy Land and deal the Mohammedan heresy a death blow, a host of Jewish socialists, armed by satraps of militant marching atheists from the Communist bloc, would succeed in conquering it; and that, moreover, come the end of the twentieth century, as Western Christendom commenced a profound decay, some of the more militant Christians within it would oftentimes lend their militant support to the Jews of Israel, in anticipation of the Eschaton. It is too fantastic to be anything other than history.


(As an aside, I think it interesting to note how quickly commentators -- most of whom have only the most minimal acquaintance with the Middle Ages -- solemnly deplore the efforts of the Crusaders; and implicitly agree with Osama bin Laden that that period in history was among the more dishonorable for the West. Bill Clinton made some remark to that effect, I recall, just after September 11, saying that "those of who come from various European lineages" are "still paying" for the Crusades -- all of us, presumably, having descended from the Franks and all of us, presumably, being orthodox Christians. I confess that I rather feel a strange stirring in my breast when I think of men willing to uproot themselves from home and family and undertake a long journey punctuated by disease and hunger and great discomfort only to engage in ferocious warfare against alien people for the sake of a small strip of land called Holy, where their Savior lived and perished. Most people today call that insanity -- with, perhaps, a certain superficial justice; I hope I will be forgiven for calling it heroism. In any event, there is certainly dishonor on the side of the moderns as well. For the Modern Age excels at this sort of thing; it excels at the practice of attacking dead things, which are naturally incapable of retaliating. And I tend to wonder: how will our descendents treat our own modern, secular "progressive" history, with its little quirky record of massacre and concentration camp and purge and all the rest?)


Anyway, the first thing to be said about Israel is that it is a Western nation. It descends from the same cultural matrix from which America does; and as the ties of blood bind men, so the ties of lineage bind nations. This is fundamental, though a very large number of people seem to imagine that it is not. For that dim and dreamy interim between 1989 and 2001, Westerners managed to forget that a nation's identity with a real civilization matters; and, as a plain fact, those were the years when the Oslo Peace delusion took hold most forcefully. I do not say that Oslo was an uncomplicated failure; nothing in that Land is uncomplicated; and from the perspective of 1993, after all that blood, the thing had to be tried, even if it meant trying it with a treacherous thug like Arafat.


I will leave the parallel monomanias that Israel is dedicated to the extinction of the Palestinians, and that Israel should concede absolutely nothing to the Palestinians, to the monomaniacs on either side of this; and simply say that no decent observer can deny that Israel tried. When people cannot see that Ariel Sharon, whatever his faults, was elected by a people that just two years before had elected the very dovish Ehud Barak, the latter with a clear mandate of peace at almost any cost; when other people cannot see the profound injustice of subjecting Palestinians to what amounts to a policy of tedious apartheid -- when people cannot see these plain facts, it is hardly worth conversing with them. Peace was attempted by a bone-weary Israeli population; and peace was murdered by base cynics and delusional, despairing heretics.


Now: why is America partial to Israel? First, it should be recorded, as a matter of historical fact, that America did not begin that way; rather the Zionists had to turn to France and Czechoslovakia to acquire arms; and Israeli sympathizers in America had to violate an American-enforced arms blockade. As I have tried to illustrate, the history of the modern Middle East is an exercise in almost comical improbability and oddity, so this sort of thing should not surprise us.


But neither should it mislead us into thinking that America has been impartial. And America has been partial for a straightforward reason, based on a single irrefragable fact: Israel descends from the larger body of Western civilization. We are distant cousins; we are of one tissue; and loyalty to one's historic civilization is simply patriotism on a broader scale.


Patriotism is an understandable human sentiment. In its place, it is noble; though not as noble as Christian charity. But the problem with modern notions tracing their lineage from Christian charity is that they have abandoned its humanness in favor of abstract Humanity. The net is cast too wide. Men are asked to do something that is simply beyond most of them: for it is the very rare man indeed who cares intimately for those with whom he has no connection. It was not for nothing that Jesus Christ commanded us to love our neighbors, the word implying a certain nearness. Humanitarianism in the modern world lost its humanity, as it were. St. Francis was a real humanitarian: but he cared not one whit for Humanity, though he loved as a brother every human being he met; and his example set hearts aflame.


All this is to say that patriotism of that broader variety which includes the Jews of Palestine, whose society descends from our civilization, but excludes the Arabs of Palestine, whose society is part of our civilization's greatest historical rival and antagonist, is perfectly understandable, unavoidable, and ineffaceable. It is nothing to be ashamed of. To require of Americans that they hold out a fastidious abstract impartiality in this bloody conflict, a conflict so distant from them, is to simply misunderstand the nature of man. It is the victory of stale rationalism over sanity; abstraction over human sympathies. It is a very modern error.

TCS Daily Archives