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The Liberal West’s Turn Against Israel

July 29, 2014

Last week, the United Nations Human Rights Council issued a resolution condemning Israel for, among other libels, “the targeting of civilians.” The resolution never once mentioned “Hamas.” As is so often the case with absurd resolutions against Israel, the United States was the only nation to vote “no.” Why have the European capitals turned against Israel? The answer, according to a Mosaic book review by Sol Stern, is explained by two recent books from Joshua Muravchik. The moral failures of Western diplomats and academics can be at least partially blamed on two men, Bruno Kreisky and Edward Said:

Israel’s unforgivable sin, in Muravchik’s telling, lay in winning the 1967 war and then occupying some of the aggressors’ territory. Succeeding Israeli governments waited for the Arabs to negotiate for peace and discuss terms of future relations—which is exactly how the European wars of the 20th century ended. But the Arabs’ adamant refusal even to recognize the Jewish state left it, by default, in the role of “occupier.” That marked Israel as the guilty party. In short order, it went from being admired by much of the liberal world as a plucky little David to being regarded as an increasingly ugly Goliath. 
Muravchik chronicles the turnabout in several chapters on the main political developments in the post-1967 decades, including the Arab nations’ effective use of the oil weapon and their success in turning the UN into a forum for condemning and delegitimizing the Jewish state. Along the way, he traces how Israel’s necessary occupation of the Palestinian territories after 1967 led to a resurgent Palestinian nationalism and the widely held perception in the West that Israel was preventing the formation of an independent Palestinian state.
Never mind that this latter allegation was proved false when two separate Israeli prime ministers—Ehud Barak (1999-2000) and Ehud Olmert (2006-2009)—offered the Palestinians a state, only to have the offer rejected first by Yasir Arafat and then by Mahmoud Abbas. The myth that Israel was holding back Palestinian statehood, entertained by opportunistic Western governments and liberal leftists in the thrall of “post-colonial” fantasies, was too entrenched to be dislodged by mere facts.
Muravchik’s two most devastating chapters describe the malignant role played in the burgeoning hate campaign by Bruno Kreisky, the former chancellor of Austria, and the late Columbia University professor Edward Said. In the 1970s, Kreisky emerged as one of the most influential leaders of the Socialist International, the bloc of moderate European social-democratic parties that had once been warmly supportive of Israel (which was then also governed by a socialist party). Like many of his fellow Marxists, Kreisky, an archetype of the self-hating, European Jewish leftist, held that the Jews did not constitute a people deserving of national rights. As a statesman, he made it his mission to steer his fellow European socialists away from Israel. In this endeavor, as Muravchik ruefully recounts, he was largely successful.
The chapter on Edward Said is a tour de force. Carefully summarizing the thoroughgoing critiques of Said’s oeuvre by reputable specialists in the Middle East and Islam, Muravchik details the many ways in which the celebrated author of Orientalism and The Question of Palestine abused scholarly standards, distorted his opponents’ work, and even dissembled the story of his own life as a so-called victim of the Zionist conquest of Palestine.

More about: America, Israel, and the Middle East  • Anti-Semitism and Anti-Zionism