February 28, 2003

Yeah, I read the Independent

Yeah, I read the Independent

Here's a lengthy and stimulating rumination from Howard Jacobson on the tendency, the desire (maybe you could even say the need) for anti-war types to link Israel to Iraq, to adduce Israel as the instructive, equivalent counter-example that indicates "what's really going on here." This is a kind of polemical thought experiment that comes up quite often in print and even more often in coffee shop conversations: Iraq is a rogue state with weapons of mass destruction, the line goes, and so is Israel. Why aren't we threatening to invade, disarm and regime change them? Everyone nods sagely, rueful self-satisfied smiles all around. No answer, and no argument, is possible in the face of the ultimate smoking gun: American hypocrisy.

Israel, as every schoolboy knows and is keen to demonstrate... is armed to the teeth. "Why not disarm Israel as well then?" comes the question at more or less the same point of every public debate, as though there is exact or indeed any equivalence between Saddam's deployment of arms and Israel's. "Israel also flouts the wishes of the United Nations and has weapons of mass destruction." Followed by applause. A little knowledge being a dangerous thing.

None of us can be absolutely sure what would have happened, had such and such not happened also, but there is no Jew of my acquaintance, let him be the staunchest opponent of Israel's present policies, who doubts that without the appropriate deterrents Israel would long ago have been driven into the sea. Humanity is short on memory. Thirty-five years ago "brave little Israel" was everybody's favourite underdog, putting to flight the armies of however many Arab countries bent on its destruction. The mistake it made, as far as public relations went, was to learn from its own history and beef itself up militarily. A disappointment, that, to sentimentalists the world over. We preferred Israel svelte and fragile. We enjoyed the frisson of its being ever on the brink. Too bad. Every country has to grow up some time. And no one loves you when you're old and grey. But if Yasmin Alibhai-Brown cannot understand why her otherwise open and amenable Jewish friends go quiet when she tells them that Israel should be treated exactly as Bush and Blair propose we treat Iraq, here is the reason: Israel has the weapons it has because without them it would not exist.

Do those who advance the Israel-Iraq equivalence spiel truly mean what they are saying? Do they take it seriously? I don't think so, in most cases, no more than the hippie believes that the little mustache he has drawn on a picture of the President constitutes a solid, cogent historical-analytical argument. The statement is about America not Israel, and anyway alarmism about anti-Semitism, as about anti-Americanism, is often overblown. Failure of logic and rhetorical excess don't in themselves constitute a moral failing.

I admit it though: in darker moments, I can't shake the suspicion that, when Saddam does launch gratuitous, strategically insignificant attacks on Israel, killing innocent Jews with fire, poison gas, or worse, part of his motivation will be to score points, to gain a public relations victory, in the eyes of those who think along these lines; and I can't shake the fear that this may work, even in the enlightened, civilized West; and that there will be those (probably not many, but more than zero) in today's "anti-war" ranks who will, for dark reasons known only to themselves, derive an unwholesome enjoyment when it happens. Everyone nods sagely, rueful self-satisfied smiles all around

Posted by Dr. Frank at February 28, 2003 08:38 AM | TrackBack