The outbreak of protests and rebellion throughout the Middle East have quickly generated an orthodox narrative: When people suffering under brutal autocrats and dictators have finally risen up to satisfy the innate human longing for freedom and democracy, we should support these aspirations on moral grounds. As President Obama suggested on March 21, “we have to take some sort of action” when illegitimate leaders attack their own people, a statement reflecting the idealistic foreign-policy doctrine that a great power has a “responsibility to protect” those being victimized by their own governments or by foreign aggressors.
The problems with this doctrine are legion, not the least being that the purpose of the United States military is to protect the security and advance the interests of the American people, not those of some vague and amorphous “international community.” What I find curious, however, is the lack of any sense of a “responsibility to protect” when it comes to one of our most loyal and important allies in the Middle East, Israel. While we know very little about the ideology and sentiments of the various protesters and rebels we are so eager to support, we know for a fact that Israel is a liberal democracy embodying political freedom and individual rights, along with the accompanying virtues of tolerance and pluralism.
Yet despite this profound affinity between Israel and us, we have gotten used to shrugging off the incessant terrorist attacks on her citizens, except when we take the time to blame Israel for a century of genocidal Arab aggression. At the same time that Westerners were swooning over the “Arab spring,” in Israel a family was brutally murdered, a school bus was attacked with a sophisticated rocket that most likely was brought into Gaza from Egypt, a bus was blown up in Jerusalem, and scores of mortars and rockets have been fired from Gaza into southern Israel. When the media even deign to notice these assaults, they do so only to indulge a specious moral equivalence, criticize Israel for not engaging in the mythical “peace process,” and demand yet again that Israel make concessions that risk the lives of her citizens to placate a foe that has met every previous concession with more murdered and mutilated Israelis.
This indifference to the thousands of Israelis murdered by terrorists––nearly 1600 just since the Oslo accords of 1993, the equivalent of 54,000 Americans–– is a blot of shame on our national character. We are so used to Israelis dying that we respond to each new death the way we do to highway fatalities, as a dry statistic factored into the cost of doing foreign policy business. Meanwhile Israel is experiencing what Italian journalist Giulio Meotti calls “A New Shoah,” the title of his book that tells the stories of those victims and restores their humanity.
The revealing dimension of Meotti’s profiles is the continuity between the Holocaust and Arab terrorism. Numerous terrorist victims were survivors of the Nazi attempt to eradicate the Jews. Yakov Springer, the weightlifting coach murdered at the Munich Olympics in 1972, was one of the few survivors of the Warsaw ghetto revolt of 1943. Lipa Weiss was the only member of his family to survive the Holocaust, and then in Israel lost his son Yanay and his granddaughter Inbal to terrorist attacks. Perla Hermele escaped the Nazis when her family left Poland, only to die in the Park Hotel Passover bombing. The Jews dying in Israel connect in myriad ways to the Jews destroyed in the Holocaust. As Meotti writes, “In Israel, terrorists have killed those who inherited the names of their parents and grandparents murdered in the gas chambers and in the forests of occupied Europe.”
Those foreign policy idealists who cry “never again,” whose moral authority for the “responsibility to protect” ultimately derives from the monitory example of the Holocaust, are indifferent to the fact that today Jews are still being killed because they are Jews, not because of settlements or checkpoints or the alleged “occupation.” How else explain the virulent anti-Semitism common throughout mainstream Middle-Eastern culture? Koranic Jew-hatred embodied in phrases such as “children of pigs and monkeys” is spiced with Nazi imagery dehumanizing Jews as “cancer,” “garbage,” “germs,” “parasites,” and “microbes.” Absurd anti-Semitic forgeries such as The Protocols of the Elders of Zion are widely available throughout the Middle East, as are iterations of the old “blood libel.” Holocaust-denial is common, as in the doctoral dissertation of the alleged “moderate” Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Yet we in the West rationalize this dehumanization, which typically precedes and justifies mass murder, as mere rhetoric, an understandable response to the “occupation” and thwarted nationalist aspirations. But as Roger Scruton writes in his Preface to The New Shoah, “The ‘blame Israel’ approach to Middle Eastern politics . . . is an example of the same feeble-minded appeasement that allowed the last wave of anti-Semitism to triumph in Europe.”
It seems odd that we are so excited by the presumed flowering of “democracy” in the Middle East, even as the current administration jeopardizes with its policies the Middle East’s only truly liberal democracy, and a loyal ally critical for our own interests and security in that volatile region. If we have a “responsibility to protect,” then we should start at home with our friends like Israel, who shares our political ideals, rather than subjecting that beleaguered country to death by a thousand “peace-process” cuts.