George Gilder has released a passionate new book about Israel, The Israel Test. Gilder, who is both an intense religious conservative and a tech guru, argues that support for the fullest claims of Israel is an essential moral test of the non-Jewish world’s ability to rise above resentments and envy. NewMajority has asked some friends and contributors to weigh in. First up, Hillary Mann Leverett.
While seemingly grounded in profound admiration for Jewish contributions to Western civilization and the flourishing of democratic capitalism, George Gilder’s The Israel Test represents, in fact, an essential abnegation of the Holocaust’s most important moral lesson — that all human beings are entitled to the protection of law, even in time of war. That lesson provided the intellectual foundation for the concept of “crimes against humanity”, as codified at the Nuremberg trials. But, for all of Gilder’s invocations of the Holocaust, his “Israel test” subverts its most important moral lesson.
In Gilder’s world, Jews deserve protection from right-thinking Western Gentiles not because universal norms mandate such protection, but because we’ve “earned” it — through our talent, historical achievements, and indispensability to the survival of the West, including the United States. And, because we’ve earned the West’s protection on this basis, Israel has also earned immunity from criticism for its mistakes, even if those mistakes include the occupation of another people or the blockade of a territory of 1.4 million people. The enemies of the West/Israel/the Jewish people would hate us even if we corrected our mistakes, so trying to assuage our enemies by addressing our mistakes and the grievances they may have created is a dangerous delusion.
This is an exceptionally pernicious set of ideas. Against the “Nazism” that, according to Gilder, characterizes not only Hilter’s Germany but also modern-day Iran, Palestine, Saudi Arabia, and Syria, The Israel Test has defined, in effect, a countervailing ideology of “Israelism”. Among other things, this ideology of “Israelism” would undermine the conceptual foundations for international efforts since the Holocaust to stop genocide in other settings — whether in Bosnia, Rwanda, or Sudan — whose inhabitants may not score as highly as Jews on Gilder’s scale of civilizational achievement.
More significantly, Gilder’s “Israelism” would immunize the Jewish state from ever being held accountable for its own breaches of international norms. The practical implications of this mindset can be seen in the reactions to the Goldstone report on violations of the laws of war during last year’s Gaza conflict by Likudnik defenders of Israeli actions. This report was prepared by one of the world’s most eminent jurists, who is, along with his many other accomplishments, a trustee of Hebrew University in Jerusalem and a board member of Brandeis University’s Center for Ethics, Justice, and Public Life. But, because Goldstone tasked both Hamas and Israel to investigate their armed forces’ violations of civilian immunity and the laws of war during the Gaza fighting, he is widely denounced for “anti-Israeli” bias. For example, Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-NY, chairman of the House Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia) vilified Goldstone for living in “a self-righteous fantasyland”, where “there’s no such thing as terrorism, there’s no such thing as Hamas, there’s no such thing as legitimate self-defense.”
Unfortunately, Gilder, Ackerman, and Israelism’s other adherents want us to live a self-righteous fantasyland where there is no such thing as international law or universal norms — and that, as history has taught, is ultimately a nightmare world for the Jewish people.
In Gilder’s world, there is also no room for diplomatic efforts to resolve political disputes involving or affecting Israel, for there can be no assuaging or bargaining with Arab and Muslim leaders and publics supposedly hell-bent on finishing Hitler’s work. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s latest reported description of the Holocaust as a “myth” is already being used by those who oppose U.S. engagement with the Islamic Republic to discredit the possibility of serious diplomacy with Tehran. But friends of Israel should recall that it was the Holocaust-denying Egyptian President Anwar Sadat who traveled to Jerusalem and made peace with the Jewish state. The Camp David accords effectively took Egypt out of the Middle Eastern military equation, thereby rendering impossible the kind of generalized Arab-Israeli war that the world had witnessed in 1948, 1967 and 1973. Israel’s place in the region is much more secure today as a result of that diplomatic effort—regardless of whether Egyptians are taught about or are moved by the historical record of the Holocaust.
Israel’s friends should think hard before excluding what has been, historically, one of the most vital tools contributing to its security. The real “Israel test” is whether we are truly willing to take all of the steps needed to ensure Israel’s place in the historic homeland of the Jewish people.