Melanie Phillips notes that an article by Charles Moore which appeared in the Telegraph a couple of days ago made a point about Israel that “was as simple and eloquent as it was crucial. How did we forget, he asked, that Israel’s story is the story of the west?”
If one stands back from the moral argument that rages round Israel, and just looks at this as a story, it reminds one intensely of that of ancient Israel’s enemy, the Roman republic. An austere nation builds its power in the face of enemy neighbours. It does so by great feats of arms, and so its soldiers often become its political leaders. The commitment those leaders must give to the nation is absolute, lifelong, life-threatening. The deeds done in the nation’s defence are frequently brave, sometimes appalling. Some would see Sharon as Milosevic, but might he not be Caesar?
But there’s also an important difference from Rome: the purpose of victory has been more about security than conquest for its own sake. Israeli politics for the past dozen years has been the attempt to reconcile extrication from territory with security. That is what Sharon thinks about all the time, as did his Labour predecessors, Yitzhak Rabin and Ehud Barak.
Taking note of the extraordinary circumstances in which this heroic and besieged little country became transformed by the West into a monstrous oppressive tyrant, Moore chillingly concludes:
Israel, which was attacked, has come to be seen as the aggressor. Israel, which has elections that throw governments out and independent commissions that investigate people like Sharon and condemn him, became regarded as the oppressive monster. In a rhetoric that tried to play back upon Jews their own experience of suffering, supporters of the Palestinian cause began to call Israelis Nazis. Holocaust Memorial Day is disapproved of by many Muslims because it ignores the supposedly comparable “genocide” of the Palestinians.
Western children of the Sixties like this sort of talk. They look for a narrative based on the American civil rights movement or the struggle against apartheid. They care little for economic achievement or political pluralism. They are suspicious of any society with a Western appearance, and in any contest between people with differing skin colours, they prefer the darker. They buy into the idea, now promoted by all Arab regimes and by Muslim firebrands with a permanent interest in deflecting attention from their own societies’ problems, that Israel is the greatest problem of all.
Well, some will say, that is the way it is: Israel has abused power, and is reaping the whirlwind. I don’t want to argue today about the rights and wrongs of Israel’s actions, though I think, given its difficulties, it stands up better than most before the bar of history. All I want to ask my fellow Europeans is this: are you happy to help direct the world’s fury at the only country in the Middle East whose civilisation even remotely resembles yours? And are you sure that the fate of Israel has no bearing on your own? In Iran, the new President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad makes the link. The battle over Palestine, he says, is “the prelude of the battle of Islam with the world of arrogance”, the world of the West. He is busy building his country’s nuclear bomb.