John Locke in the Middle East
July 3, 2001
than half a century, the Arab-Israeli conflict still occupies the front pages
of American newspapers. It still obsesses American opinion leaders, presidents,
and diplomats, who dream of a solution that never seems to come
and pursue a peace process that never brings peace.
What lies at the heart of the conflict? It
isnt land, writes David Brooks in the pro-Israel Weekly
Standard. The events of the past year the failure of Camp
David and the subsequent intifada have revealed that it is a
struggle over the assignment of historical guilt.
The Palestinians, Brooks goes on, cant
hope to defeat Israel militarily, but they can hope to undermine the
legitimacy of the Jewish state, to force the Israelis to admit that
their state was founded on a crime. The whole dispute, he
says, hangs on a simple question: Is Israel a criminal state? At
bottom, then, this is a contest between historical and spiritual visions ... a
war over intangibles ... a war over moral visions.
Ignoring the historical facts of Israels
founding, Brooks contrasts Palestinian and Israeli nationalism in exceedingly
general terms. The Palestinians embrace what looks a lot like 19th-century
blood and soil nationalism (laced with a large dollop of Islamic
fundamentalism); whereas the Israelis adhere to Lockean
nationalism. Brooks doesnt define these vague abstractions, but he
does opine that the Israelis kind of patriotism is more
admirable, because it is infused with democratic pride, and with
respect for individual opportunity.
Whatever all this means, it sounds
rather stacked against the Palestinians. The ideas of John Locke have played a
decidedly small role in Israels founding and history; Brooks is surely the
first commentator ever to mention them in connection with the Arab-Israeli
In fact, you wonder what on earth Locke has to
do with the Middle East today. His doctrines did help shape our own Declaration of
Independence. Is Brooks perhaps suggesting that Israel represents the
American side in the Middle East?
But of course! Brooks says America
may soon face the same kind of ideological challenge
Israel now faces. If so, he adds, lets hope we behave
as well as Israel ... is now doing.
Huh? Just where is this
challenge going to come from? And why is Israel a suitable role
model for this country?
Its hard to see why the Palestinians,
on their own principles, should acknowledge Israels legitimacy, which
means the right of Jews from around the world to dominate non-Jews with
ancestral roots in the region. Its also hard to see why the United States,
based on rather Lockean ideas about race and religion, should take sides in an
ethnic and religious war across the globe.
Nevertheless, Brooks insists: The role
for the United States is clear: to stand with the democratic nationalists
the Israelis, of course over the blood and soil
nationalists the Palestinians. Those are Americas
values as well as Americas interests.
He concludes: The struggle will be
long, and it will force the people in the area and the American people
to come to grips with the full implications of their political ideals.
If you find all this hopelessly nebulous, you arent the only one. All that is
clear is that Brooks wants the United States to support Israel, no
He neednt worry about that. American
politicians dont have to be persuaded of Lockean principles; they only have
to be bought. And that has long since been taken care of.
If an honest politician is one who, when
bought, stays bought, our elected representatives qualify. In 1967 the Israelis
attacked the USS Liberty and killed 34 American sailors with
impunity. In 1985 Israel was found to have stolen thousands of U.S. military
secrets through the spy Jonathan Pollard with impunity. In these and many
other cases, our Congress and presidents have repeatedly overlooked, and helped
cover up, Israels flagrant treachery to its chief benefactor.
Even our scandal-loving
watchdog press chooses not to delve too deeply into such matters.
After all, Israel is, as George Will and several thousand other journalists have put
it, our only reliable ally in the region.
The problem isnt our reliable
ally. Its our reliable politicians. And our reliable media.