George Gilder was one of the speakers on the recent National Review cruise round the Mediterranean, and he gave me a copy of his new book The Israel Test — there, I’ve declared an interest. He can be relied on to say striking and original things. At the moment, Israel is treated as a pariah among the nations, blamed for defending itself against the various Arab and Muslim states or terrorist groups trying to destroy it. To support the Arabs and Muslims in this endeavor has become a moral imperative for the Left everywhere. So figureheads like Yasser Arafat and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad have revived and updated anti-Semitism: That is their contribution to the world we live in.
Nobody but Gilder could have written this book. Israel of course has its defenders, but they use arguments based on nationalism, territory, ethnicity, defence of minorities, rights, historicism, and so on. Gilder sees Jews since their emancipation as the vanguard of human achievement. They may be few in numbers, but their creativity has brought prosperity to themselves and those around them, and that prosperity in turn has brought freedom. Thus Jews spearhead capitalism and the democracy indispensable to its proper functioning. Marxists, Nazis, and now Muslims and their apologists envy Jews because they cannot emulate them, and so set out to destroy the success that shows up their failure. The attitude you take towards Israel and Jews decides whether you love or hate freedom, and beyond that, mankind — that’s the test he is proposing in the book’s title. And just in case the reader risks failing this test by jumping to a false conclusion, Gilder has a portrait of his very non-Jewish ancestry, saying, “We were classic WASPS all.”
To go to Israel even for a brief visit is to be struck by the vitality of the country. Everyone seems to be in a whirl of fulfilment, grabbing life with both hands. The middle part of this book is an account of some prominent Israeli inventors in computer science and physics, fascinating personalities at least the equal of their great Jewish forebears like Heinrich Hertz, Robert Oppenheimer, or John von Neumann, the latter a particular hero of Gilder’s. An essential aspect of the test he thinks we all face when it comes to taking a position about Israel and Jews is to value the exceptional individual because, as he puts it, “the good fortune of others is also one’s own” — simple, brilliant, and true! These rare people, he thinks, will see Israel safely through whatever trials lie ahead, and they are also benefactors of us all. An attack on Israel is a blow against the entire West. And alas for the Arabs and Muslims, stuck in their hate and envy when they are lucky enough to be so close to Israel that they could join in its success. By the time they get the point of this book a bright future may have passed them by.