Almost everywhere I went last week — TV, radio, speeches — I was asked about the 60th anniversary of the Israeli state. I don’t recall being asked about Israel quite so much on its 50th anniversary, which as a general rule is a much bigger deal than the 60th. But these days friends and enemies alike smell weakness at the heart of the Zionist Entity. Assuming President Ahmadinejad’s apocalyptic fancies don’t come to pass, Israel will surely make it to its 70th birthday. But a lot of folks don’t fancy its prospects for its 80th and beyond. See the Atlantic Monthly cover story: “Is Israel Finished?” Also the cover story in Canada’s leading news magazine, Maclean’s, which dispenses with the question mark: “Why Israel Can’t Survive.”
Why? By most measures, the Jewish state is a great success story. The modern Middle East is the misbegotten progeny of the British and French colonial map-makers of 1922. All the nation states in that neck of the woods date back a mere 60 or 70 years — Iraq to the Thirties, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, and Israel to the Forties. The only difference is that Israel has made a go of it. Would I rather there were more countries like Israel, or more like Syria? I don’t find that a hard question to answer. Israel is the only liberal democracy in the Middle East (Iraq may yet prove a second) and its Arab citizens enjoy more rights than they would living under any of the kleptocrat kings and psychotic dictators who otherwise infest the region. On a tiny strip of land narrower at its narrowest point than many American townships, Israel has built a modern economy with a GDP per capita just shy of $30,000 — and within striking distance of the European Union average. If you object that that’s because it’s uniquely blessed by Uncle Sam, well, for the past 30 years the second largest recipient of U.S. aid has been Egypt: Their GDP per capita is $5,000, and America has nothing to show for its investment other than one-time pilot Mohammed Atta coming at you through the office window.
Jewish success against the odds is nothing new. “Aaron Lazarus the Jew,” wrote Anthony Hope in his all but unknown prequel to The Prisoner Of Zenda, “had made a great business of it, and had spent his savings in buying up the better part of the street; but” — and for Jews there’s always a ‘but’ – “since Jews then might hold no property…”
Ah, right. Like the Jewish merchants in old Europe who were tolerated as leaseholders but could never be full property owners, the Israelis are regarded as operating a uniquely conditional sovereignty. Jimmy Carter, just returned from his squalid suck-up junket to Hamas, is merely the latest Western sophisticate to pronounce triumphantly that he has secured the usual (off-the-record, highly qualified, never to be translated into Arabic, and instantly denied) commitment from the Jews’ enemies acknowledging Israel’s “right to exist.” Well, whoop-de-doo. Would you enter negotiations on such a basis?
Since Israel marked its half-century, the “right to exist” is now routinely denied not just in Gaza and Ramallah and the region’s presidential palaces but on every European and Canadian college campus. During the Lebanese incursion of 2006, Matthew Parris wrote in the Times of London: “The past 40 years have been a catastrophe, gradual and incremental, for world Jewry. Seldom in history have the name and reputation of a human grouping lost so vast a store of support and sympathy so fast. My opinion – held not passionately but with little personal doubt — is that there is no point in arguing about whether the state of Israel should have been established where and when it was” — which lets you know how he would argue it if minded to. Richard Cohen in The Washington Post was more straightforward: “Israel itself is a mistake. It is an honest mistake, a well-intentioned mistake, a mistake for which no one is culpable, but the idea of creating a nation of European Jews in an area of Arab Muslims (and some Christians) has produced a century of warfare and terrorism of the sort we are seeing now. Israel fights Hezbollah in the north and Hamas in the south, but its most formidable enemy is history itself.” Cohen and Parris, two famously moderate voices in the leading newspapers of two of the least anti-Israeli capital cities in the West, have nevertheless internalized the same logic as Ahmadinejad: Israel should not be where it is. Whether it’s a “stain of shame” or just a “mistake” is the merest detail.
Aaron Lazarus and every other “European Jew” of his time would have had a mirthless chuckle over Cohen’s designation. The Jews lived in Europe for centuries, but without ever being accepted as “European”: To enjoy their belated acceptance as Europeans, they had to move to the Middle East. Reviled on the Continent as sinister rootless cosmopolitans with no conventional national allegiance, they built a conventional nation state, and now they’re reviled for that, too. The “oldest hatred” didn’t get that way without an ability to adapt.
The Western intellectuals who promote “Israeli Apartheid Week” at this time each year are laying the groundwork for the next stage of Zionist delegitimization. The talk of a “two-state solution” will fade. In the land between the Jordan and the Mediterranean, Jews are barely a majority. Gaza has one of the highest birth rates on the planet: The median age is 15.8 years. Its population is not just literally exploding, at Israeli checkpoints, but also doing so in the less incendiary but demographically decisive sense.
Arabs will soon be demanding one democratic state — Jews and Muslims — from Jordan to the sea. And even those who understand that this will mean the death of Israel will find themselves so confounded by the multicultural pieties of their own lands they’ll be unable to argue against it. Contemporary Europeans are not exactly known for their moral courage: The reports one hears of schools quietly dropping the Holocaust from their classrooms because it offends their growing numbers of Muslim students suggest that even the pretense of “evenhandedness” in the Israeli-Palestinian “peace process” will be long gone a decade hence.
The joke, of course, is that Israel, despite its demographic challenge, still enjoys a birth rate twice that of the European average. All the reasons for Israel’s doom apply to Europe with bells on. And, unlike much of the rest of the west, Israel has the advantage of living on the front line of the existential challenge. “I have a premonition that will not leave me,” wrote Eric Hoffer, America’s great longshoreman philosopher, after the ’67 war. “As it goes with Israel so will it go with all of us.”
Indeed. So happy 60th birthday. And here’s to many more.
© 2008 Mark Steyn