Geoffrey Wheatcroft: How Israel gets away with murder

Indifference to criticism of the bombing and invasion of Gaza is the result of indulgence by the West

Share
Related Topics

When Lord Derby asked Sir Lewis Namier, the great historian of Georgian England, why he, as a Jew, didn't write Jewish history, Namier replied: "There is no modern Jewish history, only a Jewish martyrology, and that is not amusing enough for me." It might be said that the underlying purpose of the Zionist project – which Namier passionately supported – was to reject Jewish martyrology, and to turn the Jews from passive victims to active makers of their destiny.

That has been accomplished to a fault, many would say as they watch the news from Gaza, where one image after another has caused deep revulsion. But then that rejection of martyrdom and victimhood may also explain what has puzzled as well as dismayed onlookers – the fact that Israel seems to be quite oblivious to international opinion.

In Muslim countries there is, of course, intense hostility to Israel, which, in return, has long since followed the Latin principle oderint dum metuant towards her neighbours: Let them hate us, so long as they fear us. Since there's no point in even trying to win their hearts and minds, they should be taught to respect brute force, a precept which, it should be admitted, has enjoyed considerable practical success.

The West is different, and European sentiment can be changed by events, as indeed it has been. Israel and Zionism were once very popular causes in Europe, not least on the liberal left, until the 1967 Six Day War and after. Since then, European sympathy has steadily ebbed away as Israel attacked Lebanon in 1982, and again in 2006, with the suppression of the intifadas between. And yet Israel shrugs off all strictures and rebukes. No criticism from relief agencies or the Red Cross makes any difference.

Even more strikingly, Israel has ignored the Security Council resolution calling for a ceasefire. One reason for this is that the only Western country that really counts is the United States, and Israel has for many years been able to rely on unconditional American support. Having threated to veto previous draft resolutions, the US took part in drafting the security council resolution calling for a ceasefire, and was evidently going to vote for it.

Then late on Thursday the American representative shocked other council members by abstaining. This volte face came on direct orders from the White House, after president Bush had spoken to Ehud Olmert, the Israeli prime minister, and the Israelis have taken abstention as permission to continue their action. "Israel is not going to show restraint," Tzipi Livni, the Israeli Foreign Minister, told The Washington Post yesterday, understandably enough in the circumstances.

Although Israel is sometimes described as an American client state, which receives huge financial subsidy from Washington, she is unique as a client state: she can do exactly as she likes in the knowledge that she will never be seriously restrained by her sponsor. Even when the White House is privately irritated by Israeli actions, Congress is absolutely reliable, never knowingly outbid in its unswerving loyalty. During the bombardment of Lebanon in the summer of 2006, the House of Representatives passed a resolution of total solidarity with Israel by 410 votes to eight, and the Senate has just passed another on a hand vote, not even bothering to take a formal tally.

Anyone who thought that there would be a change of heart and direction after the last American election hasn't been concentrating. The Senate in question is the newly elected, strongly Democratic one, which has just met for the first time. During the presidential campaign Barack Obama went out of his way to endorse Israel. He has appointed in the form of Hillary Clinton perhaps the strongest supporter of Israel ever to serve as Secretary of State, not excluding Henry Kissinger, a Jewish refugee from Hitler, though even she is surpassed in her commitment by Rahm Emanuel, Obama's chief of staff.

But there is more to it, and Israeli intransigence or indifference to outside opinion goes back before the birth of the state. As it happens, Emanuel has something in common with Ehud Olmert and Tzipi Livni: their fathers all served in the Irgun. This was the intransigent Zionist militia – described as terrorists by Isaiah Berlin among others, and as fascists by Albert Einstein among others – which waged a campaign of violence against the British, and the Palestinian Arabs, in the last years of the British Mandate in 1946-48. Its exploits included the bombing of the King David Hotel in Jerusalem, with great loss of life, the hanging of two captured British sergeants in reprisal, and the massacre of villagers at Deir Yassin.

Behind that brutality lay something else. Men take revenge for small wrongs, Machiavelli said, unable to avenge the larger, and the Irgun was avenging an incomparably and unimaginably greater crime just suffered by the European Jews. The Jews had tried to be nice to the goyim, Zionism said in effect, and see where it had got them. A Jewish state would now be created and guarded with all necessary force, indifferent to what the outside world thought. If need be, Israel will borrow the old chant of the Millwall fans, "No one likes us, we don't care"– and no more Jewish martyrology.

Not that Namier was the only Zionist to use "Jewish" in a derisive sense. When someone mentioned Trotsky's phrase "No war, no peace", David Ben-Gurion said that it was "some stupid Jewish idea", and there is a well-known Israeli story about Moshe Dayan, the military hero of the Six Day War. When he taught at the Israeli staff college, Dayan used to expound a problem, ending with the words, "And I want no Jewish solutions here."

He meant that, on the sand table or the field, he expected his battles to be won by dash and ferocity, rather than than by the traditional Jewish virtues of subtlety and patience. Zionist toughness has worked for a long time, but it could be that Israel will one day discover that there's something to be said for Jewish solutions.

Geoffrey Wheatcroft's books include 'The Controversy of Zion: Jewish Nationalism, the Jewish State, and the Unresolved Jewish Dilemma'

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Business Manager

£32000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Business Manager is required ...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

£45000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Panel & Cabinet Wireman

£20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Panel Wireman required for small electro...

Recruitment Genius: Electronics Test Engineer

£25000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An SME based in East Cheshire, ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Newspaper stands have been criticised by the Child Eyes campaign  

There were more reader complaints this year – but, then again, there were more readers

Will Gore
 

People drink to shut out pain and stress. Arresting them won’t help

Deborah Coughlin
A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

Who remembers that this week we enter the 150th anniversary year of the end of the American Civil War, asks Robert Fisk
Downfall of Dustin 'Screech' Diamond, the 'Saved By The Bell' star charged with bar stabbing

Scarred by the bell

The downfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Security breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
Cuba's golf revolution: But will the revolutionary nation take 'bourgeois' game to its heart?

Will revolutionary Cuba take 'bourgeois' golf to its heart?

Fidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
Ed Richards: Parting view of Ofcom chief. . . we hate jokes on the disabled

Ed Richards: Parting view of Ofcom chief. . . we hate jokes on the disabled

Bad language once got TV viewers irate, inciting calls to broadcasting switchboards. But now there is a worse offender, says retiring head of the media watchdog
War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?
Finally, a diet that works: Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced

Finally, a diet that works

Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced
Say it with... lyrics: The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches

Say it with... lyrics

The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches
Professor Danielle George: On a mission to bring back the art of 'thinkering'

The joys of 'thinkering'

Professor Danielle George on why we have to nurture tomorrow's scientists today
Monique Roffey: The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections

Monique Roffey interview

The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections
Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Their outrageousness and originality makes the world a bit more interesting, says Ellen E Jones