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Israel and “Western Values”

Douglas Murray makes a very strange argument in response to an earlier article by Hugo Rifkind:

Geography aside, it is Israel that is still truly a western country. Far more than many parts of western Europe now are.

A gap may well be emerging. But not because Israel has drifted away from the West. Rather because today in much of the West, as we bask in the afterglow of our achievements — eager to enjoy our rights, but unwilling to defend them — it is the West that is, slowly but surely, drifting away from itself.

There’s a lot wrong with Murray’s response, starting with the plainly false claim that Israel has to “fight for its survival.” This was true once, but it hasn’t been true for at least thirty years, and possibly longer than that. The claim that Israel’s survival is jeopardized by external enemies is one that I have heard all my life, and it has become decreasingly true with every passing year. This is the excuse that is always trotted out, but it doesn’t persuade nearly as many people as it used to. Hawks have cried “existential threat” once too often, and it no longer has the same effect that it had in the past. If a “gap” is opening up between Israel and Western countries, it is because fewer and fewer people in the West believe this excuse.

Murray also says that Israel “takes western values seriously and fights for the survival of those values,” but that seems to be almost exactly the opposite of what has been happening in Israeli politics over the last ten or fifteen years. Some of this may depend on what Murray wants to include as “Western values” and what he thinks it means to “fight” for them, but it would be fair to say that Israel under its last two governments has become increasingly illiberal domestically and even more heavy-handed in its dealings with its immediate neighbors. The occupation has become more entrenched than it was at the turn of the century, and support for a negotiated settlement with the Palestinians has dwindled significantly. If Murray is right that this is what being a “Western country” involves, then I suspect most people in the West would rather be something else. As it happens, I think Murray has it wrong. It isn’t that Westerners are drifting away from their values that accounts for this “gap,” but that many of them are no longer willing to indulge Israeli governments when they make a mockery of them.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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