Here’s a quiz: which nation is most often mentioned in the news and on the floor of the United Nations?
It’s not China. Not Iraq. Not North Korea, Russia, or the United States. Rather, since its inception barely 60 six decades ago, the little Middle Eastern country of Israel has received more media attention than any other single nation and has monopolized more United Nations debate than all other nations combined. Bosnia, Chechnya, Rwanda, and currently Afghanistan may briefly grab center stage, but always the world turns its focus back to Israel.
Of course there is the Holocaust, the most systematic, cold-blooded effort to exterminate a people in modern memory. Having sprouted forth from the ashes of Nazi annihilation, Israel symbolizes the eternal struggle against oppression, racism, and hatred, testifying to the nobility and tenacity of the human spirit. As such, Israel has captured the hearts and minds of Jews and non-Jews alike all around the world.
In reality, of course, Israel is not the fanciful setting of historical fiction, but a real place where ordinary people grapple with extraordinary problems. Israeli Jews are not all saints, not all heroes, and not always above human failings or even human corruption. And the Israeli government is an unsteady ship tossed upon the stormy seas of international politics and global economics.
But Israel is unique among all civilization in that it crowns an ethnic and cultural history nearly 4,000 years old. The Jewish patriarch Abraham, a single man with an unorthodox view of mankind’s place in the universe, stood alone against the pagan sensibilities of an entire world and founded a people and a nation dedicated to ethical behavior, personal responsibility, and the pursuit of peace.
Abraham’s children grew into a nation that aspired to spiritual and moral self-perfection, sometimes conquering and sometimes falling to enemies within and without, but always struggling to uphold the mission of their patriarch as a moral conscience to the world.
And they succeeded. As the non-Jewish historian Paul Johnson explains, “To [the Jews] we owe the idea of … collective conscience and so of social responsibility; of peace as an abstract ideal and love as the foundation of justice and many other items which constitute the basic moral furniture of the human mind.” The very notions of peace and brotherhood, it seems, are the legacy of the Jews, and the country of Israel waves as the banner of those ideals.
No one wins popularity contests by serving as a moral conscience. Morality comes under fierce fire both from tyrants who wish to justify their atrocities and from civil libertarians who thirst for an amoral society where self-indulgence is not only allowed but venerated. Such as these look upon the nation of Israel’s shortcomings and shriek, “Hypocrisy!”
But there is nothing hypocritical about falling short of noble standards, and such failure is far more noble than abandoning standards altogether. Indeed, perhaps anti-Semitism is, at its root, the violent reaction against the proposal that there is a moral compass for navigating our social universe, that there can be an absolute definition of right and wrong, that individuals and societies should be held responsible for their single and collective actions. Better to revile a people and censure a nation that raises the standard of morality than to jeopardize the free license of moral autonomy.
After centuries of enduring crusades, pogroms, and jihads – always in the name of peace and justice and the Divine Will – the Jews finally reclaimed their ancient homeland with the endorsement and blessing of the world community, only to have their Arab neighbors deny Israel’s right to exist and try repeatedly to drive them into the sea. And now, another half-century later, the world community turns a blind eye to the duplicity of Israel’s enemies while demanding never-ending gestures of “peace” from the very Israelis who must fight for their lives.
How tragic that the world prefers to trample upon symbols of morality rather than look to them for inspiration. And how shameful that the nations of West, whose ideals of freedom and justice stand upon Jewish foundations, are compromise Israeli security for the sake of political correctness and political expediency.
Originally published in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch