Lee Smith: What’s happened in Europe since 1967 that has turned popular as well as elite opinion against Israel?
Joshua Muravchik: Two kinds of forces have been at work. One consists of material pressures in the form of terrorist intimidation that evoked a reaction of appeasement; the leverage inherent in Europe’s dependence on Arab oil; and sheer weight of numbers, with one-hundred Muslims in the world for every Jew, 22 member states of the Arab League and 57 members of the Organizations of Islamic Cooperation arrayed against one Israel, all of it adding up to considerable diplomatic and economic sway.
No less important has been an intellectual transformation not specific to the Middle East but with profound effects on the perception of Israel in its conflict with the Arabs or Palestinians. This is a transformation of the central paradigm of Leftism. At the time of Israel’s birth, its detractors came mostly from the Right; but today the engine of hostility to Israel is on the Left. This is immensely important because while the Left constitutes a majority in few, if any, countries, it constitutes a decisive one in the precincts of academia, journalism, entertainment—in short, in the world of discourse.
From the mid-19th until the mid-20 century, the central paradigm of Leftism consisted of a passion play pitting poor against rich or workers against capitalists. This drama lost force in the latter half of the twentieth century and gave way to a new, more contemporary version. The exploitation of English mill hands or German steel workers no longer fired imaginations as much as the degradation of proud African warriors and pacific Hindu mystics and the mistreatment of blacks in America. Instead of class conflict, the redemptive struggle of the new era became “the rest against the West” or the “people of color against “the white man.” The iconic arbiter of latter day Leftism, Jean-Paul Sartre, expressed the paradigm shift in his preface to Frantz Fanon’s canonical The Wretched of the Earth: “Natives of all underdeveloped countries, unite!”
When this lens is focused on the Middle East, the Israelis appear as the Western, white men, and the Palestinians as the anti-colonial people of color. The former are inherently wrong and the latter inherently right. It does not matter how either side behaves. History has decreed who are the good guys and who the bad…
Joshua Muravchik is a fellow at the Foreign Policy Institute of the Johns Hopkins University School for Advanced International Studies and a contributor to this magazine. He is also author of 11 books, including the recently published Making David into Goliath: How the World Turned Against Israel.