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September 22, 2013 5:04 pm

Israel and the Jews Should Forget the West, and Look East

avatar by Jeremy Rosen

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Benjamin Netanyahu with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang at an official welcoming ceremony. Photo: Israel GPO.

The anniversary of the Yom Kippur War always reminds one of Israeli fallibility, arrogance, and overconfidence, yet also of its capacity to defy the odds and come back from the brink. It was another example of our bringing disaster upon ourselves and then fighting back to survive. After all, that is what the name “Israel” means in the Bible: “to struggle with man and God and survive.”

If I were to listen to the voices, Jewish and non-Jewish, that I hear in such examples as The New York Times, in The New York Review of Books, the intellectual and leftwing talking heads of Europe and the USA, or indeed popular left wing opinion, I would have a depressing sense of impending catastrophe. This week Peter Beinart, in The New York Review of Books, tells us that we Jews neither know, nor understand, nor feel the suffering of the Palestinians, whether under Hamas or the PLO. Ian S. Lustick goes on at length in a one-sided peroration typical of The New York Times that the lays the blame on Israel for making the Two State Solution irrelevant. They are not entirely wrong. But I tell you, I am bloody fed up with people lumping all Israelis, all Jews together in their simplistic apportioning of blame, seeing things in black and white rather than in greys. Palestinians are good victims. Israelis are bad oppressors. In fact, both are both. That’s what humans are, a mixture of good and bad.

Some Israelis, some Jews are indeed intolerable racists. It is as true as is the fact that in South Africa under Apartheid there were Jews who acquiesced, who remained silent and failed their moral duty. But it is equally true that many Jews fought long and hard and at great cost to themselves, to oppose Apartheid and to promote freedom for the black population. That the ANC finally triumphed has not replaced immorality with morality, discrimination with equality. Sadly, too often those who suffer respond not by continuing the drive towards greater freedom but by grabbing all they can for themselves. This is the usual consequence of most struggles for freedom. Similarly, in Zimbabwe, the relatively benign but overtly racial regime of Ian Smith was replaced by the much more evil and murderous regime of black Mugabe. Good fighters for freedom turn into very bad governors of countries. But that is the price of the struggle. And politics is dirty and messy everywhere.

The role of government is to protect its citizens and the vision of its founders. Israel was created as a state with a Jewish heritage, just as much as Muslim states were established to preserve and propagate Muslim heritage. Most of us would like to see both as tolerant and democratic societies. Israel is imperfect indeed, but it is our homeland. If we care for it, we should fight to protect it and to improve it, not to undermine it. We should focus just as much on those who are working hard on reconciliation, on doing good, not just on the bad, such as Syrians treated in Israeli hospitals, and Israel providing for Gaza what Egypt is not. But don’t expect this from the anti-Israel amen chorus.

So how are we expected to relate to a dysfunctional Middle East that is constantly stirred up against us by a distorted Western mentality? Surely not by capitulating to its mental diseases. I suggest we try to ignore its pathologies as best we can. But I must stress, I do not advocate cutting ourselves off from the Muslim world. The Middle East is not the only Muslim location. I do not think the divide between Judaism and Islam is either inevitable or healthy. We have far more in common with each other than we do with many other religions. To both of us, religion is not a series of theological propositions but a way of life. However, if we want to heal the breach, we must look further east.

It always surprises Jews to learn that the Muslims of the Far East, from India to Indonesia, from Cambodia to China, see the Arab jihadis of the Middle East in much the same way that non-Orthodox Jews view Charedim. They regard the Salafists and the Wahhabis as over the top extremists. It’s true in both cases that guilt often leads them to support the pious at arm’s length. The Far East also has its extreme and violent Islamic movements and terrorists, but the general mood of Islam is far more benign the further you get from the Middle East. It is more tolerant, less anti-West, and less fixated on blaming everyone else, especially the Jews, for their ills. Yes, you can quote me that nasty former Malayan premier Mahathir bin Mohamad, who blamed the Jews for everything. But, thank goodness, he was not typical. I believe Israel should reduce its links with Europe – with is ghastly legacy and history. It should instead be cultivating relations and economic involvements with India, China, Korea, and other emerging powers out in the Far East.

Daniel Goldhagen, the controversial and outspoken American historian who wrote Hitler’s Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust, has stirred things up with his latest book about Western anti-Semitism, The Devil That Never Dies: The Rise and Threat of Global Antisemitism. Anthony Julius wrote a dismissive review in the Wall Street Journal accusing Goldhagen of sloppy research and unreliable statistics – even if he agrees with the core of Goldhagen’s thesis. But even if Goldhagen exaggerates when he says that 200 million Europeans compare Israelis to Nazis, let us reduce it by half. The fact is that huge swathes of opinion in Europe and the USA are venomously opposed to Israel’s existence on principle. So who is Israel to rely on? We knew it wasn’t Europe. Now we have seen all too clearly that the USA cannot be relied upon either. It is war weary. Israel must defend itself as best it can, both socially and militarily. It is time to look for friends elsewhere.

In addition, I believe Judaism has more in common with and is more appreciated by the religion and mysticism of the East than of the West. The West is fixated on pain, suffering, guilt, and negativity. The East has much more positive religious energy. We have been identified with the Western religious tradition for too long. We have adopted too much of this guilt and pain. We could well redress the balance. It is time to think about a new alliance, a new love affair, with the Far East for Israel and Jews in general. I only hope our present leaders, secular and religious, will not be as myopic as those of the past.

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  • Raymond in DC

    This “shift to the East” has been going on for quite a while already, with growing trade, military, and research ties with China, India, Singapore, South Korea, Japan, and others. Thousands of Israelis following IDF service travel to many of these countries, as well as Vietnam, Thailand and Nepal, and subsequently “return” to do business there.

    But however positive these relations, these countries can not be counted on to stand by Israel’s side in an international forum where it matters. China has never cast a veto at the UN standing with Israel, rather they vote consistent with their interests in the Arab world and Persian Gulf.

  • Eric R.

    I agree that Israel should try to write off Europe as a hopeless sewer of Nazi Jew-hatred.

    However, his assessment of the Muslim world is wrong. Exterminationist, Nazi Jew-hatred is rife in both Malaysia (it is not just Herr Mathatir that is the problem, but the entire UMNO Party) and in Indonesia. Neither country even allows Jews in.

    The more promising Muslim nations from a Jewish persective ARE in fact, non-Arab states closer to Israel – Albania, Kosovo, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, and a future Kurdish state, which will happen sooner or later.

  • HaDaR

    Entertaining good relations and developing them further with China, Korea and Japan, all of whom have NO CULTURAL AND/OR RELIGIOUS ANTISEMITISM, is certainly a must for Israel. Next time, rather than bowing as Barak did, to US dictat to break arm sales contracts with China AND India, Israel should thumb her nose to the US, just as Saudi Arabia has done for decades.
    However, Israel MUST CONTINUE the development of good relations with Kenya, South Sudan and the REST OF NON-MUSLIM AFRICA too.
    As far as Asian Muslims, Mr. Rosen is off the mark by far.
    Pakistan is the cradle of Islamic fanaticism and hatred of Israel, and so is Bangladesh (BOTH sent troops to fight against Israel in 1973!) and Indonesia, the most populated Muslim country on earth, has been among the staunchest supporters of the anti-Israel boycott (still no entry in Indonesia for people with even just an Israeli stamp on their passport!) and antisemitic declarations.

    • Jeremy

      Both HaDar and Eric are right to point out the antisemitism still endemic throughout the Muslim world and that includes the Far East.
      However many Far Eastern Muslims have good relations with Jews and Israel and look with scorn at their own fanatics and Arab attitudes.
      After all there are rabid antiSemites in the Catholic Church but the leadership has changed dramatically over the past fifty years.
      I am more hopeful of changes in the Far East beyond the suicidal maniacs in Pakistan. But even there there are other voices.

  • Jeremy

    Thank you so much for your kind words.I am most grateful. May you have a very sweet year.

  • Mark Jay Mirsky

    Dear Jeremy,

    Just the stories I heard in talking with Norwegian Jews several years ago during a lecture tour and the extraordinary security arrangements I saw, now in force both in Oslo and Stockholm at the synagogues, leads me to agree with you in regard to the latent anti-Jewish attitudes in Europe. The failure of American media to report the machine-gunning of the Oslo synagogue, the uncritical support of the Palestinian grievances by the liberal left-wing governments of Europe, all point to a dangerous surrender of judgment and attention. I am not convinced however, that looking east, to governments like China, which are not democracies, or the world of non-
    Arab Muslim countries which are still trying to come to grips with class and religious conflicts, which make the idea of a pluralistic democracy tenuous, would be wise. Norway recently elected a government which has a more centrist political ideology. The ballot box, perhaps unduly influenced, but still relatively un-corrupted, can respond to information and common sense. Western democracy may be fickle but to the extent that we hope for wisdom in Israel proper, it has been the glory of the Jewish state.


    • Jeremy


      I certainly accept your reservations about the eastern regimes, be they Maoist, Muslim or simply crazy. They do not offer yet models of erhical government and they certainly cannot come near and will never come near to replicating the material support the USA gives to Israel.
      But I was thinking long term , not short.
      Given the demographics of the USA I am not convinced we havent seen the high point in Jewish influence.

      Of course I am no prophet and I could be wrong but I think it makes sense to invest for the long long term and to cover our bets. But relying on ANY one human alliance is a very dangerous tactic that has not served us well in the past.

      Gmar Tov

  • Joe Kelly

    I admire how both Russia and China, each with the coveted UN Veto stands up to for their friends and interests through thick and thin. Due to the fact in the fickly West, and especially in the EU, Israel is looked as pariah state. This is why I no longer purchase prestige Germain cars. Israel should sell its gas to Russia and China, purchase military equipment from Russia and China and ensure that the UN veto will be provided just like Assad.

  • Liz Wagner

    No doubt, Israel needs to protect itself from “friends” like the EU and the U.S. and Israel has, over the last few years, deepened its relations with India. If I recall correctly, Algemeiner published a story that said, through the study of Talmud, the Korean govt hopes to develop in Korean students the same superior intellectual and analytical skills associated with Jewish students who study Talmud. As for China, Netanyahu visited there recently. But I wouldn’t invest too much into the Chinese, as they, along with Russia, are the biggest supporters of Iran and Syria. Israel must be cautious with China.

  • Sonia Willats

    Thank you, Mr Rosen. You articles are always very sane, balanced, thought-provoking, and well informed.

  • Wm Hausman

    Wow! This needed to said. More frequently, more widely, and amplified.
    Some of us have been precisely talking among ourselves during these last years that Israel should adopt this policy.
    Given this anti-Semitic/anti-Israel(both the same) Obama administration and the influential Marxist-Christian historical momentum behind it, Israel should consider even the prudence of looking East.

  • Shimon Reit

    Rosen is inappropriate for a Jewish site. Algemeiner should stop publishing his writings. there are many antisemitic and Jewish self hating that will be happy to publish him; Algemeiner does not have to do it.

  • EXCELLENT suggestion. After all we are an Asian People.