Why Israel Is Target #1 of the Global Left

The attack on Israel’s legitimacy is part of a larger assault by the global left and global capital on the democratic nation-state

By Gadi Taub, TABLET 5 December 2023

Members of the Palestinian delegation to the International Youth Summit in Durban, which preceded the World Conference Against Racism, 2001/ANNA ZIEMINKSI/AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES

Antisemitism has evolved through a breathtaking dialectical leap: It is now conveyed through the lingo of human rights. This is how a host of liberals and progressives—many of them Jews—have been seduced into supporting NGOs that claim to promote human rights, but are in fact promoting a racist view of the Jewish people. They do so by singling out the Jews as the one people not partaking in the universal right to self-determination, and Israel alone among the nations as the one state which has no right to exist. Singling out the Jews for special hostile treatment is, of course, the very definition of antisemitism.

How has this old-new antisemitism become a legitimate, even respectable position once again? And how did the idea of human rights, which purports to serve as a universal standard, get distorted so badly as to yield an argument for the targeting and exclusion of Jews?

One part of the answer is that academia and the media have created an Industry of Lies, as the title of Israeli leftist journalist Ben-Dror Yemini’s book accurately called it. By using gross double standards, this industry portrays Israel as a uniquely monstrous violator of human rights. The world’s actual egregious violators of human rights—such as China, North Korea, Cuba, Iran, and most of Israel’s neighbors—don’t receive a fraction of the moralizing attention that Israel gets.

But that is not the whole story. Another part of the answer lies in the way the human rights agenda has been channeled globally into undermining national democracies in general. This trend usually presents itself as a critique of nationalism, understood by the global left as proto-fascism permanently poised to break into actual fascism at any moment. The argument is admittedly catchy: If nationalism is particularistic and exclusive, then human rights, which are universal, are the answer. Catchy, that is, only if you conceive of nationalism as a “negation of others,” as opposed to the particular manifestation of a universal right to national self-determination.

What is more troubling is that behind the declared critique of nationalism lies the undeclared attack on democracy. Because to “transcend” nationalism is to “transcend” the nation-state. When those nation-states are democracies, that means “transcending” democracy too. It means undermining the one effective framework by which citizens exercise political control over their common fate. Imposing a universal regime of human rights from above, through international institutions, is therefore a direct attack on the right to elect the government under which one lives—a right which is the single most effective check against tyranny, and therefore the linchpin of liberty and all other human and civil rights.

Both parts of the answer—the demonization of Israel and the attack on democracy—were clearly manifest in the Durban conference of 2001, beginning with its Orwellian title: World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance. The conference turned into a festival of blood libels against the Jewish nation-state—in the name of tolerance, of course. But it also exhibited the rising trend of using the idea of human rights to undermine democracy.

John Fonte was the first to point out, a year after the conference, that the new transnational globalist agenda was utilizing the United Nations and the conference to undermine the principle of government by the consent of the governed. Forty-seven American human rights activists, Fonte noted, sent a petition to the UN’s high commissioner for human rights, under the title “A Call to Action to the United Nations.” The petition demanded that the U.N. impose on the U.S. an agenda that the U.S. government rejected. Fonte went on to write a landmark book, Sovereignty or Submission: Will Americans Rule Themselves or Be Ruled by Others?, detailing the many ways in which new globalist elites are bypassing democratic sovereignty in pursuit of policies that the citizens of democratic nation-states have not consented to.

The case of Israel is most instructive because the general trend of anti-democratic liberalism acquires special poignancy in the one instance where a nation-state’s very right to exist is being questioned. The effort to undermine the Jewish nation-state does not therefore need to camouflage itself. It can be explicit about both its aim and its means: the destruction of Israel in the name of human rights.

The argument against Israel’s right to exist is multifaceted, but it does have a central theme. That theme is not the occupation, though confusing it with the occupation is convenient for the purpose of propaganda. It is also not the issue of church and state, since despite some idiosyncrasies, Israel does not have an official religion or a state church such as the United Kingdom, for example. Israel is Jewish in the national sense but not the religious sense: It is Jewish like Italy is Italian, not like Italy is Catholic. And therefore, the question of nationalism is the heart of the argument against the existence of the Jewish state.

Israel cannot be fully democratic, the argument goes, so long as it remains a Jewish state, since by definition a Jewish state excludes its non-Jewish citizens. Since the problem is Israel’s national character, no provisions for religious freedom will solve the problem. Nor will a wall of separation between church and state alleviate it. At its extreme, this argument identifies nationalism with ethnicity, which adds a racial ring, and then—though the Jews of Israel are one of the most multiracial national groups on earth—the argument proceeds to assert that a Jewish state is necessarily a racist state. This is the infamous “Zionism is racism” trope. The solution, those critics of Israel suggest, is de-nationalizing Israel, making it a non-national “state of all its citizens.”

If, by these standards, Israel is “racist,” or even just not democratic, then most nation-states are racist and not democratic. Most of them have national minorities whom, by definition, by virtue of being national minorities, do not partake in the collective national identity of the state, even though, as individuals, they are citizens with the right to vote and enjoy all other basic rights under law, as Israel’s non-Jewish minorities do. Yet no one demands that Italy renounce its Italian national identity to accommodate the German-speaking minority among its citizens in the region of South Tyrol, nor does anyone ask Romania to renounce its Romanian character on account of its Hungarian minority.

In fact, the Council of Europe explicitly recognizes the legitimacy of national states when their national character is based on the majority’s identity, as the council made clear in its Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities. The convention does not demand renouncing the majority’s right to self-determination in order to accommodate the minority, nor does it ask them to invent a more inclusive identity in order to fully assimilate the minority. Rather it demands that such states furnish their national minorities with the means to protect their separate identities (such as schools in their native tongue, proportional share in cultural budgets, proportional access to any support the state may give to religious institutions, etc.).

This is more or less the approach Israel chose from its inception, long before the European Union existed. Israel’s 1948 Declaration of Independence, besides proclaiming equal individual rights for all citizens, Arab and Jewish alike, also asserts the legitimacy of collective minority rights by proclaiming the right to “religion, conscience, language, education and culture.” That Israel has not always fully lived up to this standard is lamentable, though not entirely surprising, given the bleeding national conflict with the very people to which much of Israel’s Arab minority purports to belong. Yet there are also ways in which Israel is more accommodating to its national minorities than most democracies are, and this too is not unconnected to the special circumstances of the conflict. Israel allows, for example, Arab parties which explicitly seek the destruction of the Jewish state to sit in its parliament, despite the fact that formally, the law in Israel, like that of other democracies, forbids running on such platforms.

The only way to make Israel renounce its Jewish national character is to overthrow its democracy. Since as long as there is universal suffrage and a large Jewish majority that cherishes its Jewish culture, then Shabbat will be Israel’s day of rest, Jewish holidays will structure its calendar, Hebrew will be its first official language, and its public symbols will draw predominantly on the Jewish tradition. This makes clear why the post-national globalist Jewish elite (in Israel and no less importantly outside it) must work to undermine democracy if it seeks to make Israel a non-Jewish state. Nowhere is the connection between the critique of nationalism and the assault on democracy—through the use of human rights—as clear and explicit.

And it is not only clear in theory, it is also manifested institutionally. Consider the rise of Israel’s Supreme Court to the status of an uber-government. It usurped power by means of reinterpreting two of Israel’s semiconstitutional Basic Laws, which sought to secure “human dignity and liberty” and “freedom of occupation.” These laws, the court argued—without any explicit authorization in the language of the law—granted it the power of judicial review. It has since used these laws mostly to overrule the executive and the legislative, but when it comes to the rights of individuals, the court is sensitive to the rights of suspects almost only when they belong to minorities and the issue has a political aspect (illegal immigrants, Arab citizens, terrorists native or foreign). In ordinary criminal cases, where citizens are most vulnerable to the abuse of power by the state, the court is almost entirely indifferent to their rights and mostly serves as a rubber stamp for the prosecution.

The usurpation of power took some decades to mature, but it has finally reached a state in which there is no formal limit to the court’s power, no area of politics over which it does not assert jurisdiction, and no checks or balances able to counter it. Of course, it also helps that the decidedly progressive court has veto power over the nomination of its own judges. It is thus able to impose a progressive agenda, subverting the democratic mechanism of decision-making.

Though the case of Israel is extreme, in this too it is not unique. Courts, as John Fonte noted, are the common portals through which the globalist agenda is imposed on democratic nation-states, often against the will of the majority of their citizens, via the endorsement of “international law” and international agreements. The original petition submitted by American human rights activists to the U.N.’s high commissioner for human rights with which Fonte opens his book, demanded that the U.S. “remove its restrictions” from full adoption of the “UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD).” Chief among these restrictions is the caveat that says the implementation of any international covenant is limited by the U.S. Constitution.

Yet increasingly, Fonte shows, U.S. courts have eroded this principle and begun considering cases in light of foreign norms. This has brought about a subtle but important shift in American jurisprudence, where the authority of human rights, formerly derived from their endorsement by the American people, now resides above the people, in “international norms” poised to subdue the will of the people in case of a conflict between them.

The effort to undermine the Jewish nation-state does not therefore need to camouflage itself. It can be explicit about both its aim and its means: the destruction of Israel in the name of human rights.

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December 7, 2023 | 4 Comments »

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4 Comments / 4 Comments

  1. Remember Eric Hoffer, the 1960’s Longshoreman philosopher?
    Here’s my favorite quote from him:
    “I have a premonition that will not leave me. As it goes with Israel, so it goes with all of us. Should Israel perish the Holocaust will be upon us.”
    He meant all of us – Christian and Jews – atheists, agnostics …..whatever
    That quote is something I say to myself every day in my prayer’s to our Lord, and I’m a Catholic.

  2. There are lots of points of dissent here but the most important issue is the supremacy of the supreme court. We have discussed this issue in the past on this site and I do not wish to restart that discussion during a time of war. However, I would like to point out a few things that should be considered food for thought:
    There seems to be no foreign opposition to the court as there is to every other institution in Israel. One could even expect petitions to the court to stop the war in Gaza right away without any sensible reason.
    Other countries enjoy posing Israel as a racist country. What would happen if Israel were to simply agree? What would that change? Could Israel be raked over the coals for being similar, if not identical in this respect, to its neighbors?
    As far as the war by academia against Israel based on anti-Semitism is concerned, please be aware that the payments by countries like UAE, Qatar, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and probably even Iran are important factors here. On top of that, there is a large number of Palestinian professors, who actually got their education in Israel, that are allowed without restriction to tell their lies to their students daily. If anyone resists, they will not get their degree.
    I look forward to your comments.