Text size

Dr. Yoram Hazony, provost of the Shalem Center, posted a thoughtful essay on his Jerusalem Letters blog last month that has since enjoyed wide circulation on the Web. He pessimistically concludes that Israel's negative image in Western Europe and "progressive" circles worldwide - irrespective of hasbara efforts or even policy changes - cannot be remedied, because Europe's dominant paradigm is post-nationalist, while Israel enshrines the retrograde nation-state. Israel will continue to be reviled until the post-nationalist paradigm has run its course, something that could take time, perhaps even many generations. While others have made the same point, few have done it as elegantly as Hazony.

It is hard to deny the current validity of the Hazony thesis. Support for Israel is weakest among those whom U.S. Republican presidential aspirant Mike Huckabee calls the globalists, and strongest among those who, like Huckabee himself, believe in some form of American exceptionalism. Last week, for example, America's most respected conservative columnist, George F. Will, dispatched a series of pro-Israel articles couched in greater conviction and clarity than one usually encounters from Israeli elites. These were eagerly lapped up on the Real Clear Politics website, which republishes a variety of opinions but is more popular with conservatives. In Britain, Israel gets a far better shake from the more nationalist newspapers The Times and the Telegraph than it gets from the Europhile Guardian, The Independent or the FT.

This is hardly new and is far from a paradox. It goes back to the "soul" of Italian nationalism, Giuseppe Mazzini, who preached the natural solidarity between liberal nationalists the world over, and practiced what he preached. Mazzini believed that each nation had something unique to offer humanity, and that humanity lost out when these contributions were submerged in empires that suppressed national self-determination. This is no less the case today, when national identities are homogenized by multiculturalism that makes every song in the Eurovision Song Contest sound pretty much the same. Even the multicultural mosaic appears mass-produced and uniform. It is therefore inexplicable that environmental champions of biodiversity, who justifiably lament the extinction of a bird or flower, can view the extinction of national identities with equanimity and sometimes benevolence.

Obviously, there is a downside to Israel becoming a rallying cry for conservatives and a bogeyman for liberals. A situation such as that in Northern Ireland, where the unionists wave Israeli flags and the Republicans brandish PLO flags, is unwelcome and only increases the importance of an Alan Dershowitz or British journalist Nick Cohen, both of whom can make the case for Israel among the liberal left - and such a case can be made. The problem is that both Dershowitz and Cohen appear to be increasingly fighting a rearguard battle.

Where I take issue with Hazony is his pessimism. The post-nationalism paradigm has always been stronger in elite than in mass opinion. The upcoming midterm elections in the United States will supply a corrective to the expectation that Obama's victory marked the successful transplantation of post-nationalism from Europe to the United States. In Asia, with its growing importance, nationalism is on the rise, fueled partially by fears of a renascent Chinese empire.

Even in Europe, supposedly proof positive of post-nationalism's triumph, the record is actually spotty. The presumed post-nationalism has spawned even more exclusive micro-nationalisms - Scottish, Catalonian, northern Italian - as well as further balkanizing the Balkans. Some countries, such as France, used the European Union for instrumental purposes to punch above their weight in foreign policy and subsidize their farmers. As other countries increasing reject these French presumptions, French enthusiasm for the EU has waned. Germany used the European Economic Community and then the EU for historic rehabilitation and reunification. Once these goals were achieved, Germany became more assertive. The New Europe of Eastern Europe cherishes national sovereignty, after four and a half decades of post-Yalta subjugation. But Old Europe is stirring as well. The stinging rejection of the "European constitution" in France and the Netherlands required the Lisbon Treaty to be instituted via stealth tactics.

Europe purchased political tranquility via increasing dollops of welfare benefits. The economic and demographic decline means that this policy is no longer tenable. As Europe experiences the cold turkey of economic austerity, and British pensioners will face heating cuts this winter - for whom will citizens be called upon to sacrifice? For Brussels? For EU Commission president Jose Manuel Baroso? For European Council president Herman Van Rompuy? They will be called upon to sacrifice for the nation-state. Even Joseph Stalin had to temporarily jettison world socialism and exhort the Russians to fight for Rodina Mat, the motherland. And this patriotism even extended to the Russian Orthodox Church.

The reliance on national solidarity will further accelerate a rethink of the cavalier and irresponsible attitude toward absorbing Third World immigration. It has begun with the superficial bans on minarets and burkas, but it will lead to a more systemic policy that insists on respect for both the immigration laws and the mores of the absorbing country. Against the Islamintern and those who seek to impose a world caliphate, Europe will be forced to hark back to the nationalism that defeated former would-be hegemons from Napoleon onward.

The paradigm pendulum is shifting backward more rapidly than Hazony and others expected, and this bodes well for Israel.

 

Political scientist Dr. Amiel Ungar writes regularly for Haaretz English Edition.