The Magazine

Turning Against Israel

The downward trajectory of global prestige

Sep 8, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 48 • By RONALD RADOSH
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Among the most important sections of this book are those that offer critiques of intellectual and political celebrities who have given legitimacy to the Arab cause and whose posturing has become an effective tool for the growing chorus against Israel. The most important one discussed here is the late Edward Said, a member of the Palestinian National Council of the PLO and whose Orientalism (1978) gave intellectual credibility to this new portrayal of Israel. Muravchik’s discussion of Said is a tour de force: He meticulously analyzes the errors, weaknesses, and obfuscations of Said’s celebrated work and reveals how, to the leftist academy, he succeeded in his task of moving the left away from a class-struggle analysis to a portrayal of Arabs and Palestinians as the truly oppressed group, while their opponent, Israel, represented the imperialist and racist West.

Muravchik’s chapter on how the Western left, in particular, moved against Israel concentrates on the key role of the late Austrian chancellor, the Social Democrat Bruno Kreisky (1911-1990). A vice president of the Socialist International (of which the Israeli Labor party was a member in good standing), Kreisky worked to move the SI against Israel. He invited Arafat to address the group, and he brought in anti-Israeli movements, such as Nicaragua’s Sandinistas. Working closely with West German chancellor Willy Brandt, he not only managed to turn Europe against Israel, but, as Muravchik writes, he used his own Jewish lineage “as a shield allowing him to take on the Jewish world with a fierce pleasure that would have been impossible for a gentile politician.” 

Muravchik also argues that the election of Menachem Begin as prime minister in 1977 worked to alienate many former supporters of Israel. Under Begin, “the image of Israel .  .  . was shorn of features that had made the country appealing to many outsiders,” and the 1982 Lebanon war caused a further decline in Israel’s prestige. (Muravchik’s critical appraisal of Begin’s policies, by the way, shows that he is not an indiscriminate apologist for Israel.) Within Israel, the emergence of a leftist academy from which the anti-Israel “new historians” emerged in the 1980s revealed that, as in the United States, a leftist group of historians could provide a pro-Palestinian narrative in support of the theory that Israel and Zionism were born in sin. Their books and studies became an arsenal used by the Western left to show that Israel was no progressive force in the world, and in the United States, the remnants of the New Left worked to support the Palestinian narrative and helped turn many mainline Protestant denominations against Israel. 

Now, Muravchik concludes, it is Israel that is in the dock, and this important book is the best source available to show readers how and why Israel is seen as a victimizer and oppressor, not as a David facing a vast array of Arab reactionaries. 

Ronald Radosh is the coauthor, with Allis Radosh, of A Safe Haven: Harry S. Truman and the Founding of Israel