Comments written to be delivered at “For the Truth, for Israel”, Temple of Hadrian, Rome, 7 October 2010
We live in a civilization that is built on two great pillars. One is the world of ancient Greece and Rome, whose memory is preserved all around us in this magnificent city. The other is the world of the ancient Hebrew people whose memory is preserved in the nation founded in their ancestral land after centuries of persecution and, finally, genocide.
It is therefore thoroughly appropriate that we are gathering in this place, of all places, to talk together about the importance of Israel. For the West is of Israel and Israel is of the West. If Western civilization descends in one line from the Rome of Julius Caesar and of Hadrian, it descends in another from the Israel of David and Solomon.
In recent times, hostility to Israel in the West has expanded into a veritable psychopathology. One reason, surely, is that the centuries-old European anti-Semitism that led to the Holocaust never really died – it merely retreated into the shadows for decades before daring to step out again into the light.
Another major reason why there is such widespread hostility to Israel in the West today is that there is widespread hostility to the West in the West today. And if you really hate the West, the place you simply have to hate the most is Israel, because what we’re seeing today in the Holy Land is a compact, dramatically heightened image of the worldwide conflict between the West and its enemies.
Criticizing the West is, of course, thoroughly justified. The West’s history is far from unblemished, a fact of which the Holocaust itself is the ultimate illustration. But what distinguishes the West from other civilizations is not its history of barbarity, for barbarity is a property of all human civilizations, but its unique heritage of freedom and Enlightenment values, and, flowing from that heritage, its distinctive willingness to engage in constructive self-criticism. This heritage of constructive self-criticism is as alive in Israel today as it is wanting in Israel’s neighbors.
But what is also alive in the West, including Israel, is a menacing and distinctively Western phenomenon that is in fact a perversion of the noble impulse toward self-criticism. I am speaking of that mentality which goes by the benign-sounding name of multiculturalism. I call it a perversion because it is indifferent to the fact that the West has given the world a heritage of values that are of incomparable importance and universal application. It is a perversion because it does not condemn tyranny wherever it exists but rather, in the name of cross-cultural respect, embraces non-Western tyrants while condemning their Western victims and denying the very reality of Western freedom. It is this perverse multicultural impulse that explains, in large part, why many in the West are so quick to rebuke and even reject a small, free country that is fighting for its existence even as they offer their sympathies to the belligerent autocracies that surround that country and threaten it.
A third reason why many people in the West are so quick to denounce Israel is fear, sheer fear. They’re scared of Israel’s enemies and have bought into the foolish and dangerous delusion that offering Israel up as a sacrifice will bring peace and harmony. Yet Israel’s enemies are the enemies of peace and of freedom. If they despise Israel, it is because Israel is a beacon of Enlightenment values in a sea of archaic oppression, an oasis of liberty in a desert of rank subjugation. Most of us in the rest of the West may have difficulty grasping the precariousness of Israel’s situation. But we must realize this: if we do not stand by Israel now, we will experience soon enough what Israel is experiencing. And we will realize then that in betraying Israel, we have betrayed ourselves and our posterity. And by then it will be too late for all of us.