Ending Western Prejudice Against Israel, Once and for All
The West's approach to non-Western regions, politics, and societies is endangering some of its greatest allies, like Israel, which ultimately imperils the West.
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Several years ago, at a meeting in Spain between Israeli and Palestinian delegates, organized by Western diplomates, pork was served for lunch.
You know, the very food that is forbidden to both observant Jews and Muslims. And even among technically non-observant Jews and Muslims, many do not eat pork out of respect for their traditions, especially in official settings.
The food of choice on that day showed the West’s lack of attention to detail, at best, and complete incompetence, at worst, in dealing with non-Western cultures like those in the Middle East.
Thus, this story is a microcosm of a larger, more precarious and potentially perilous issue with regard to how many Western leaders and decision-makers perceive and engage with the non-Western world — and how it endangers even their greatest allies, like Israel.
Israel is more Western than non-Western, but it is not fully Western. If you had to put a percentage on it, I would say it is 50-to-60 percent Western. After all, Israel is a product of its environment: the Middle East and North Africa, regions that are intrigued by the West but remain deeply traditional, tribal, prideful, and especially violent when faced with shame.
Whereas people in the West encourage each other to “swallow your pride,” in Muslim and Arab cultures the principle of pride — and, by extension, shame — is paramount.
This is one of the many aspects of the Middle East that the West hasn’t totally comprehended, if not in theory then in action. And it compounds its lack of comprehension by not treating non-Western allies like Israel, with its strategic geopolitical vantage point and profound understanding of the region, as an equal peer. It never has.
Instead, the West continues to make mistake after mistake after mistake in judging and engaging (or disengaging) with the Middle East and North Africa, as well as immigration policies that make absorption of Muslim and Arab newcomers a sociopolitical disaster.
“If I end up leaving the UK, it won’t be because of Islamists,” said investigative journalist David Collier. “It will be because too many Brits have lost their way.”1
Luai Ahmed, a popular social media figure who was born in Yemen, immigrated to Sweden, and is highly critical of the Arab and Muslim worlds, recently told a story about a credible Swedish journalist who sent him a message saying that he should be careful because he is becoming a “target for some of the West’s most dangerous Islamists.”
“But the West’s most dangerous Islamists,” said Ahmed, “are the clueless academics and journalists who sit comfortably in their ivory towers and force mass Islamic migration on gullible Westerners.”2
One American academic, Alan Richards, even went as far as to suggest that the West is “singularly ill-equipped to understand something as complicated, as paradoxical, and as deeply historically rooted as Middle Eastern violence. As the heirs of the Puritans, we tend to be self-righteous in our certainty that we have the truth. Further, we believe that the truth is singular, and we are confident that vengeful violence in defending that truth is divinely sanctioned.”3
Richards added that the West is largely comprised of “Puritan Engineers” who believe all problems have solutions, the past (and history) don’t matter, and “our new technology, and our organizational prowess, will always find a solution.”
Take, for example, military technology. In return for accepting U.S. President Barack Obama’s aid package in 2016, Israel has now become overwhelmingly reliant on American military technology. The result of this required dependency, according to retired Israeli Major General Gershon Hacohen, is handicapping the IDF.
“Israel is so addicted to advanced U.S. platforms, and the U.S. weaponry they deliver, that we’ve stopped thinking creatively in terms of operational concepts,” said Hacohen in 2016, two years before the new U.S. aid package went into effect.4
This is rather risky because, having undercut Israeli competition and dumped tens of billions of dollars worth of equipment into Ukraine, the U.S. is increasingly having trouble arming itself — let alone anyone else. A recent report from the Government Accountability Office found systemic problems in the U.S. procurement system, leading to widespread delays. And what does get produced often isn’t up to par.
As part of its “special arrangement,” for instance, Israel gets preferential access to the F-35 combat aircraft, but is committed to a fleet of aircraft both riddled with technical problems and a poor fit for Israel’s strategic air priorities.
The consequences for Israel’s economy and to the country’s security positions will get more acute in coming years. According to a U.S. congressional report, the phasing out of Off-Shore Procurement — which allows Israel to spend around some of the aid it receives on domestic products — is decreasing slowly until 2024, and then phasing out more seriously over the package’s last five years, ending entirely in 2028. As such, some Israeli defense contractors are merging with U.S. companies or opening U.S. subsidiaries — in other words, transferring their personnel and capacities from Israel to the U.S.
“So, in return for a so-called ‘aid package’ that actually costs Israel a fortune,” according to an exposé about said aid package, “the Jewish state is now tethered to its benefactor’s Iran-centric foreign policy and prohibited from capitalizing on its own considerable capabilities, while granting the U.S. access to its best military and scientific minds at a heavily reduced rate of pennies on the dollar.”5
But Western arrogance toward the non-Western world goes far beyond military technology and foreign aid arrangements. Western arrogance is rooted in the Western mentality, in the idea notion that the West is always decent, moral, and virtuous. That Western-led coalitions are invariably “the good guys” always doing the dirty work of exterminating evil.
“If only it were so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being,” wrote the prominent Soviet dissident Alexander Solzhenitsyn.
This is an exceptionally dangerous delusion. No person, no group, no nation has a monopoly on virtue, and none are immune from greed, hatred, and illusion. The foolishness of trying to exterminate evil is exactly that: foolish.
“Such thinking pervades our culture, from Hollywood to the Oval Office. From ‘Star Wars’ to ‘The Lord of the Rings’ to ‘Lethal Weapon,’ unvarnished good conquers unalloyed evil,” wrote Alan Richards. “Ronald Reagan proclaimed the Soviet Union to be the Evil Empire, and three days after 9/11 George W. Bush declared that ‘our responsibility to history is already clear: to answer these attacks and to rid the world of evil.’ He even described the so-called ‘War on Terror’ as a ‘Crusade’ — a cosmic struggle of good against evil.”
A particular theology has now engulfed the West, one in which evil emanating out of non-Western regions is simply spontaneous. Modern social science knows this is nonsense. Failing to understand the causes and origins of non-Western “evil” (e.g. religious terrorism) will not lessen it or the anguish it creates. And pretending that the West does not commit its fair share of “evil” deeds only makes non-Western societies want to impose more of their “evil” against us.
Understanding causes requires studying and knowing history. Far too often, however, many people in the West “don’t do history.” We have an obsession with “living in the moment” and “not talking about politics” (a cousin of history). If we paid more attention to history, the West could avoid many colossal blunders and recurrent mistakes, while paving a better future for the West and its allies.
Consider what some call the “roots of Muslim rage” towards the West. In the West, there are two diametrically opposing camps for this issue. On one end, you have more right-leaning folks who think something “went wrong” in the Muslim world, that somehow, developments there have been fundamentally different from what happened in, say, Europe or the Far East. Such a view, of course, strokes the Western ego because it makes us seem that our forefathers took a more superior path at the proverbial fork in the road.
On the other end, you have more left-leaning folks who preach “shared humanity” and make all kinds of excuses for why so many Muslims despise the West, often laying the blame on White men for this and other societal ills. These folks assure us that if we would just accept everyone as our fellow human beings, the world would be one big happy family. Such a view, while in theory emotionally soothing, grossly ignores that Islam is both a religion and a political system — one that in many ways immensely contradicts Western political thought and practice.
The other thing we must realize is that the Middle East and North Africa are enmeshed in a modernization process that much of the West went through decades ago. Modernization is a massive, incredibly complicated transformation from a society where most people are illiterate and work “in the field” while ruled by a small elite of tribal warriors and clerics, into a society where most people are educated, live in cities, and make their living via manufacturing, service industries, and modern technology.
Such a change has always been traumatic and violent, regardless of the region and its history, religious inclinations, and geopolitic makeup. The transformation poses enormous economic, political, social, demographic, and cultural challenges. Some people do very well, others not so much, and nearly everyone is tremendously disoriented, which leads to conflict and violence.
Think about the two parts of the world where this transformation has been most successful: Europe and its North American version, and the Far East. Their histories often read like a series of horror movies: the extermination of native peoples, slavery, the American Civil War, two world wars, Stalin’s Gulag, Hitler’s Nazism, Japanese fascism, the Chinese revolution, the Great Leap Forward and its companion famine, the Cultural Revolution, and we can throw in Israel’s 1948 War of Independence for good measure.
Should we expect the Arabs and Muslims to do better than Europeans, Americans, Japanese, or Chinese?” Maybe, but whatever our expectations are, they won’t change whatever reality will bring. We should, regardless, be vigilant and unapologetic in dealing with fanatics who are seduced into manipulating crises that originate from economic, political, social, and cultural tectonic shifts.
Today’s Middle East faces precisely this crisis. Utopian fanaticism of radical Islamists is nourished by the deep despair of huge numbers of young Middle Easterners, two-thirds of whom are below the age of 30, half of whom are younger than 20, and 40 percent of whom have yet to reach their fifteenth birthday. “Middle Eastern” increasingly means “young people.”
For the first time in history, many of these youths have received some education, although its quality is up for debate. They are no longer satisfied with the old, difficult, dirty jobs, but too often they lack the skills needed to perform successfully in the modern hyper-competitive global economy. The combination of their rapidly growing numbers, the quality of their education, government economic mismanagement, and the global economy’s idiosyncrasies have generated whopping unemployments.
In many poorer neighborhoods, only the mosque provides some refuge from the heat, filth, and chaos of city life. Crises of public finance have forced governments across the region to retreat from providing many public services, abandoning these areas to private, often Islamist schools, clinics, hospitals, and welfare agencies.
Young men look around them and see not only economic failure, but also corruption and tyranny. Unsurprisingly, they often despise their governments, their representatives, and their foreign supporters — including governments in the West. For all of these reasons, the utopian schemes of religious fire-brands are often quite appealing, and very little competes with such ideologies.
Nationalism has not disappeared; it has been assimilated into Islamic discourse. And, as George Orwell once said, “the nationalism of defeated peoples is necessarily revengeful and short-sighted.”
Virtually all Arabs and many Muslims laugh at the (mainly U.S.-led) West today and dismiss us hypocrites and liars — sometimes for good reason. Throughout the Cold War, we supported dictators and fanatics solely on the basis of opposing the Soviets and communism.
We overthrew a democratic government in Iran in the early 1950s and installed a tyrant. We armed and supported Saddam Hussein in Iraq in the 1980s, before hunting him down after 9/11. We initially supported Mubarak in Egypt, Gaddafi in Libya, and then abandoned them both.
We are vehemently against so many countries engaging in nuclear proliferation, but practically handed the Iranians — the world’s largest state sponsor of terrorism — weapons of mass destruction in the 2015 nuclear deal spearheaded by Obama’s administration.
If the West has understood anything at all about tribal cultures and customs, we would have known that for every enemy you kill, you make 50 new ones. Above all, we would have understood that our support for Islamists during the Cold War, and all of our other myopic policies, including our energy policies, would have consequences some day. Actions have consequences, violence has causes, and some of these causes are manufactured by the West.
And then, to compound the issues we create, the West doubles down with the mentality that they have history’s greatest problem-solvers. It’s sort of the “American Dream” framework: If you are smart enough and work hard enough, you can solve any problem — including centuries worth of the world’s most puzzling ones.
But what if there are problems — such as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict — to which practical, implementable solutions just do not exist? What if there are only responses and policies (e.g. deterrence, defunding) which seem slightly more, or slightly less, likely to reduce suffering and keep our real enemies at a safe distance? What if Alexander Solzhenitsyn was right, that the line between good and evil runs through each of our hearts?
Many Israelis realized that there are no real solutions to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict long ago, but much of the West keeps harping about a two-state solution, most recently after Hamas’ October 7th terror attacks, as if giving the Palestinians a state is some “reward” for the barbarism and pure evil that Palestinian terrorists inflicted in Israel that day.
Instead of listening to others and being open-minded about different perspectives and attitudes, the West is always in “Mr. Fix It” mode. Many Western institutions, policies, and practices are indeed the most beneficial for the most amount of people on Earth, but where the West falters is when it doesn’t truly listen to its partners across the world, some more and some less Western — with an intent to learn and reflect, not just to fix.
You can see this attitude on the interpersonal level as well. When Westerners move to Israel, they are often critical of various facets of Israeli society and try to impose Western-based customs and norms. But as I always remind them: Israel, despite its flaws and transgressions, has done just fine for itself since its founding in 1948. Leave her the way she is and embrace her!
In any event, the West engages in self-sabotage, on a scale of counterproductive to downright harmful, when it is less humble about what it does and doesn’t know, and when it presumes it has little to learn from other non-Western countries and peoples who have distinct vantage points and competencies, like Israel and the Jews.
Since the ancient Greeks, external violence, hostility, and animosity have been, sometimes fortunately and many times unfortunately, at the heart of the Jewish story. Yet we Jews are still here, having somehow survived the previous 3,000 years, while reviving both our indigenous homeland and Hebrew, our previously dormant language.
Perhaps it’s time for the West to show some humility by acknowledging and appreciating non-Western allies like Israel as equals that don’t need to be micromanaged and, more importantly, that can help keep the West from arrogantly imploding.
David Collier on X
Luai Ahmed on X
“American Thinking About Violence in the Middle East.” UC Santa Cruz: Center for Global, International and Regional Studies.
“End U.S. Aid to Israel.” Tablet.
“End U.S. Aid to Israel.” Tablet.