The UN vs. Israel

By Jonah Goldberg

National Review

December 31, 2016

 

There isn’t much new to say about Barack Obama’s United Nations fiasco. I just reread my post from last Friday, right after the news broke and I haven’t heard anything that changes my initial take.

But as Bill Clinton said about his marriage vows, I won’t let that stop me.

Because I have the most Jewy name this side of Shlomo Abromowitz, lots of people think I know a lot about Israel. Sometimes it’s funny. I’ve even had people refer to me as an “expert” on Israel. (It’s devilishly fun to ask them, “Why do you think that?”)

I’m not an expert on Israel. I’ve been to Israel exactly once. I’ve been to France a half dozen times, and even wrote and produced a documentary on Notre Dame Cathedral. Still, I’m not an expert on France either. Yet, almost every day some troll on Twitter or in an e-mail (or snail mail) insinuates that I am, or accuses me of being, obsessed by, or in the employ of, Israel. I write about the place maybe once or twice a year in the normal run of things. My rule of thumb is that if you think I’m obsessed with Israel, it’s because you’re obsessed with Israel and/or The Joooooooz.

But what’s amusing to me is the way some people assume my Goldbergness is what drives me to support Israel. It’s really not the case. I’m with Israel because Israel is in the right and it’s our ally. By no means do I think that Israel is a flawless country. I’m no fan of the politics of the ultra-orthodox crowd in Israel, I find a lot of Israelis rude (at least the ones in New York), and I think the Knesset makes the Galactic Senate of the Republic in Star Wars seem efficient and functional. There are things I like, even love, about it, too. The shawarma is amazing. The women are both tough and beautiful. And, most of all, Israelis persevere.

Still, I find arguments about Israel incredibly tedious. What I mean is my position on Israel is pretty close to my position on, say, Great Britain, Japan, or Australia. It’s a democratic country. It respects the rule of law. It’s a strategic ally. And, that’s sort of about it. It’s not complicated. Yes, yes, Israel’s historic and religious status as the only Jewish homeland and all that has emotional power for me — and a lot of other people.

Also, because I find so many anti-Israeli arguments and politics so fundamentally dishonest, flawed, and — quite often — repugnant, it’s easy to get really worked up on the topic.

But in a very straightforward way, that’s all a distraction. If Britain were somehow surrounded and besieged by existential enemies my position — and I hope America’s position — would be: “We’re with the Brits.” That doesn’t mean we’d automatically send troops or start a war and all that. Those are prudential, tactical, questions to be worked out with our allies, etc. But the principle couldn’t be simpler.

Now, unlike my position, the situation surely is complicated. Israel is surrounded by enemies and a few paper “allies.” I love how Israel’s critics make such a fuss about Israel’s military superiority as if it has nothing to worry about. If you’re walking into a saloon where everybody wants to kill you, you might walk in better armed than everybody else. If Israel loses a single war, it loses everything. America hasn’t been in a war like that since the Revolution. Even if we “lost” WWII, the idea that the Germans or Japanese would or could conquer North America is highly debatable. I would like to think that our culture could stay as free and democratic as Israel’s if we were under constant threat of military annihilation.

Whenever Israel is attacked, her critics bemoan the heavy-handedness of its military responses. Even in the bad cases, I tend to marvel at Israel’s restraint. Israel is a perfect example of how lefties shout “Violence never solves anything!” only when the good guys use violence.

It may seem a trite debating point given how often it’s made, but if Mexicans or Canadians (stop laughing) were launching rockets into our cities for years, while insisting that the U.S. has no right to exist whatsoever, I very much doubt Americans would tolerate anything like the military and political shackles Israel puts on itself. Nor am I sure that it would be a good thing if we did.

THE U.N. VS. ISRAEL

One last point regarding the Security Council vote. It needs to be remembered that the U.N. hates Israel because it is in the political interests of member states, particularly Arab states, which use Palestinians as a distraction from their own despotisms, to hate Israel. Think of all the horrors and crimes committed by evil governments around the world. Now think about the fact that from 2006 to 2015 alone the U.N. has condemned Israel 62 times. All of the other nations combined have received 55 condemnations. Iran? Five. The genocidal Sudanese? Zero. Anarchic Somalia? Zero. Saudi Arabia? Zero. Pakistan? Zero. China? Zero. Russia? Zero.

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The U.N., more than any other player save the Palestinian leadership itself, is responsible for the horrible plight of the Palestinians because it is in its institutional interest to keep the issue alive. After World War II, there were untold millions of refugees all around the world; they all found homes and settled down — except for the Palestinians.

THE GLOBAL GOD STATE

So I’m working on this book. More on that later. But yesterday I was writing about an argument Steve Hayward shared with me. In the 18th century, liberals — Locke, the Founders, etc. — finally overthrew the Divine Right of Kings. Then in the 19th century, the progressives — borrowing from Hegel — established the Divine Right of the State to replace the Divine Right of Kings. (Hegel, recall, argued that “the State is the Divine idea as it exists on earth”). As I’ve written many, many times, psychologically for many progressives the State plays the role they think God would play if God existed.

Anyway, we can return to all that another time.

But the reason I bring this up is that I think, for a lot of people, the U.N. occupies a similar place in their brains. Some people just love the idea of the U.N. so much they are blind to the reality of it. For reasons that have always baffled me, the promise of a “Parliament of Man” — an explicitly utopian concept — is just incredibly seductive for some people. So they invest in the U.N. magical properties that are utterly absent from Turtle Bay.

Yes, the U.N. does some good things. But the assumption that, if the United Nations didn’t exist, those good things wouldn’t get done is ridiculous. It’s like saying that if government didn’t pick up your garbage, garbage would never get collected. Meanwhile, the U.N. does all manner of terrible things, that wouldn’t be done if it didn’t exist.

Given how much I roll my eyes after someone tells me that the U.N. voted on this or that, I sometimes worry that I’ll have to blindly crawl around the floor looking for my eyeballs because they’ll roll right out of my head. The only criteria for membership in the U.N. is existence. This is literally the lowest standard possible. More to the point, a great many of the countries that vote in both the General Assembly and the Security Council are what social scientists call “crappy dictatorships.” So when, say, North Korea casts its vote, it has all the moral force of a wet fart as far as I’m concerned. Here’s how I put it 14 years ago in a G-File:

I can’t tell you how many people I’ve met who’ve tried to use the fact that the U.N. voted on something as proof that the U.N. is right. College kids will shriek the word as if it drips with self-evident authority: “It voted against the United States!” “Don’t you understand? It voted!”

Well, voting, in and of itself, has as much to do with democracy as disrobing has to do with sex. Both are often necessary, neither are ever sufficient.

I always think of “the Commission” when I want to illustrate this point. That’s what the Mafia called its confabs of the major mob families. Think of that scene in The Godfather where Don Corleone arranges for the return of Michael from Sicily (and subsequently realizes that all along it was Barzini, not that pimp Barzini, who outfoxed Santino). The Commission was democratic. It took votes on where and when to install drug dealers, bribe judges, and exterminate cops. Now, just because it took a vote, does that make its decisions any more noble or just? Well, the U.N. is a forum for tyrants and dictators who check the returns on their Swiss bank accounts — and not the needs or voices of their own people — for guidance on how to vote. The fact that Robert Mugabe, Bashar Assad, Kim Jong-Il, Hassan al-Bashir, Fidel Castro, et al., condemn the United States from time to time is a badge of honor. And the fact that we, and other decent peoples, feel the need to curry their favor and approval is a badge of shame.

It’s kind of funny. We’ve spent the last six weeks hearing how eeeeeeevill the Electoral College is because it represents the votes of states — American states — rather than the popular vote. “White supremacy! Eeek!” and all that nonsense. But a great many of the same people have no problem with a U.N. Security Council vote that currently includes the governments of China, Russia, Egypt, and Senegal. I’ll confess to not knowing too much about Senegal’s commitment to democracy (I know, you’re shocked. If only I had a Senegalese name . . . ), so let’s put them aside. But please don’t expect me to keep a straight face when you try to tell me that the Electoral College is undemocratic but the votes of Vladimir Putin, Xi Jinping, Abdel al-Sisi, and Nicolás Maduro are authentic representations of the people.

Indeed, the very structure of the U.N. Security Council with the Great Powers getting permanent seats and veto power is nothing more than the institutionalization of the concept that might makes right. I’m open to the argument that, as a matter of realpolitik, this arrangement is necessary. But by definition realpolitik is statecraft minus morality or idealism.