A Dilemma for the Right

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In recent weeks leftist colleagues have accused me of being a fast ally of Paul Wolfowitz, George Will, and Charles Krauthammer. I’ve also been told that "rightwingers like you" are trying to dump Secretary-of-State Colin Powell and to replace him with a Zionist hawk. (Someone who should know better, Robert Novak, attributed this position to the "Old Right" as well as to neocons in his syndicated column last week.) On November 25, a fellow-professor asked me whether I agreed with George Will’s latest screed on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which, like everything Will writes on this subject, is over the top. For the record, it seems to me that Israelis have a right by occupancy to the land they have held for several generations and that the Arab Jews who live there have suffered harassment and, in many cases, an expulsion no less unjust than that of the approximately 700,000 Palestinians the Israelis dislodged.

Nonetheless the situation shows rights and wrongs on both sides. I therefore wince with distaste when Will and his neocon pals refer to Palestinians as interlopers and "thugs." Will’s assertions in the aforementioned polemic that Israeli settlers occupy "only 1.5 percent of the West Bank" and that the "West Bank is an unallocated portion of the League of Nations 1922 Palestine Mandate… to be settled by negotiation" are entirely misleading. Jewish settlers on the West Bank, who are predominantly Orthodox Jewish nationalists, have been located near large concentrations of Palestinians, thereby creating an incendiary situation. The reference made by Will to the 1922 mandate is likewise disingenuous. Transjordan, which then included the West Bank, was placed under English control, pending a final settlement, and then marked out by the British for Arab habitation. The final resolution of this territorial problem between what had become Palestinian and Jewish settlements went over to a UN commission in 1947, which intended to assign to the Arabs 50% more of the mandated land than what they could take after launching a rash war against the newly declared Israeli state in May 1948. The Arabs behaved stupidly but had claims to Palestine at least as strong as those of Jews newly arrived from Europe.

It is equally dishonest to go on, like the neocon press, pretending that Israel perfectly exemplifies whatever form of "liberal democracy" the U.S. is then claiming to incarnate. Israel is not a multicultural or even pluralistic regime, except by pure accident. It was founded as an ethnic state based on a nationalist ideal and persists necessarily in treating non-Jewish groups as second or third class citizens. Gentiles hold no significant elective, judicial, or military positions, and the political place accorded to the established Orthodox Jewish state church serves to limit social contacts, and certainly marital possibilities, between Jews and non-Jews. Israel is certainly not an oppressive state, unless one happens to be a Palestinian living on the West Bank, but the democracy it practices is more like that of interwar Poland, before it sank into dictatorship, than like the (perhaps even more bizarre form of) democracy now practiced in Western countries. The two types of democracy are not the same, and only a partisan zealot would pretend they are.

American conservatives who hold moderate positions on the Middle East, although they may form the majority of those associated with the Right, count for zilch on today’s media-packaged Right. That kind of conservatism, which happens to be the only one encountered in the national press, Fox News, and the Beltway "policy community," is savagely Zionist, committed to expanding presidential power to export its vision of global democracy, and slanderously opposed to immigration reform. As far as I can see, our side, which is everyone to the right of what used to be called Cold War liberals, no longer belongs to the "conservative movement." At least for the time being, we have become more or less invisible men, identified, as far as the general public is concerned, with whatever positions neoconservatives or neoliberals care to take. A few years ago I was shocked to learn that as a "conservative" I should be defending the dropping of atomic bombs on what were a battered Japanese people in August 1945 and even the incarceration of American citizens of Japanese descent in 1942. Neither was in fact a conservative position during World War Two; and both had their primary support among liberals and leftists. (The Communist-dominated ACLU and Governor Earle Warren were early backers of the forced resettlement of Japanese Americans and the commandeering of their property during the War. Most of our military leaders, including MacArthur, had expressed reservations about the bombing, as did even more vehemently conservative foreign policy hands like Joseph Grew.)

Why in God’s name should conservatism now be identified with the archaic anti-Axis hysteria that neocons, like liberals, are whipping up in the late nineties? The answer is obvious: such people have media control and are using it to exclude more authentic conservative voices. And how does one distinguish conservative thought in New York City from the sludgy editorials that keep coming out in the New York Post, a paper that combines the cults of FDR and Martin Luther King with pro-Likud propaganda? All of this applies equally well to the Wall Street Journal, albeit with some qualification, given the Journal’s usual avoidance of outright slander against its conservative critics.

Although the real Right, and on this I am sure, will survive its present diminishment, the question is qu’y faire maintenant. Without large media outlets and generous benefactors, we’ll have to face continuing problems in getting alternative views before the public. Up until recently our neocon opponents did us the favor of making war on us. Although not well intentioned, such a tactic called attention to our existence and the presence of more than one set of opinions on the right. What has now begun to happen may be more ominous. No opinions, except for those of the center-left in the second half of the twentieth century, are given media attention as "conservative" views. Consequently all "conservatives" have been redefined as Humphrey liberals, global democrats, and Israeli hawks.

For "conservative" reading and viewing junkies, as illustrated by a close friend at Elizabethtown College, it is hard to resist contamination from the Left. My friend is always telling me about what he learns from or finds confirmed by his preferred sources of information, National Review, Fox News, and Rush Limbaugh. Such outlets unfortunately form a seamless web of neocon and centrist Republican opinions and rarely differ in what they report and advocate. Although my colleague is not a hopeless naïf (and has spent years writing scholarly studies of postwar conservative thinkers), he is exposed to neoconservative partylines, whenever he opens a conservative publication reaching more than 8,000 readers or turns on the "Republican channel." This is a problem that we non-leftists have to address as soon as circumstances permit.

Paul Gottfried [send him mail] is professor of history at Elizabethtown College and author, most recently, of the highly recommended After Liberalism.

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