"The Friends of Israel Initiative." It sounds innocent enough. Hey, I'm a friend of Israel too. But with "Friends" like these - an international network of hard-core neoconservatives - Israel doesn't need enemies. Though they claim to be apolitical and take no positions on the specifics of the Israel-Palestine conflict, these neocon Friends are clearly out to bolster Israel's right-wing policies, which would condemn Israelis as well as Palestinians to an endless round of conflict, insecurity and suffering.
The Friends first organized themselves in Europe. Their chief spokesman (or is it front man?) is former Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar. Their supporters include the one-time progressive hero of Czech freedom, Vaclaw Havel, as well as Northern Ireland's Nobel Peace Prize winner David Trimble and Alejandro Toledo, who was a self-proclaimed liberal as president of Peru. Old neocons don't die, it seems. They go global.
Their latest and most importance appearance was in Washington, where Aznar was very busy addressing the Council on Foreign Relations, hosting a dinner for the neocon elite, giving copious interviews and talking with friendly members of the House and Senate. Opening doors for Aznar was the most prominent American supporter of the Friends, John Bolton, who once carried the neocon flag proudly as G. W. Bush's ambassador to the UN.
But Bolton apparently forgot to tell Aznar the first rule of America's neocons: never reveal your true agenda in public. Everywhere Aznar went, he blurted out the whole ideology - racist, xenophobic, paranoid warts and all - the same dangerous witch's brew of neocon ideology that we thought was just a dead relic of failed Bushite foreign policy. Here's the gist of Aznar's message. (If you can't quite believe it, you can read full texts of his presentations here, here, here, here and here.)
It begins with a simplistic version of Samuel Huntington's "clash of civilizations" fantasy: "We believe in the West, in the values we all share," Aznar proclaimed. Now "it is necessary to enforce" Western values, because "the threat to our way of life from radical Islamists is real.... There are those who would like to destroy our system to impose their vision, like the revolutionary ayatollahs in Iran, or the jihadists led or inspired by Al Qaeda."
Reflecting the racism of the neocon worldview, Aznar scorned Osama bin Laden for "reveal[ing] the Arab mind" when bin Laden said, "if someone has to choose between a strong horse and a weak horse, he will invariably choose the strong one."
Yet, Aznar immediately revealed the neocon mind's own obsession with strength and its fear of weakness. "For decades if not centuries," he said, "the strong horse has been the West.... The threat is the weakness of the European system, the Western system of values.... Our weakness, perceived or real, is the strength of our enemies."
However (and this is a point the neocons' critics often miss), the war they want to wage is not primarily the old-fashioned kind, fought with guns and bombs to gain territory or resources: "If we want to prevail over our adversaries we must start reinforcing ourselves, starting with the ideological front and the war of ideas.... We can counter-attack, defend ourselves and strengthen our values.... It is indispensable to defend our moral values."
The overriding issue for neocons is what Aznar called "moral clarity.... There is still right and wrong in this complicated world." Their greatest fear is not Iran or al-Qaeda, but what they see as the blurring of moral absolutes, the moral chaos, in the West: "If we allow those fundamentals to be blurred and eroded and confused, we will all be dangerously adrift."
So, what does this all have to do with Israel? Everything, Aznar insisted - and if you have trouble following his breathtaking leaps in logic, I sympathize. But here goes:
The argument begins by affirming precisely the fact that drove so many Arabs to resist Zionism from the beginning: "We consider Israel not as a Middle Eastern country, but a Western country in the Middle East. We share the same traditions, roots, values.... Israel is a corner stone of our Western civilization," because "Judeo-Christian values form the roots of our civilization.... Therefore, the interests of Israel are our interests."
And Israel, it seems, is now the place where Judeo-Christian values are most under attack, making it the front line in the global battle of values: "Israel is the first line of defense against global jihadism.... Defending Israel is ultimately defending the western roots, the western values that many in Europe and some in America, seem to have forgotten. They are not obsolete. And the best proof is precisely Israel and its people."
Why is Israel the best proof? I'll skip over Aznar's fulsome praise of Israel's Western-style democracy, not only because that democracy is so flawed (even in Israel itself and much more so in the occupied territories), but because neocons have never seriously cared very much about democracy anyway. Their main concern has always been preserving the traditional values that (they imagine) are the only thing standing between us and total anarchy - especially the value of self-restraint, as shown in strong (masculine) will power and a readiness for self-sacrifice. Israel is so valuable in the neocon's eyes because, Aznar claimed, "it is one of the few nations willing to pay a price for your survival, a nation that will do whatever it takes to defend itself."
In this weird tangle of twisted thinking, one contradiction is especially glaring. Aznar said over and over that Israel must be treated as a legitimate, normal country, just like any other. Yet, over and over, he treated Israel as a unique country that carries a distinctive and heavy weight of symbolic meaning unlike any other. It's precisely because Israel and its right-wing supporters constantly insist on the unique symbolic value of the "Jewish state," and claim unique privileges for their state, that they've run into the problem that they call delegitimization in the first place. Most of Israel's critics would back off if Israel presented itself and behaved like an ordinary normal nation.
Aznar went deeper into illogic by offering a new version of the old domino theory: "Israel is under a new kind of attack - an attack on Israel's legitimacy, on her right to exist.... Delegitimizing Israel undermines our identity, warps our values and put at risk what we are and who we are.... if Israel at one moment disappeared or was attacked as a consequence of threats, the next territory to be confronted directly would be Europe.... Letting Israel be demonized will lead to the deligitimation of our own cherished values. If Israel were to disappear by the force of its enemies, I sincerely doubt the West could remain as we know it.... If Israel goes down, we all go down ... the West as we know it would cease to exist."