Israel: A Second Look

Some weeks ago, I stumbled upon a recent edition of the magazine Claremont Independent. Perhaps the large elephant on the cover should have tipped me off, but I eagerly picked it up because I was looking forward to reading a truly, well, independent publication.

I was soon disappointed to discover, however, that the magazine was not at all the source of libertarian or even classically conservative journalism that it claimed to be. Rather, it was just another digest of popular Republican Party talking points. But the real incredulity began when I flipped to an article by Colin Spence CM '15, who had decided to critique my column about the 5C response to the Academic Studies Association’s (ASA) boycott of Israeli universities, published in the Feb. 7 issue of TSL.

I was incredulous because I saw that Spence was attacking me not from the right, as the magazine's name would suggest, but from the left. Worse, he seemed to have no understanding that he was doing so. Spence had somehow come away from my TSL article with the impression that my ideas on the Israel issue came from “left-liberal orthodoxy."

This is a basic, but common, misunderstanding of modern politics, and it’s worrying because Spence is not the only one confused. Many writers for the Independent are, and they do a severe disservice to the real principles of conservatism and libertarianism when they champion the intellectually unpalatable Republican platform.

No wonder everyone at the 5Cs is so liberal—most people have only ever been exposed to this narrow brand of Republicanism, one that was born out of an unlikely alliance between traditional conservatism and militarism. This is a relatively recent phenomenon: Recall that World War I, World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War were all started during Democratic presidencies. Yet for some reason the GOP as of late has taken on the banner of international interventionism. What happened?

The answer, perhaps surprisingly, is Ronald Reagan. It is beyond me why intellectuals who bill themselves as conservative continue to find solace in nostalgia of the Reagan presidency. Reagan was a president who nearly tripled the federal deficit and whose foreign policy included secret dealings with Iran and funding of the Taliban. George W. Bush later continued that trend of big government for ostensibly conservative ends, expanding Medicare, installing No Child Left Behind, and starting two new wars in the Middle East.

That’s the state of the GOP today. Unfortunately, it is exactly this culture of conservatism—not true conservatism, but post-Reagan conservatism, or neoconservatism—that dominates the pages of the Independent. The magazine provides its readers with everything from bizarre anecdotes by Peggy Noonan—a Reagan apologist if there ever were one—to bold predictions of a GOP sweep of the midterm elections eight months from now, complete with a hope for a “quasi-Reagan revolution” in 2016. Heaven forbid.

But unlike the Independent, I adopted a spirit of real conservatism when I approached my analysis of the ASA boycott back in February, and I believe that it is an argument many at the 5Cs would find quite approachable. To reaffirm my position: Institutions like Pomona College and the rest of the Claremont Colleges should embrace the ASA boycott because in doing so, they will be contributing to the preservation of what the liberal arts are truly about: liberty.

Israel does not have a particularly good track record when it comes to civil liberties. And civil liberties are inextricably tied to academic liberties—even if people like Spence won’t admit to it. I pointed out in my earlier article that Israel has one of “the most illiberal systems of education” in the world, and I stand by my statement. In noting that nearby countries like Iran, Syria, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia also have less-than-ideal political systems, Spence misses the point.

There are two key differences between those states and Israel. None of those states attempt to call themselves liberal democracies. Israel does. And none of those states are receiving more than $3 billion annually in United States foreign aid. Israel is. These states provide no reason to excuse Israel from a boycott; they are the reason we need to start with Israel first.

When the Israeli Supreme Court ruled in late 2013 that residents in Israel, whether Jewish or not, could not identify themselves simply as Israeli, it upheld Israel as the only state in the world that refuses to recognize its own secular nationality. This refusal forces a bifurcation of the citizenry into those who are Jews and those who are not, and creates an implicit inequality that begets a system of apartheid.

Spence doesn’t admit to this systematic inequality. He claims that the "only conceivable similarity" between the situation in Israel and the South African apartheid is that Jews and Palestinians in Israel live in physically separate areas. This is a defense that only a parochial Republican could be possible of, and one largely incompatible with the beliefs of any true conservative—beliefs of private property rights and freedom from state interference.

If Pomona and the United States are truly interested in protecting those liberties, the path forward is clear: Stop tacitly supporting Israel. 5C students, I urge you to reevaluate your position on this boycott, and the ideology that led you to your opinion. Conservatism is not Republicanism, whatever the Independent may lead you to believe.

Matt Dahl PO '17 hails from Newton, Mass., and is a committed member of Pomona College Mock Trial.