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

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. 

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