Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Who's meaner, France or Israel?

Ilya Somin at the Volokh Conspiracy asks, "Why does Israel get so much more left-wing criticism than France?" He makes some interesting points, showing how, from treatment of Muslim minorities to occupation of foreign lands, contemporary France has Israel beat on many counts. The question usually asked is why Israel gets so much left-wing criticism from France, which leaves out the question of what's going on in France itself and keeps the focus on Israel to the exclusion of all else. Somin answers his own question as follows:

Is anti-Semitism the only cause of the disproportion between left-wing criticism of Israel and those of France? Almost certainly not. Perhaps it is not even the most important cause. But the other likely causes - bias against a nation perceived as more of a US ally than France, sympathy for France's (pre-Sarkozy) anti-American rhetorical stance, an implicit belief that Jews should be held to "higher standards," etc. - are only marginally more defensible.

That seems fair, but both Somin and the Volokh commenters have missed a big reason why Israel gets picked on so much more than France. Israel is new, and France is old. France today (or as Somin discusses, France of the last 40 years) is more or less guilty of everything Somin claims, but France yesterday was unquestionably guilty of so much more. From the Terror to slavery in the colonies to collaboration with the Holocaust to torture in Algeria, there's a lot that's indefensible from France's past, so that the present ends up looking like evidence of progress. Israel today cannot possibly be better than Israel in the 19th century for the obvious reason. And if you compare Israel today with "the Jews" of the entire modern era, it becomes an unfair comparison between that which is a nation-state (with the accompanying dilemmas and military) and that which was not. Then there's the obvious fact that, for many people alive today, a world without Israel is conceivable because this was the world into which they were born. A world without France is harder to picture. To many arguing about Israel, deciding it was a mistake is an option, whereas we're pretty much stuck with France.

And finally, there's culture. French culture, which is rightly appreciated worldwide by those across the political spectrum, blinds the rest of the world to the economic and political aspects of that country. Francophilia has practically nothing to do with a love of French policy. Whereas Israel, to both its supporters and its opponents, is a political entity and not a cultural one. Something Zionistic types might want to change.

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