Wednesday, October 19, 2022

By Daled Amos

This month, New York Times columnist David Brooks wrote about The Triumph of the Ukrainian Idea, by which he means the often disparaged idea of nationalism. According to Brooks, nationalism is actually a good idea after all. After all, Ukrainian leader Volodymyr Zelensky is a nationalist, and that means

He is fighting not just for democracy but also for Ukraine — Ukrainian culture, Ukrainian land, the Ukrainian people and tongue. The symbol of this war is the Ukrainian flag, a nationalist symbol...Countries are held together by shared loves for a particular way of life, a particular culture, a particular land. These loves have to be stirred in the heart before they can be analyzed by the brain.

Nationalism provides people with a sense of meaning.

When he equates Ukrainian nationalism with the Ukrainian culture, land, people and language, Brooks could just as easily have been describing Zionism, Jewish nationalism, as an example. 

After all, Zionism is what led to the re-establishment of the state of Israel. Zionism brought the Hebrew language back to life as a contemporary language that expresses the feelings and literature of the Jewish people. Zionism made Jewish history and culture alive once again, giving new vitality to the Jewish people. 

But Brooks makes no reference to Jews, Israel or Zionism in this column on the positive value of nationalism.


Instead, Brooks makes a distinction between what he sees as 2 different kinds of nationalism, the bad kind and the good kind. The bad kind of nationalism is the one that is "backward-looking, xenophobic and authoritarian." That is the "illiberal" kind of nationalism, the nationalism of Vladimir Putin -- and Donald Trump.

But the other kind, the good kind, of nationalism is the one that is "forward-looking, inclusive and builds a society around the rule of law, not the personal power of the maximum leader." This is the "liberal" nationalism that Brooks says is epitomized by Volodymyr Zelensky.

What Brooks does tell us is that for a liberal democracy to survive today, it will need that extra component of good nationalism

Ukraine’s tenacity shows how powerful liberal nationalism can be in the face of an authoritarian threat. It shows how liberal nationalism can mobilize a society and inspire it to fantastic achievements. It shows what a renewed American liberal nationalism could do, if only the center and left could get over their squeamishness about patriotic ardor and would embrace and reinvent our national tradition.

But what he writes falls short of where the US seems to actually stand right now.

Instead, of a threat from outside, the view of liberals today is that we are facing a threat from within
What the left feels about patriotism and nationalism isn't "squeamishness" -- it's hatred.
And "reinventing our national tradition" actually is exactly what they are already trying to do -- via Critical Race Theory.

And CRT is not conducive to the "shared loves for a particular way of life, a particular culture, a particular land" that Brooks extols in nationalism.

The closest he comes to dealing with the threat of divisiveness is when he refers to the political scientist Yascha Mounk, who

celebrates the growing diversity enjoyed by many Western nations. But he argues they also need the centripetal force of “cultural patriotism,” to balance the centrifugal forces that this diversity ignites.

That is an idea that parallels one by Chloe Valdary in a 2018 article which -- in contrast to Brooks -- unabashedly holds Zionism as a nationalism worthy of emulation.

In Why Zionism Is Not Like Pan-Africanism and White Nationalism, Valdary also distinguishes between "good" and "bad" nationalism, contrasting

the difference between a nationalism based upon concepts that transcend race and a nationalism rooted in it. The former is far more flexible in being able to envision a society in which universalist aspirations of minority civil rights are honored even within a particularist framework. Indeed, one could argue that that particularist framework is what gives rise to the universalist aspiration in the first place. As Rav Soloveitchik once stated, “out of the particular lies the universal.”

Instead of a balance, there is more of a creative tension between these 2 forces of minorities vs nationalism.

Valdary is discussing the issues arising out of the Israeli Nation-State Law, which the Knesset passed at the time, defining Israel as “the nation-state of the Jewish people.”

First of all, she notes that Zionism transcends race:

Zionism aimed to liberate all Jews and Jews come in all colors. Thus the nation-state bill which the author derides as ethnocentric proclaims the country of Israel to be Jewish—and this includes white Jews, brown Jews, black Jews, Jews from Yemen, from Poland, from Russia, from Ethiopia and from all over the world. What binds the community transcends skin color.

That does not address the civil rights of the Arab minority.
But, as Valdary points out, this does:

Thus, in the same year Israel declared itself to be Jewish, it also unveiled a plan to pump billions into neglected Arab areas of East Jerusalem. Called the Leading Change program, its purpose is to “reduce the huge social gaps between the Palestinian neighborhoods and the overwhelmingly Jewish west part of the city.” An estimated NIS 2 billion is slated to be invested in “education, infrastructure and helping Palestinian women enter the workforce.”

The same government of Israel that declared that the state was Jewish passed Resolution 922 in 2015, a groundbreaking plan to earmark “20 percent of each ministry’s budget” for the Arab, Druze, and Circassian communities “with the express purpose of maximizing the economic potential of these populations.” It’s worth quoting a summary of this program in full so that readers understand its full impact:

In all, 2.4 billion shekels ($680 million) were allocated to the Arab population in this way in 2016, including increased funding for the 10 Arab business advancement centers, including Fadi Swidan’s in Nazareth, among many others known by the Hebrew acronym Maof, which also means ‘takeoff.’ Among 922’s incentives is a government pledge to fund thirty months of salaries for new Arab employees if the company hires five or more workers from this population. Over five years, there will be new direct government investment of an estimated 90 million shekels (about $25.6 million) in small and medium-sized Arab businesses.

And there have been positive results, both in terms of the bill and a discernible trend over time. In 2019, an article in Haaretz noted improvements over the previous years:
o  According to the Central Bureau of Statistics, over the past 7 years, the number of Arab students enrolled in universities and colleges in Israel has risen by 80%.
Over 5 years, the number of Arabs studying computer sciences, and the number pursuing master’s degrees (in all fields) have both jumped 50%
Over that same period, the number of Arab students studying for a Ph.D. has soared 60%.
During the last decade, the number of Arabs working in high-tech has increased 18-fold -- and 25% of them are women.
By 2020, it is estimated that Arabs will make up 10 percent of the country’s high-tech work force
The proportion of Arab doctors in Israel has climbed from 10% in 2008 to 15% in 2018
21% of all male doctors are Arab, according to the Health Ministry. 

All of this leaves a long way to go, especially in light of the outbreaks of Arab violence that have broken out.

Yet Brooks wants to showcase Ukrainian nationalism, with its long history of antisemitism -- an issue that he completely ignores. There have been events in Ukrainian history

from the violence directed at Jews during Ukrainian uprisings against Polish rule in the 17th and 18th centuries, to the pogroms of the 1800s and 1900s in cities such as Odessa, Kirovograd, and Kiev. More recently, during the Nazi occupation of Ukraine during World War II, the dreaded Ukrainian Auxiliary Police — trained by the Nazis at the SS camp of Trawniki — played an active role in the extermination of 900,000 Ukrainian Jews.
While today the president of Ukraine is Jewish, it is early yet to see how Jews really fit in when all Ukrainians are under attack from Russia.

Besides, when Brooks writes that nationalism (combined with liberalism) is

an idea that inspires people across the West to stand behind Ukraine and back it to the hilt

-- this may have nothing to do with the idea of nationalism at all. It may be nothing more than the general impulse to back the underdog, an impulse that tends to last only so long as the underdog remains under attack by a superior force. 

Once it does gain the ability and power to defend itself, and is no longer under attack, the underdog tends not to be quite so popular.

Just ask any Israeli. 

Buy the EoZ book, PROTOCOLS: Exposing Modern Antisemitism  today at Amazon!

Or order from your favorite bookseller, using ISBN 9798985708424. 

Read all about it here!



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