Michael Walzer Responds

Click here to read James B. Rule’s reply to Michael Walzer (and here for Rule’s initial essay, “Israel: The Great Disconnect.”)

Jim Rule has provided us with a useful example of a critique of Israel that is fairly common in some leftist circles—and that it is important to understand and reject. The common critique begins with the claim that all ethnic nationalisms and all nation-states are at least potentially unjust and oppressive, but Israel is an actual and particularly horrendous example. Well, there are, in fact, as Rule says, worse examples (he lists a few), but Israel’s injustice is also ours, because of the financial aid and diplomatic support that the United States provides. And in any case, Israel is especially liable to criticism because it is a latecomer to the world of nation-states. “It arrived too late,” as Tony Judt once wrote—that is, after the idea that nations need states of their own had lost its appeal to intellectuals like Judt. Today, all nation-states are anachronisms, but Israel is one nation-state too many.

The claim to universalism is crucial to the argument, and so Rule refers to many other countries that he is prepared to criticize. But the truth is that this kind of criticism is radically particularist. Israel is its only target; everything else is camouflage. We can all imagine a sustained and consistently universalist critique of the nation-state, but that’s not what is going on here. I will defend this claim with reference to Rule’s work, but my argument is meant to be impersonal; it’s not an internal Dissent squabble; Rule is a representative man.

Consider his sentence about Egypt’s Copts—more gentle than anything he says about Israel, but nonetheless meant to prove his impartiality: “Egypt’s populist agitation has triggered violence against that country’s Christians—some 10 percent of the population, long treated as second-class citizens.” Long treated, indeed. In the 1980s, the Copts made up 16 percent of Egypt’s population. They are probably now below 10 percent, in part because of lower birth-rates than Egypt’s Muslims but also because of a long-term exodus produced by intermittent violence and constant harassment and discrimination. Egypt is officially an Arab and Muslim state; the Copts are “the wrong kind of people.” But this has never before been a pressing issue for Jim Rule. In some thirty years of arguing about politics, he never wrote an article protesting the massive American aid (not so much less than what we give Israel) to ethno-national and ethno-religious Egypt. By contrast, he has written about Israel again and again.

Or consider his brief passage about Kosovo. On the one hand, he appears to have supported the creation of the new state “to forestall immediate dangers of mayhem against the ethnic Kosovars.” On the other hand, he worries that in an ethno-national Kosovo, the minority...

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