The Israel Test
by George Gilder
Richard Vigilante Books, 2009. 296 pp. $27.95
Reviewed by Jonathan Schanzer
December 27, 2009
The Business of Zionism
The modern State of Israel has been many things to many people over the years. A century ago, it was merely a Zionist dream. In 1948, it became the homeland for Jewish people and an inspiration for Jews around the world. Concurrently, however, Israel also became the object of hatred for much of the Arab world. Since then, over the past 61 years, it has reluctantly represented a fault line among various global forces: the Soviets and the US, the non-aligned movements and democracies and, more recently, Islamists and the West.
George Gilder, a venture capitalist and author of 14 books about business and social issues, now argues that Israel is the ultimate fault line. Indeed, he argues in The Israel Test that it presents a moral and ethical challenge to all of us. Boldly, he states that we can either choose to support Israel or choose to reject justice, democracy, free-market economics and excellence.
In essence, Gilder claims that support for Israel is a question of right vs wrong. But if he can't convince you of that, he convincingly argues that it is also a question of capitalism vs communism.
"Israel's critics see the world as a finite sum of resources," he notes. Critics of the Jewish state "advocate programs of international retribution and redistribution." Specifically, they advocate for the redistribution of land, wealth and other resources.
Indeed, in the name of "social justice," Israel's enemies continue to call for the tiny state to shed territory and to make concessions that would ultimately weaken its strategic position.
To this end, Gilder exposes the enemies of Israel for what they are. He argues that, "anti-capitalists, like anti-Semites throughout history, have always been obsessed with the gaps everywhere... gaps of income, power achievement and status." His assertions go a long way to explaining the Left's obsession with Israel, and its love affair with both the Palestinians and the Islamist movement.
Interestingly, Gilder's argument is not anti-Palestinian. Indeed, he reasons that if the Palestinians would simply give up their fantasy of destroying Israel, they could join Israel in its quest for excellence. A true capitalist, he believes there is enough wealth to go around - even among the Israelis and Palestinians.
He argues that if the Palestinians decide to make the best of their situation, work together with Israel and build their economy, they can become "once again the most successful of all Arabs, as they were between 1967 and 1987" when the West Bank and Gaza Strip were officially part of the Israeli economy.
Gilder lays out his compelling argument in 255 succinct pages. Throughout, he also provides the highlights of Israel's escape from socialism, leading to its brief yet successful history of entrepreneurship. To this end, he lauds Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who "promoted a supply-side program of tax-rate reductions, exemptions from double taxation for foreign investors, trade liberalization and venture-capital programs" and sees Israel as becoming the "Hong Kong of the desert."
While Gilder knows business best, he has an exceptionally strong grasp of the flawed politics of peacemaking in the Middle East. He attacks the land-for-peace paradigm, calling it "peace now and then war" citing the sad yet familiar history of Arab rejection of Israel. He takes particular issue with the criticism of "disproportionality" when Israel responds to terrorist attacks with force.
One can only imagine what Gilder might have written in response to the Goldstone report. The report's primary author, South African jurist Richard Goldstone, undoubtedly fails the author's Israel test. He audaciously accused Israel of war crimes during its incursion into Gaza to stem the threat of Palestinian rocket fire in December 2008 and January 2009.
For that matter, US President Barack Obama might fail Gilder's test, too. As former US ambassador to the UN John Bolton wrote earlier this year, "The Obama administration believes that Israel is as much or more of a problem as it is an ally." Gilder's moral clarity is refreshing, and his writing is quite often electrifying. However, it comes with a price. The strident tone of this book will undoubtedly reinforce the strong pro-Israel views often held by those on the Right, but will just as easily repel readers from the Left. This risks alienating an important audience that desperately needs to hear Gilder's message.
It is also important to note Gilder often conflates Jews with Israelis. While the majority of Israelis are Jews, less than half of all Jews are Israelis. At times, Gilder appears to forget this - particularly when discussing the unparalleled Jewish achievements in modern history.
Still, The Israel Test is a critically important read. The test, itself, should serve as an important guide to understanding the ideology and guiding philosophies of leaders on the world stage.
Related Topics: Israel | Jonathan Schanzer
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