Analysis from Israel

Israel quite properly moved quickly to quash reports that in response to worsening ties with Turkey, it planned to start helping the PKK.  Jerusalem has tried for years to persuade the world there’s no such thing as a “good” terrorist  organization, and adopting a pet terrorist group of its own would completely destroy this argument. Moreover, Turkey would justifiably consider it an act of war, just as Israel does when other countries arm Hamas or Hezbollah, and the last thing Israel needs is for its cold war with Turkey to degenerate into a hot war.

But there’s no reason whatsoever for Israel not to launch a diplomatic campaign on behalf of the Kurds, focusing on both their justified demand for independence and Ankara’s gross human rights violations against Kurds in both Turkey and Iraq (where Turkey frequently bombs Kurdish areas). It should also start lobbying for international recognition of the Armenian genocide, and urge American Jewish organizations to do so as well.

For years, the alliance with Turkey confronted Israel with an uncomfortable choice between morality and realpolitik. It was always problematic for a country founded by survivors of history’s worst genocide to tacitly acquiesce in denying another people’s genocide, especially since the world’s indifference to the Armenian genocide is thought to have encouraged Hitler’s (correct) belief that he could massacre Jews with impunity. It was also problematic for a country founded on a stateless, persecuted people’s yearning for a home of their own to tacitly acquiesce in the suppression of another stateless, persecuted people’s identical yearning -especially after Israel began supporting the Palestinians’ demand for statehood, which is incomparably less justified than that of the Kurds. (Unlike Kurds, Palestinians are ethnically and linguistically indistinguishable from their Arab neighbors, and have suffered far less: For instance, they were never barred from using their own language, as Turkey’s Kurds were, and many fewer have been killed). One can question whether Jerusalem was right to have made these compromises, but successive governments all concluded that given Israel’s nasty neighborhood, the benefits of the Turkish alliance were too great to forgo.

Now, however, this alliance is dead, and it is unlikely ever to revive: Ankara’s state-sponsored anti-Semitism (see here, here, or here, for instance) is indoctrinating young Turks to loathe Israel,  while the Turkish opposition’s main gripe against the government’s Israel policy seems to be that it isn’t anti-Israel enough. After a UN inquiry largely exculpated Israel’s raid on last year’s flotilla to Gaza, for instance, the opposition lambasted the government for enabling such a “pro-Israeli” report and for not suspending all trade with Israel.

So, for the first time in decades, morality and realpolitik align rather than conflict: By doing what is right on the Kurdish and Armenian issues, not only would Israel not lose anything, but it would bolster its own deterrence by showing Turkey cannot wage diplomatic warfare against it with impunity. In short, it’s a win-win situation. All that’s needed is for Israel’s government to finally face the fact the Turkish alliance is history.

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John Locke, the Bible and Western political tradition

Israel is currently preoccupied with its election campaign and America with its newly divided government, leaving both countries little attention to spare for issues beyond day-to-day politics. But moments of change are excellent times to pause and consider the fundamentals of the Western political tradition. And as a recent contribution to the growing scholarly genre of political Hebraism reminds us, one of those fundamentals is the surprisingly large role the Hebrew Bible has played in Western political thought.

In John Locke’s Political Philosophy and the Hebrew Bible, Yechiel Leiter (full disclosure: a friend and neighbor) convincingly argues that the Bible heavily influenced Locke’s thought. Since Locke’s work, especially his Second Treatise on Government, is widely considered to have significantly influenced America’s founding fathers, this is further evidence that when people talk about America’s “Judeo-Christian” roots, the “Judeo” half is no mere courtesy. Judaism in fact contributed significantly to America’s political traditions.

Nevertheless, this raises an obvious question. Locke and his fellow 17th-century political Hebraists (including John Selden, Hugo Grotius and Thomas Hobbes) were Christians, not Jews. So why, in developing their political thought, did they rely far more on the Hebrew Bible than the Christian New Testament?

In Locke’s First Treatise on Government, for instance, he “quotes the Hebrew Bible more than 80 times,” yet there’s a “near total absence of quotes from the New Testament,” Leiter writes. And even in the Second Treatise, which has fewer biblical quotes, “nothing is quoted with any comparable frequency as the Hebrew Bible.”

Nor are these biblical references mere padding, Leiter argues. Locke uses them to develop several key concepts.

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