Cosmopolitanism: Good for Israel? or Bad for Israel?
Many supporters of Israel exclaim that the world increasingly questions Israel’s legitimacy, treats Israel as a pariah state, and exhibits little sympathy when the country and its citizens are attacked. Assuming their observations are founded, the question is: why? There is a range of candidate explanations. Israel has failed to do what it can and must do to make peace with the Palestinians. It is a by-product of Israel’s impossible situation-it has no one with whom to make a real peace, and so is forced to play occupier in an age where occupiers are reviled and the occupied are automatically granted underdog status. The world has forgotten the Holocaust and is increasingly anti-Semitic. Western states are following their domestic and strategic interests-away from Israel. European states contain a growing vocal and radicalized Muslim minority that makes noise in the streets and at the polls. And Israel no longer serves Western strategic interests the way it once did during the Cold War. It has always been tough being Israel, but now more so than ever. This essay explores another possibility: the character of contemporary cos-
mopolitanism coupledwith an Israel that increasingly sees itself (and is seen) as a “people apart.” This argument has four corners. The ﬁrst is cosmopolitanism. The world has become increasingly cosmopolitan. Certainly not to the point that nationalism and national identities are archaic expressions of a pre-globalized era, but certainly to the point that citizens of one country worry about the fates and circumstances of the citizens of other countries. Cosmopolitanism is not new and it comes in many diﬀerent forms. After the Second World War, though, a cosmopolitanism of suﬀering became the deﬁning expression of our identiﬁcation with distant others. This cosmopolitanism of suﬀering is most evident in duties to aid, responsibilities to protect, and a right to be protected from unnecessary harm. Although a cosmopolitanism of suﬀering is organized around the principle of humanity, as a cosmopolitanism dedicated to the alleviation of unnecessary suﬀering, it is also organized around the “victim.” And in a global age where everyone is potentially a victim, it becomes even more critical to distinguish deserving from undeserving victims. The second cornerstone concerns the relationship between cosmopolitanism
and the Jews. Jews have often been seen by others as the quintessential cosmopolitans. Whether this was to their beneﬁt or detriment, though, has depended
onwhether the broader community sees cosmopolitanism as friend or foe. Political projects that favor exclusion over inclusion-especially evident during the age of nationalism in the nineteenth century-have treated the Jews as “rootless cosmopolitans,” who have dual loyalties and are a threat to the nation. Political projects that favor inclusion over exclusion-especially evident during the age of liberal nationalism and after the Second World War when internationalism meant an international community based on humanity-have welcomed Jews as equal citizens and recognized them as having equal moral worth. Yet whether cosmopolitanism is good for the Jews or bad for the Jews depends on the form of really, existing cosmopolitanism. I will argue that, while a cosmopolitanism of suﬀering initially favored the Jews and Israel, it no longer does. But the story does not end there. Equally important is how Jewish communities answer the “Jewish Question”: whether, how, and should Jews maintain their identity in the world? Jews have asked this question over the millennium, and their responses have depended on time, place, and political culture. Sometimes Jews have seen themselves as part of this world, at other times as a people apart. The third corner examines how Israel has produced diﬀerent blends of
particularism and universalism, thus answering the Jewish Question not in reference to itself (after all, it is a state dedicated to Jewish existence) but rather in relationship to the broader (non-Jewish) world. There is a general consensus of opinion that Israel’s political culture relies less on forms of universalism and more on forms of particularism, sometimes nationalist and sometimes religious. This growing sense of being a “people apart,” though, has been accompanied by a growing assertion that Israel is a victim, particularly evident in the public use of and reference to the Holocaust. These three corners lead to the fourth: the same world that expresses a cosmopolitanism of suffering also has more diﬃculty accepting that Israel is a victim, for some quite obvious and some less obvious reasons. There is a growing gap between a cosmopolitanism of suﬀering, on the one hand, and an Israel that increasingly presents itself as being a “people apart.” We live in a world not only of victims but also of victimhood, where the
victims’ identity is deﬁned by their suﬀering. Israel is often accused of being pathologically attached to the identity of victim. In the conclusion, I want to consider howmy argument regarding the relationship between a cosmopolitanism of suﬀering and Israel’s standing as a victim address this controversial, polemical, and ultimately irresolvable debate. Although one person’s pathological attachment to a victim identity can be another person’s sober recognition, and historical experience, that the world is sometimes out to get you, I want to suggest that Israel’s sense of being a “people apart” might be both a cause and eﬀect of its sense of victimization.