This profile of Churchill’s legacy by Adam Gopnik raises some great arguments. As always, it’s best to read the whole thing, but here are the parts I particularly liked.
Of course, Churchill and Hitler were, in the most vital respects, opposites. Churchill was, as Lukacs insists, a patriot, imbued with a love of place and people, while Hitler was a nationalist, infuriated by a hatred of aliens and imaginary enemies. But Churchill knew where Hitler was insecure and where he was strong, and knew how to goad him, too…
There was a fine difference between Stalin and Satan, and Churchill grasped it. In Antony Beevor’s history of the Battle of Stalingrad, the brutality and waste of the Stalinist regime—prisoners left to die in the snow, political commissars ordering the execution of innocents, the dead of the great purges haunting the whole—is sickening. But the murderousness of the Nazi invaders—children killed en masse and buried in common graves—is satanic. It is the tragedy of modern existence that we have to make such distinctions. Yet that does not mean that such distinctions cannot be made, or that Churchill did not make them. His moral instincts were uncanny. In 1944, after the deportation of the Jews from Hungary, when the specifics of the extermination camps were still largely unknown, he wrote that the Nazis’ war on the Jews would turn out to be “probably the greatest and most horrible crime ever committed in the whole history of the world.”
I really like the distinction here between patriotism and fascism (I don’t agree with using the word “Nationalist” for Hitler there). Patriotism is a positive ideology – love of your country and culture – where fascism is negative – hatred of “aliens”, as Gopnik puts it.
The second paragraph there is very important, because it isn’t uncommon for people to try to equate things to the Holocaust that really were not on the same level, but it’s hard to criticise them because the things they describe were terrible. So remember, there is a difference between Stalin and Satan.
More importantly, I read Liam Getreu on a new Israeli academic boycott of Ariel University just after reading the following on Churchill:
“The word ‘appeasement’ is not popular, but appeasement has its place in all policy,” he said in 1950. “Make sure you put it in the right place. Appease the weak, defy the strong.” He argued that “appeasement from strength is magnanimous and noble and might be the surest and perhaps the only path to world peace.” And he remarked on the painful irony: “When nations or individuals get strong they are often truculent and bullying, but when they are weak they become better-mannered. But this is the reverse of what is healthy and wise.”
This explains my problem with the Israeli initiative pretty well. Israelis are allowed to have a political problem with Ariel University, whether you agree with them or not. I’m not convinced at all that it was established solely to prevent Palestinians from ever controlling the West Bank, but its presence definitely has an impact on the whole settlement issue and if they don’t want to work with it on that basis, fair enough.
The problem is the lack of perspective on the wider issue of the BDS movement. The Israeli academics are making a noble gesture, but they aren’t understanding their opponents. The BDS movement’s goal is not to counteract the settlement intelligentsia and make a two-state-solution more viable, it is a one-state-solution movement. They want to make it less realistic to reach a peace deal between Israel and Palestine and rather focus on making it more and more difficult for Israel to exist as a state, with the goal of eventually overthrowing Israel and creating a Palestinian-majority state, with some kind of naive view that it would end-up like South Africa (which, by the way, is getting worse and worse as time goes on) and not like Lebanon, Yugoslavia, Afghanistan etc.
That’s why the Churchill quote applies. The Israeli academics are appeasing a movement that is gaining strength and acting “truculent and bullying”. The movement is not one that is happy to negotiate and find halfway ground – its rhetoric is all-or-nothing. When Israelis partially support anything in the BDS ideology, the BDS leaders tend to use it to justify themselves by saying “I’m agreeing with this Israeli, only extending it a little further” rather than moderating their views. However well-intentioned that Ariel U movement was, it was a bad move in my opinion.