Israel’s ‘You Built It’ Culture
When Mitt Romney arrived in Jerusalem and suggested that Israel’s success contrasted with its Muslim neighbors was due to a culture of success, he was waving a red flag in front of a red bull. Romney’s comments were as provocative to the left as Obama’s “You didn’t build that” remark was to us.
To the left, success has become the Mark of Cain. Where success once used to be proof of good character, the balance has shifted and it is now proof of bad character. The left blames all disparities on injustice. If A has less than B, then B has somehow discriminated against A. All that’s left is for the sociologists and critical race theorists to plug in the variables, write their papers and explain the mechanism for the injustice and how it can be remedied through centralized redistribution.
This is the era of “You didn’t build that” where achievement is inherently unfair and an object of guilt. To succeed is to steal. Anyone who has achieved more than those around him has unfairly taken from them. And the more he succeeds, the more he has to feel guilty about and the more he must atone through social justice.
Mitt Romney didn’t build companies; he unfairly redistributed what should have been equal resources in an unequal way to create that success. America also didn’t build anything; it just looted the resources and markets that should have been divided equally among the nations of the world. And the same goes for Jews and the Jewish State. Individual success is not exceptionalism; it’s stealing from the collective.
The left already knows why Israel is more successful. Because it’s a greedy country whose success has come at the expense of its poorer neighbors. The left finds the idea of explaining success in terms of character, either individual or national, to be offensive. To suggest that success is due to personal virtue is to also imply that failure is due to a lack of virtue. The left is not interested in exploring what’s wrong with nations or groups that fail, only in explaining how their failure is no fault of their own.
The left was only interested in Jews as an oppressed minority and in Israel as a small doomed country. Once Jews became successful and Israel emerged victorious, the left turned on them and on Israel.
Israel’s success is one of the greatest weapons that the left uses against it. If Israelis were still living in tents and trying to get the power to stay on for more than a few hours a day, the Jewish State wouldn’t make nearly as tempting a target. Israel’s transformation from a bunch of refugees and farmers armed with third-rate weapons to a prosperous nation of flowering orchards, booming tech companies and new towns rising out of the earth, is proof of its immorality. If the Jewish State were truly moral, it would have stayed poor.
Most offensively Israel’s economic success has kept pace with its transition from socialist collectives to free enterprise, going from a “You didn’t build that” culture to a “You built it” culture. While the Palestinian Authority and most of Israel’s Muslim neighbors still operate under government monopolies, Israel’s tech industry revolution has boosted its international trade while making it possible for a few army or air force veterans to cobble together a company that brings a revolutionary new product to market.
USB flash drives and instant messaging software came out of that “You built it” culture. On the other side of the border malaise and misery, bombs and fanatics, have come out of the economic monopolies wielded by military rulers, tribal leaders and religious despots.
Like the left, the Muslim world believes that Israel’s success and its failure is proof of guilt. But even out of the Muslim world come glimpses of the basic truth.
Khalaf Al-Harbi, a Saudi columnist, wrote, “The secret to Israel’s survival, despite all the great challenges it has faced, lies in democracy and respect for the worth of the [Israeli] individual… The secret to the collapse of the Arab countries, one after another, lies in dictatorship and in the oppression of the individual… [Israel] drew its power from the honor it granted to its citizens, while its Arab neighbors trampled the [poor] creatures known as their citizens.”
Al-Harbi, no friend of Israel, went further than Mitt Romney did. If Mitt Romney crediting freedom and democracy as the ingredients that make for Israel’s culture of success is racist, then the Democrats must also charge Al-Harbi with racism.
Mitt Romney came to Israel to try and explain Israel’s success in the same terms that he has explained the success of the American businessman, by crediting the labor and dedication of the free individual in a culture that values freedom and accomplishment.
Every Israeli, like every American, who set foot in a new land, had to start all over again. They had to build houses, plant fields and raise cattle. They had to learn how to build armies and run institutions. And they had to do all those things while surrounded by enemies. They had to learn to sink or swim.
While the Muslim world wails over Palestinian refugees, the Jewish State is a nation of refugees populated by refugees from Czarism, Communism, Fascism, Nazism, Nasserism and Islamism. And each of those refugees had to begin a new life. The process wasn’t easy and Israel is still struggling with the challenges of absorbing millions of people from cultures as far apart as Russia, Yemen and France. But the refugee camps where they once lived, the tents and shacks, are a distant memory.
The survivors of the Holocaust are not still living in DP camps in Europe and Iraqi Jews aren’t living in tents in Israel. The last DP camp in Europe closed in 1959. The last of Israel’s refugee camps shut down in 1963. Meanwhile the Shatila refugee camp for Palestinian Arabs has been an ongoing concern in Beirut since 1949 making it older than many Israeli towns.
In 1910, Theodore Roosevelt addressed the Cambridge Union and told them, “Success, the real success, does not depend upon the position you hold but upon how you carry yourself in that position.” That assessment is the final rebuttal to the class warfare worldview of the left. Success is not in what you have, but in what you make of it.
A culture of free men and women who believe that they are here to build rather than destroy is able to do great things. And a culture of slaves of Allah who believe that they are here to destroy what others build and who prefer the public martyrdom of the suicide bomb and the refugee camp cannot hope to equal their accomplishments.
When the individual has the power to build then he is living in a “You built it” society. But when he only has the power to complain or destroy, then he is living in the Islamic or leftist “You didn’t build that” society.
Daniel Greenfield, a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the Freedom Center, is a New York writer focusing on radical Islam. He is completing a book on the international challenges America faces in the 21st century.