Op-Ed: Ayaan Hirsi Ali: Israel is a Liberal Democracy
Dr. Manfred GerstenfeldThe writer has been a long-term adviser on strategy issues to the boards of several major multinational corporations in Europe and North America.He is board member and former chairman of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs and recipient of the LIfetime Achievement Award (2012) of the Journal for the Study of Anti-Semitism.
In the past decade, Ayaan Hirsi Ali became known worldwide as a non-fiction writer. In 2006, Reader’s Digest gave her the European of the Year award and said she best embodied Europe’s contemporary values. Hirsi Ali was born in Somalia in 1969 and was granted asylum in the Netherlands in 1992. She left for the United States in spring 2006 after she had to resign from the Dutch Parliament because of a minister’s ruling that she had never obtained Dutch nationality.
Hirsi Ali said she visited Israel a number of years ago, primarily to understand how it dealt so well with so many immigrants from different origins. “My main impression was that Israel is a liberal democracy. In the places I visited, including Jerusalem as well as Tel Aviv and its beaches, I saw that men and women are equal. One never knows what happens behind the scenes, but that is how it appears to the visitor. The many women in the army are also very visible.
“I understood that a crucial element of success is the unifying factor among immigrants to Israel. Whether one arrives from Ethiopia or Russia, or one’s grandparents immigrated from Europe, what binds them is being Jewish. Such a bond is lacking in the Netherlands. The background of the immigrants is diverse and also differs greatly from that of the Netherlands, including religion.
“I have visited the Palestinian quarters in Jerusalem as well. Their side is dilapidated, for which they blame the Israelis. In private, however, I met a young Palestinian who spoke excellent English. There were no cameras and no notebooks. He said the situation was partly their own fault, with much of the money sent from abroad to build Palestine being stolen by corrupt leaders.
“When I started to speak in the Netherlands about the corruption of the Palestinian Authority and the role of Arafat in the tragedy of Palestine, I did not get a large audience. Often one was talking to a wall. Many people reply that Israel first has to withdraw from the territories, and then all will be well with Palestine.
“Before I joined the Dutch Liberal Party, I was a member of the Labor Party. Their great model thinker is the Israeli philosopher Avishai Margalit, who promotes solidarity with those who are weak. In Socialist eyes, whoever isn’t white or Western is a victim, and this includes Muslims, Palestinians, and immigrants. My position is that I am not a victim. I am responsible for my acts like anybody else and so are all people.
“I studied social work for a year in the Netherlands. Our teachers taught us to look with different eyes toward the immigrant and the foreigner. They thought racism was a phenomenon that only appears among whites. In Socialist eyes, whoever isn’t white or Western is a victim, and this includes Muslims,. My mother thinks they are half-monkeys.
“When I started to explain this truth in the class, the teacher responded that it was ‘untrue and impossible.’ I said, ‘Yes, it is true.’ I mentioned that I was living in the center for asylum seekers in the town of Ede and that the Somalis I knew there talked about native Dutchmen as uncircumcised, irreligious, and dirty.
“If a Dutchman says he doesn’t want a Moroccan or a Turk as a neighbor, he is a racist. If a Moroccan says, ‘I want to live next to other Moroccans,’ that is viewed as a sign of group attachment, because he has been isolated by immigrating. So that is not considered racism. If a right-wing skinhead draws swastikas on a Jewish cemetery, that is Nazism and he will be punished. If a Moroccan immigrant does the same, it is an expression of his displeasure with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“Defining an individual as an eternal victim is a fundamental mistake. Colored people, Muslims, and other non-Western immigrants are not victims. They are individuals who have come to the Netherlands in search of a better life. It is my responsibility to improve my life, and I am not asking the authorities to do it for me. I request only to live in an environment of peace and security. The Socialist worldview is different. Those who are not white and Christian, and do not share the ideas of Christian civilization, are victims by definition.
“Paradoxically enough, that attitude derives partly from the Holocaust, which created major guilt feelings in the Netherlands. Some people think the behavior of their countrymen toward the Jews during the war is something that should never be repeated. Thus they compensate by letting Muslims beat their wives and a few others beat up homosexuals or prepare to plant bombs. Such an attitude reflects mental illness.”