If George F. Will comes across to some as a starchy combination of ministerial and professorial, he can blame it on his genes: The longtime columnist is, after all, the grandson of a Lutheran minister and the son of a philosophy professor.
He is also as unflinching a defender of Israel as they come in the American media.
Will first came to public attention in the 1970s as an articulate, polished representative of the emerging backlash against political and cultural liberalism. He always evinced a strong sympathy for Israel.
Writing in 1977 when the Carter administration was blaming Israel for its alleged intransigence, Will framed the issue in terms that resonate 32 years later:
“[T]he contagious crossness between Washington and Jerusalem that originated in Washington is a compound of Washington impatience and Israeli anxiety. The anxiety is more reasonable than the impatience…. The secure are always exhorting Israel to be daring.”
In a 1987 Newsweek column titled “A Just War Remembered,” Will cut through the muck of leftists who were using the 20th anniversary of the Six-Day War to lament Israel’s lopsided victory:
“It has been 20 years since those six days that shook the world,” he wrote. “Because of what happened then, a united Jerusalem is capital of Israel, and Israel never again will be 12 miles wide at the waist…. And, because of the echoing thunderclap from Israel 20 Junes ago, the security of Israel and hence the spiritual well-being of world Jewry have been enhanced. The Holocaust ended in 1945, but the Holocaust as aspiration was not destroyed until June 1967, when Israel smashed encircling armies that had the inescapably genocidal mission of obliterating the national gathering of Jews.”
Last month Will was the featured speaker at a dinner celebrating the Claremont Review of Books. According to Jewish Current Issues blogger and occasional Jewish Press op-ed contributor Rick Richman, Will “gave a masterful speech that included a mixture of political insight, conservative philosophy, humor and baseball stories.”
Responding to a post-speech question from the floor, Will delivered a rousing discourse on Israel, President Obama and recent Middle East history, which included the following highlights as recorded by Richman:
[I]n the 61 years since Israel was founded on one-sixth of one percent of land in that area described as land of the Arab world, there has not been a moment of peace for Israel, not as peace is properly understood.How many Americans understand that when Israel was founded in 1948, no Palestinian state was invaded, no Palestinian state was destroyed? There had not been a Palestinian geographic entity since between the departure of the Romans and the arrival of British rule.
How many know that the West Bank, referred to by the president as “occupied territory,” inferentially as occupied Palestinian territory, is under international law [an] unallocated portion of the Palestine Mandate rightfully occupied by Israel, because it occupied it in repelling aggression that came from that territory in 1967? [Applause]
How the president believes that if we return to the 1967 borders, the antipathy to Israel, which predated the 1967 borders, will disappear, I do not know….
I remember – if I could go back to an autobiographical moment – in 1979 I was invited to talk to the B’nai B’rith of Beverly Hills – not a nest of conservatives – and they said, “Who should be the Republican nominee?” And I said, pick Howard Baker, George Bush, Ronald Reagan. And they said “Well, who would be best for Israel?” And I responded, “Of course it would be Ronald Reagan.” They said, “Why?”
I said – “Two reasons: he believes in aircraft carriers. He believes in the projection of American power. Second, he is a romantic. He’s got the story of Israel, plucky little Israel.”
You need both. You need aircraft carriers and you need to appreciate the fact that Israel is an embattled salient of our values in a bad neighborhood. [Applause] It is unworthy of the United States to aspire to be even-handed between those who would destroy and those who would preserve the only democracy in that region. [Applause]
“Will,” Richman notes, “was speaking extemporaneously, without notes, to an unanticipated question.”
Jason Maoz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org