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Unfairly blamed: Menachem Begin

Tell a liberal there's a country that guarantees freedom of expression and religious liberties for its diverse population; that has absorbed more immigrants and refugees relative to its size than any other; that was the second to elect a woman prime minister in the modern era (and she was the first of the few who were not a widow or daughter of a male statesman); that permitted gays to serve openly in the military even before the United States instituted its "Don't Ask Don't Tell" policy, let alone before it revoked it; that has the second highest percentage in the world of homes that heat their water using solar energy; where the desert is not expanding but receding; and that alone in its neighbourhood is ranked "free" by Freedom House — ought not the liberal to be delighted?

For some reason, when that country turns out to be Israel, that delight turns to disgust. It is this anomaly that interests Joshua Muravchik in his two recent books, Liberal Oasis: The Truth About Israel and Making David into Goliath: How the World Turned Against Israel, released in tandem. Muravchik, a longtime fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and now at the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University, is a leading neoconservative voice on foreign policy in Washington DC, with a particular focus on democracy promotion. These new books, though, are less about promoting democracy where it is lacking than defending it in the one place in the Middle East where it thrives.

Liberal Oasis, a short ebook readable in a single sitting, opens by quoting Daniel Bernard, a former French ambassador to the UK memorable only for insulting Israel in 2001 as "that shitty little country." Muravchik concedes on the point of Israel's size, but not on its calibre, which he briefly shows can compete even with that of France. Israel is on a trajectory to become wealthier than France in a matter of years, and is already ahead in health and education, in Nobel prizes and patented inventions per capita, in absolute numbers of chess grandmasters, and so on. Apparently Americans are as inclined to France-baiting as the British.

Behind the facetiousness, though, lies Muravchik's point: Israel scores highly in comparison even with France, which is "one of the world's great civilisations"; relative to its Arab neighbours, it is in a different league altogether. The book proceeds by examining Israel against the ideals of Liberté, Egalité and Fraternité that France bequeathed to the global Left and finds that when it comes to these "values . . . that Israel's leftist and liberal detractors claim to hold dear," the Jewish state's record is "downright overwhelming".

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