Blair defends “liberal interventionist” stance at Israeli Presidential Conference

posted at 9:20 pm on June 21, 2011 by Ed Morrissey

If the opening plenary session of the Israeli Presidential Conference suffered from a lack of seriousness, the second and final plenary session of the first day brought gravitas by the truckload.  Titled “Nation, Interests, and Ethics in the Journey Towards Tomorrow,” it featured a speech by Israeli President Shimon Peres and a series of talks by Tony Blair, Bernard-Henri Levy, and Professor Amos Oz, moderated by television anchorman Oren Nahari.  The remarks from all were certainly provocative on a series of ethical questions that changed a bit with each speaker.

Peres received a standing ovation when he took the podium, and expressed his optimism that the peace process has not irretrievably collapsed.  He called on both the Israeli government and the Palestinians to return to direct negotiations (a faint wish on both parts at this point) and insisted that the region is still closer to peace than war.  “I can see the end of the process,” Peres said. “I remain a believer.”

He didn’t eschew criticism of the Palestinians and their backers.  Peres blasted Iran and the “shadow” it casts over the region with its funding of Hamas and Hezbollah, and called the five-year kidnapping of Gilad Shalit “a disgrace to human dignity.”

Still, Peres sounded a couple of discordant notes, especially the notion that “in the void of world government, self-government is the best alternative.”  Given Israel’s precarious position, one might think that the last thing an Israeli would wish is rule by the UN or any other body remotely like it.  The entire raison d’être of Israel is to allow Jews to have a homeland that they can secure against the rest of the world, borne out of obvious necessity by the ghastly Holocaust that killed six million Jews in supposedly enlightened Europe.  Peres got a warm and respectful reception at the end of his speech, but whether or not that was a factor, few stood as he walked off stage.

In fact, I had a delightful conversation with my airport transportation driver on the way to the conference.  He and his wife are natives of Israel, and his father fought in the War of Independence.  His three sons all served, the driver proudly told me, and he shared that Israelis often send teenagers to visit the extermination camps, at least those that are left.  That impresses on young Israelis the need to serve their country and to fight to remain free when necessary.

Blair had the most interesting speech, and perhaps the most timely.  Nahari challenged him on interventions by the West in places like Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya, while noting the “embarrassment” of the world’s shrug at Syria for doing pretty much what Moammar Gaddafi did in Libya.  Blair sidestepped that question — one cannot imagine a retired Prime Minister going after a successor on that point, especially while the UK is still engaged against Gaddafi — but did argue that idealism and pragmatism are not always separate.  “In an interconnected, independent world,” Blair said, national interests can and often do “represent values.”

Action has its consequences, but Blair also warned that inaction is an explicit decision with consequences of its own.  In this, Blair explicitly mentioned the Iranian pursuit of nuclear weapons and warned that a failure to act that resulted in mullahs being armed with nukes would have catastrophic consequences.  Blair proudly called himself a “liberal interventionist” and insisted that interventions tailored to specific and achievable ends that promote values of freedom and liberty are a valid expression of those national values.

The former British PM also defended Western support for Israel in rather unique terms.  Neocons in the US often express the hope that Iraq can serve as a model to the rest of the Arab nations, but Blair said that Israel is “a model for the region.”  “Come and see what Israel has done in 60 years,” Blair said to thunderous applause, pointing out that it’s Israel’s freedom that allowed for its advances.  “Freedom is not a passing phase,” Blair emphasized, “it is the condition that defines the human spirit.”  And for that, Blair got the standing ovation at the end that he also received at the beginning.

Note: The Israeli Presidential Conference is covering my travel expenses.

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Thanks for the reports, Ed.

OmahaConservative on June 21, 2011 at 9:22 PM

The Israeli Presidential Conference – Facing Tomorrow – ועידת
************

http://www.facebook.com/TheIsraeliPresidentialConference

canopfor on June 21, 2011 at 9:29 PM

“in the void of world government, self-government is the best alternative.”

Wow. Who does he think is going to rule in this world government? Did anyone applaud the statement? If so, out them.

Buddahpundit on June 21, 2011 at 9:32 PM

1000 comments or bust.

Bishop on June 21, 2011 at 9:41 PM

Gee a conference on “ethics” with the most leftwing political leaders one could think of. Where was Michael Moore and Sean Penn?

eaglewingz08 on June 21, 2011 at 9:46 PM

Gavel pounds…Hear Hear, the gentle poodle from Great Britain has the floor SNARK..

Sorry, once the vision of Bush’s poodle is put in your head, there is no rinsing it out :)

Dr Evil on June 21, 2011 at 9:52 PM

The Brits have never been friends of Israel.

Don’t trust the Europeans that have killed millions of Jews, and never will. Shimon Peres might be a Icon in Israel but he’s a “land for peace” fool.

The Arab world…….1st home of Anti-Semitism

Europe….it’s 2nd home.

PappyD61 on June 21, 2011 at 9:56 PM

Gavel pounds…Hear Hear, the gentle poodle from Great Britain has the floor SNARK..

Sorry, once the vision of Bush’s poodle is put in your head, there is no rinsing it out :)

Dr Evil on June 21, 2011 at 9:52 PM

Dr Evil:Hehe,ahem,veddy nice!:)

canopfor on June 21, 2011 at 9:59 PM

Interventions, of any kind, are liberal by definition. The government is always trying to intervene on someone’s behalf, with someone else’s money, to boot. Just say no to interventions.

keep the change on June 21, 2011 at 10:03 PM

Buddahpundit on June 21, 2011 at 9:32 PM

I think Obama thinks his feet will fit those shoes. He’s now ramping things up in this country. Just a first step.

capejasmine on June 21, 2011 at 10:08 PM

I love these articles and wish they would generate a ton of comments. I don’t feel qualified to say anything more than I appreciate the opportunity to learn.

Cindy Munford on June 21, 2011 at 10:40 PM

The entire raison d’être of Israel is to allow Jews to have a homeland that they can secure against the rest of the world, borne out of obvious necessity by the ghastly Holocaust that killed six million Jews in supposedly enlightened Europe.

No, actually, the raison d’etre of Israel is the re-establishment of our homeland as a sovereign nation, as it was in antiquity.

YehuditTX on June 21, 2011 at 10:57 PM

YehuditTX on June 21, 2011 at 10:57 PM

Fair enough. Let me put it another way: the reason the world recognized that raison d’etre was because it finally acknowledged that Jews need a homeland to defend, because of the realization that the West wouldn’t defend them when the chips were down.

Ed Morrissey on June 21, 2011 at 11:45 PM

It should be noted that the European definitions of “liberal” and “conservative” haven’t evolved since 1848.

HitNRun on June 22, 2011 at 12:12 AM

Ed Morrissey on June 21, 2011 at 11:45 PM

Serious Zionism predates the Shoah. Israel’s legitimacy as state does not derive from the cruelty of Nazi Germany towards European Jews.

lexhamfox on June 22, 2011 at 2:19 AM

Serious Zionism predates the Shoah. Israel’s legitimacy as state does not derive from the cruelty of Nazi Germany towards European Jews.

lexhamfox on June 22, 2011 at 2:19 AM

Not sure what “Serious Zionism” is but Herzl’s Zionism was mainly derived from Jews history of suffering at the hands of Christian Europe for some 1700 years.

YehuditTX is correct in why loyal Jews never stopped yearning to return to our homeland. Herzl, a JINO, was instrumental in initiating the process, for completely sentimental and secularly national reasons.

Regards from Jerusalem, the eternal capital city of the Jewish Nation.

Shy Guy on June 22, 2011 at 2:30 AM

Serious Zionism predates the Shoah. Israel’s legitimacy as state does not derive from the cruelty of Nazi Germany towards European Jews.

lexhamfox on June 22, 2011 at 2:19 AM

Indeed, and I hope that people know that I firmly believe that. Well put, as always.

Ed Morrissey on June 22, 2011 at 2:31 AM

Shy Guy on June 22, 2011 at 2:30 AM

Yes, I was referring to Herzl’s as opposed to those who would prefer to wait for something less likely to happen.

JINO?? Really?? ‘Loyal Jews’?? Isn’t the club exclusive enough??

Ed… yes of course …I know. For my part I see it as the one exception to the notions put forth in the Atlantic Charter for the obvious reasons you mentioned …and, you can’t keep a determined people down. It’s a lesson we are likely to learn again. I would love to have been there with you to take in the event and revisit one of my favorite places. Have a great time.

Ed, I know… and you know my sentiments are complicated and easily misunderstood and misinterpreted.

lexhamfox on June 22, 2011 at 3:43 AM

Jerusalem….

The stumbling block of the world……..a test for The Nations.

Let’s see how this Administration does on the test.

PappyD61 on June 22, 2011 at 6:59 AM

Blair at one time mentioned Jerusalem being a city visited by David, Jesus, and Mohammed, but Mohammed never set foot in the city. I wouldn’t trust a word he says about Israel or Jerusalem.

zoyclem on June 22, 2011 at 7:00 AM