Welcome to reality! After a week of fanfare, during which the leaders of Swiss and international business, politics and the media patted themselves on the back and praised their merits and successes in “improving the state of the world”, the Davos Forum has closed its doors again. It will be rough to come down to earth.
At the beginning of October, I tried to show that the West must not only come to terms with the defeat of the Ukrainian counter-offensive, but must also face up to the moral defeat to which its persistent policy of double standards – preaching water and drinking wine – has led it.
In the meantime, the events in Gaza have turned this moral defeat into a strategic defeat.
The drama of us Westerners – to paraphrase Abraham Lincoln – is that we can lie to ourselves all the time and fool the rest of the world some of the time, but we can no longer fool all the people all the time. Now the time comes when we have to pay the bill. Emmanuel Todd reaches this unequivocal conclusion in a different way in his latest book (“La défaite de l’Occident”, Gallimard, 2024). With his usual brilliance, he draws on statistical data, economic and cultural developments and a rigour of argument that is difficult to dispute. We will come back to this.
If the fog of war, the effectiveness of censorship, and the intensity of propaganda in Ukraine could give the impression that the entire responsibility for this conflict lies with “Putin-the-demon”, the invasion of Gaza and the subsequent war crimes of the Israeli army will have opened the eyes of those among us who are blindest. The world was rightly shocked by the atrocities committed by Hamas on 7 October, but now – with the exception of the West – it is stunned by the pathological rage and meticulousness displayed by the Israeli invaders over the past three months. The justified outrage at Hamas’ crimes is now being followed by no less justified outrage at the Israel Defense Forces’ attacks on the Palestinian civilian population.
Even the law of retaliation – an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth – was not observed by the Jewish state, as it officially calls itself, although Judaism does refer to it: At 20 to 1 (23,000 Palestinians killed, 1,100 Israeli victims), all the limits of the code were exceeded. Many thousands of Jews in Israel and around the world are alarmed by this.
The Israeli state appears to the majority of the world for what it is – an oppressive, annexationist, neocolonial state that openly practises apartheid and ethnic cleansing, as Western human rights activists (Human Rights Watch, 2021) and the International Court of Justice (2004) have already stated.
For non-Westerners, Israel is not the isolated island of democracy in the midst of numerous dictatorships, as it is often portrayed. Nelson Mandela once said that the world would not get rid of apartheid as long as it persisted in Palestine. Now South Africa has filed a lawsuit against Israel before the International Court of Justice under the Genocide Convention of 1948. The ICJ is currently headed by an American, Joan Donoghue, but it is considered more impartial than the politicised International Criminal Court, which has been under Anglo-Saxon influence since it was founded in 2002.
Be this as it may, the moral damage and the damage to the image have reached a point of no return. Western countries have been caught red-handed applying double standards. They have waged war against Russia over Ukraine because it annexed provinces of its neighbour and invaded them, but they accept without a murmur that their Israeli protégé has been doing the same on the Golan Heights and in the West Bank for 50 years, blithely violating international law.
As for Israel and world Jewry, both are in the process of losing the legitimacy and respect that the Holocaust and centuries of persecution in Europe have brought them. How can a people who have been through so much display such inhumane behaviour towards innocent children and civilians? If the commemoration of the Holocaust is no longer the selfless remembrance of the crime of crimes, but a propaganda tool used to justify an exterminatory Zionism, if the fight against anti–Semitism is no longer the just and necessary fight against anti–Jewish racism but an instrument used to legitimise a predatory state run by a corrupt leadership, then it becomes very difficult to support these causes.
Yet this is exactly what is happening.
For the first time in history, the global public now witnesses two wars that have the same causes – existential security concerns against a backdrop of deadly attacks, annexations, and opportunistic territorial occupations – and produce the same aggressive and deadly behaviour, but are received very differently by the West and Davos circles. [[In one case, the red carpet is rolled out for the guilty head of state (Netayjahu), but in the other, the head of state (Putin) is exiled and charged with war crimes.
This duplicitous attitude is no longer tolerated outside Western borders. Like the Katyn massacre for the Poles, Oradour for the French, or, for Indians, the famine Churchill caused in Bengal in 1943, the images of bombed-out Gaza will haunt the Arab world for decades and weaken the fight against anti-Semitism everywhere in the world, including here.
The price to be paid will therefore be high for both Israel and the West. The battle of the tunnels will have been won, but the war of the hearts and of the law will have been lost. In the eyes of the rest of the world, we will have turned to the wrong side of history.
In this respect, India’s turnaround is fascinating. The day after the attack on 7 October, the country had sided with Israel – this reflecting anti-Islamist sentiment regrettably common in India and out of concern for preserving New Delhi’s good relations with the US. Then, during a little-noticed visit by Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar to Moscow at the end of December, Delhi suddenly backtracked and distanced itself from Tel Aviv and Washington, reaffirmed its friendship with Russia, and returned to its nonaligned stance. In South Africa, hundreds of thousands of South Africans took to the streets at the beginning of January to protest the massacre of Palestinians. In the US, it is young people who are denouncing Biden en masse as an enabler of genocide.
These examples show once again that the Europeans and the U.S. are no longer able to impose their narrative and that this narrative is being fiercely challenged by the countries of the South and the East, which now have their own media and an independent view of the world order. In their minds, these two conflicts, fuelled for decades by unconditional support for Ukraine and Israel, are seen as a means of delaying the emergence of a fairer and more just world order. This is a radical innovation.
Of course, the West has not yet spoken its last word. It could reverse the trend and restore its leadership role by rebuilding peace. It would have to focus solely on cooperation instead of confrontation and on recognising its Other instead of destroying it. Nothing prevents Israel from returning the Golan Heights to Syria, living in peace with Lebanon, accepting the existence of a genuine Palestinian state alongside it or founding a binational federal state, as many Zionists had contemplated before 1948.
And if the West. doesn’t want to negotiate with the Islamist Hamas (which, however, is only the Muslim counterpart to the ultra-orthodox Jewish extremists who populate the Israeli government), there is nothing to stop him from releasing the Palestinian Nelson Mandela, Marwan Barghouti, so that he can take over the leadership of a renewed Palestinian Authority. If South Africa could do it, why not Israel? At least that’s what Ami Ayalon, a former Shin Bet chief, recently suggested in The “Guardian.
The situation is similar with the conflict in Ukraine. If Ukraine and NATO had agreed to engage with the Russian project for European security in December 2021, the war would never have broken out. It is not impossible to come back to this, provided that all parties sit around the table. After all, the West managed to do this in 1973 when it signed the Helsinki Agreement with the Soviet Union. But we are a long way from that. When Switzerland presents itself as the promoter of a peace summit in Ukraine by boycotting Russia, it becomes clear how pointless the project is and what an immense distance still needs to be covered to restore dialogue.
The parameters for lasting peace are known. But no one here in the West wants to consider them. The West prefers to demonise our opponents, discredit them, deny their humanity and continue to rely on war to delay as much as possible the fateful moment when we will have to give up our claim to dominate world affairs and share power with others. A residue of hubris, no doubt, but above all an excess of weakness. We no longer have the courage or the means to dare the peace of the brave. It is this tragic inability that Emmanuel Todd’s thesis vividly illuminates: Our moral regression and our inability to solve our political difficulties other than by force, far from being consequences of circumstance, are the rotten fruits of an unstoppable and uncontrollable economic, demographic. and cultural collapse. This will be the subject of our next article. •
(Translation Current Concerns)
* Guy Mettan is a freelance journalist and member of the Grand Council of the Canton of Geneva, which he chaired in 2010. He worked for “Journal de Genève”, Le Temps stratégique, Bilan, and “Le Nouveau Quotidien”, and later as director and editor-in-chief of “Tribune de Genève”. In 1996, he founded the Swiss Press Club, of which he was president and later director from 1998 to 2019.
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