The recent war in Gaza, coupled with the rejection of Israel-critic Charles Freeman for an intelligence post in the Obama administration, has led to a renewed round of hand-wringing over America’s relationship with Israel.
Let’s kick things off with this delightful article from today’s New York Times. It reports on Israel’s growing isolation from the international community:
Israel, whose founding idea was branded as racism by the United Nations General Assembly in 1975 and which faced an Arab boycott for decades, is no stranger to isolation. But in the weeks since its Gaza war, and as it prepares to inaugurate a hawkish right-wing government, it is facing its worst diplomatic crisis in two decades.
Examples abound. Its sports teams have met hostility and violent protests in Sweden, Spain and Turkey. Mauritania has closed Israel’s embassy.
Relations with Turkey, an important Muslim ally, have suffered severely. A group of top international judges and human rights investigators recently called for an inquiry into Israel’s actions in Gaza. “Israel Apartheid Week” drew participants in 54 cities around the world this month, twice the number of last year, according to its organizers. And even in the American Jewish community, albeit in its liberal wing, there is a chill.
I have no problem with investigations into possible war crimes in Gaza. The fact remains, however, that in Gaza Israel faces an enemy that has openly declared war on them, and which rained down several thousand rockets on Israeli cities over a period of several years. They face an onslaught of other forms of terrorism from enemies who routinely declare that under no circumstances will they recognize Israel’s right to exist. No other country in the world would be expected to sit idly by in the face of such provocation, let alone undetake any sort of normal diplomatic relations with that enemy. Certainly no Arab nation would have been so restrained in the face of such threats.
But such is the double standard Israel has always faced. They are surrounded by despotic Arab regimes which have shown little interest in supporting democracy or basic human rights. The Palestinians are just a political pawn to these regimes, as indicated by their utter unwillingness to lift a finger to help them, which they easily could. And yet it is only Israel that gets likened to the worst human rights abusers, like Apartheid South Africa or even Nazi Germany. The moral and historical cluelessness of such charges are simply breathtaking. Let the Swedes and the Spanish face relentless terrorism from neighbors bent on their obliteration and then we’ll talk about the proper treatment of foreign athletes.
The Times article also contains this nugget:
The issue of a Palestinian state is central to Israel’s reputation abroad, because so many governments and international organizations favor its establishment in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem. And while the departing government of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert negotiated for such a state, the incoming one of Benjamin Netanyahu says that item is not on its immediate agenda.
All sensible people ought to support the two-state solution, but whose fault is it that we do not have it? The Palestinians could have had that in 1937, when the Jews were willing to accept a small, discontiguous state comprising areas that were majority Jewish. The Palestinians rejected it and their leadership enthusiastically supported the Nazis instead. The situation largely repeated itself in 1948. And in 2000 the Palestinians were offered virtually everything they could hope for from a two-state solution. Most Arab leaders encouraged Yasser Arafat to accept the deal. Instead he rejected it, and instigated a new round of terrorism instead. Prince Bandar of Saudi Arabia, no friend of Israel, openly described it as a crime against the Palestinian people that the deal was rejected. President Clinton and lead US negotiator Dennis Ross both laid the blame entirely at Arafat’s feet. But then, they’re all just flunkies of the Israel lobby.
All of that seems to be forgotten. No, it’s Israel who is to be blamed for losing interest in the two-state solution. Of course it is.
It does not help that Israel is about to have a right-wing government, one which will of necessity include the odious bigot and thug Avigdor Lieberman (who does, at least, support the two-state solution). This is a deplorable development, but even here the double-standard of Israel’s critics is astonishing. When the Palestinians elect groups of genocidal religious fanatics like Hamas and Hezbollah, we get lectures about how Israel’s actions serve to radicalize the Palestinian population, making it inevitable that such fanatics will come to power. There is truth to that, certainly, but we never hear the corresponding lecture about how relentless Palestinian terrorism may have radicalized the Israeli population.
Meanwhile, also in the Times, the always worthless Stanley Fish weighs in on the subject of boycotting Israeli academics. Though he does, eventually, come down on the right side (that the boycott is a bad idea), it is hard to see how he could have been more wrong in his analysis. Here’s an example:
But the effort to detach Israel from South Africa by claiming that the sins of the latter were much greater than the sins of the former has not been successful, in part because those who make it are trying too hard. (You can almost see the sweat on their foreheads.) The American Association of University Professors ties itself up in knots explaining that while its own history includes “support for divestiture during the anti-apartheid campaigns in South Africa,” it nevertheless opposes this boycott. The rationale seems to be that South Africa was a special, one time case — “South Africa is the only instance in which the organization endorsed some form of boycott” — but that is hardly going to satisfy those who are prosecuting the “if-you-protested-injustice-then-you-should-protest-it-now” argument.
The better course would be for the AAUP and other boycott opponents to accept the equivalence of the two situations, and repudiate what they did in the past. Not “what we did then is different from what we decline to do now,” but “we won’t boycott now and we were wrong to boycott then.”
It is cluelessness of a high order to think that South African apartheid is comparable to the situation between Israelis and Palestinians. For one thing, as Michael Kinsley points out in this essay, apartheid was all about race hatred of Whites towards Blacks. In the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, where do you find race hatred? From the Israelis, who guarantees full civil rights to its Arab citizens and whose courts have routinely sided with Arabs against the Israeli government? Or is it from the Arabs, whose relentless promotion of the vilest smears and stereotypes of Jews is a ubiquitous feature of their culture?
On the political side, apartheid was about exiling Blacks to bantustans as a way of purging South Africa of its black population. Israel has no desire to do anything similar to its Arab population. As for the West Bank, leaving aside the fact that the people living there are not citizens of Israel, there is the simple fact that Israel captured that land in a war of aggression started by its enemies. Most israelis would like nothing better than to abandon the West Bank, but they legitimately fear renewed aggression if they do so.
Which brings us to the National Journal. They asked some of their regular contributors to address the following question: What are the specific steps President Obama, leaders of Congress, the State Department and yes, those of us on this blog, can take to ensure that a rational discussion, and a possible consensus, can be reached on U.S. policy toward Israel and Palestine?
Most of the contributors declined to answer, preferring instead to lambast the all-powerful Israel lobby for doing what it could to derail the nomination of Charles Freeman. If you’re not familiar with the situation, here’s the short version. There were many reasons for opposing Freeman, but one of them was his blinkered view of Israel. Many pro-Israel groups, finding his views objectionable, lobbied against him, sometimes using — are you sitting down? — harsh rhetoric. They were successful.
Really, try to contemplate the full horror of the situation. A political nominee was opposed by a particular lobbying group, which was successful in its opposition. I mean, it’s not like such things happen a hundred times a day in Washington, right? But this was the Israel lobby we’re talking about, and when they are successful it is, by definition, indicative of far more than just politics as usual.
So most of NJ’s columnists served up the usual whining nonsense. Here’s Michael Schueur, an adjunct professor at Georgetown University:
There is indeed an identifiable fifth column of pro-Israel U.S. citizens — I have described them here and elsewhere as Israel-Firsters — who have consciously made Israel’s survival and protection their first priority, and who see worth in America only to the extent that its resources and manpower can be exploited to protect and further the interests of Israel in its religious war-to-the-death with the Arabs. These are disloyal citizens in much the same sense that the Civil War’s disloyal northern “Copperheads” sought to help the Confederates destroy the Union. The Israel-Firsters help Israel suborn U.S. citizens to spy for Israel; they use their fortunes and political action organizations to buy U.S. politicians with campaign donations; and most of all they use their ready access to the media to disguise their own disloyalty by denigrating as anti-Semites or appeasers fellow citizens who dare to challenge them. The Israel-Firsters are unquestionably enemies of America’s republican experiment and will have to be destroyed as the Copperheads were destroyed — by the people, after a full public deabte, at the ballot box.
Gosh! It’s hard to believe that people see anti-semitism among certain Israel critics.
Here’s Colonel Joseph Colins:
If you criticize Israel, you can be tarred by various groups as an anti-semite. If you cozy up to the Palestinians or even concern yourself with their material well being, you are called soft of terrorism.
This is an article of faith among Israel’s critics, but it is mostly nonsense. You are hard-pressed to find any Israel defender of any prominence accusing someone of being anti-semitic simply for criticizing Israel. After all, Israel has done plenty in its history to be deserving of criticism. What country hasn’t? What gets you accused of anti-semitism is singling out Israel for extraordinary condemnation while ignoring the vastly greater human rights abuses of other countries, and while ignoring the extraordinary provocation Israel has faced in its history.
From the other side, nearly all of the most prominent Israel defenders support the two-state solution, and actively want a viable, functioning Palestinian state. Such a state is plainly in Israel’s interest, after all. Supporting moderate Palestinian forces is not what gets you tarred as being soft on terrorism. But when you dismiss relentless rocket fire aimed at civilians as a nuisance, as many critics of Israel did at the start of the Gaza war, you are certainly open to the charge. And when you infantilize the Palestinians by suggesting they are so put upon that they have no choice but to throw their support behind terror groups like Hamas and Hezbollah, then you are definitely being soft on terrorism.
It’s not all bad news. David Goure of the Lexington Institute offers a long essay in rebuttal. You really must read the whole thing. Here’s an excerpt:
So, perhaps it is a good thing that the so-called Israeli lobby exists, if indeed it does, just to offer a counterweight to the impact on U.S. policy of the lobbies supported by the Saudis, Iranians, Egyptians, Russians, oil companies, and others. With apologies to Voltaire, but if a pro-Israel lobby did not exist, of necessity we would have to create one. But that would only be to create balance with respect to the impact of the other lobbies on U.S. Middle East policy.
The reality is that no so-called Israel lobby is necessary to impact U.S. Middle East policy because our interests and those of Israel are largely congruent. Whether it is the natural affinity of democracies; our shared political and social modernity; the common opposition to Soviet expansionism during the Cold War; the sharing of intelligence; technology cooperation; equal distance, politically speaking, from the internecine political warfare that consumes the Arab world; a mutual determination to defeat terrorism; or a shared culture…Israel and America are in accord. What is the basis for our strategic relationship with the Arab nations? The answer is one word, oil. Absent oil, Israel alone would continue to hold our interest in the region. If the Obama Administration is successful in weaning the U.S. from its addiction to oil, Israel alone will be of strategic interest to this country. At least that will be the case until democracy and representative
governance takes hold elsewhere in the region.
I saw history professor Juan Cole on Colbert yesterday. He was assuring us, based on public opinion polls, that the Muslim world is just teeming with moderates who love America and want more engagement with the West. I hope he’s right, but I see little evidence of it. After all, public opinion polls have also shown great support in the Muslim world for suicide bombing defended in explicitly religious terms. For me the central truth of the Israeli- Palestinian conflict remains what it has always been. If the Palestinians and their supporters lay down their arms, the result will be peace. If the Israelis lay down their arms, the result will be genocide. What hope for a two state solution so long as that is the case?