These are hard times to be a supporter of Israel. Bibi Netanyahu is a lunatic who is now actively trying to mess with the American election. You see, President Obama, early in his term, politely suggested that if Israel seriously wants to make peace with its neighbors they might want to consider not expanding settlements in the West Bank. For this transgression, Netanyahu, and his lackeys on the American Right, have decided that Obama is morbidly anti-Israel. Their relentless vitriol has convinced some of the dimmer segments of the American Jewish population that they should vote for Romney. Charming.
There are two main advocacy groups for Israel in the United States, and I am not too impressed with either one of them. On one side you have AIPAC, which basically argues that Israel can do no wrong. Moreover, if you suggest that Israel has, indeed, done wrong, they will find a way to accuse you of antisemitism. The most recent example is the response to this column from Maureen Dowd. Dowd made the entirely commonplace and correct observation that Republican foreign policy is being dictated by fanatical, neocon zealots. Andrew Sullivan rounds up the predictable, and vile, responses. Since I am about to bash Sullivan for a colossally stupid thing he wrote elsewhere, let me mention that I agree with everything he says in this particular post.
On the other side is J-Street. When they point out that it is clear from his actions that Netanyahu has no interest at all in supporting the creation of a Palestinian state, and that he is actively undermining the more moderate forces on the Palestinian side, I am with them. When they argue he is the worst thing to happen to Israel, pretty much ever, I am with them again. The problem is that all too often this is not enough for them. They sometimes feel the need to retell the entire history of the region as one of relentless Jewish aggression against their poor, put-upon Arab neighbors. A classic example is this paragraph from Andrew Sullivan:
There is no just war theory on earth that can justify a pre-emptive strike against nuclear facilities which have not been used to produce a weapon in a country whose Supreme Leader has explicitly called a “sin” to deploy.
As for a radical regime in terms of international relations, which country in the Middle East has launched more wars than any other since its creation, has occupied territory it has then sought to ethnically re-balance, has killed civilians outside its borders in the thousands, has developed a nuclear capacity outside of international non-proliferation treaties, has physically attacked both Iraq and Syria to destroy their nuclear programs, and is now threatening war against Iran, a war that could convulse the entire world into a new clash of civilizations?
On Planet Sullivan there was no context for anything on that little list of particulars. Israel has, apparently, always been a radical regime.
Sure, they have occupied territory. But that was territory which, prior to the occupation, was used relentlessly as a staging ground for one Arab war after another. Yes, Israel has launched wars. But only in response to extraordinary provocations like rocket fire, suicide bombing and relentless terrorism, and always showing far more restraint than any of their despotic neighbors, who devise far more draconian responses to far lesser provocations. Yes, they have pursued a nuclear capability. But that is because they face actual threats to their existence and need those weapons to ensure their survival. Sure, they have launched preemptive strikes against the nuclear ambitions of their neighbors, but the attacks on Iraq ans Syria were textbook examples of when preemption is justified, and the Syrian attack specifically was not even condemned by any of the surrounding Arab countries.
For me, the generally negative response to the Gaza War a few years back made clear to me that I cannot align myself with the J-Street crowd. The spectacle of arrogant bloggers sitting in perfect safety on the other side of the world, calmly lecturing Israel about how they must simply tolerate relentless rocket fire landing in their cities, was a bit much for me to take. I take a simple view of such things. When your neighbor has declared war on you, and fires rocket after rocket into your cities desperately trying to kill as many civilians as possible, then you have carte blanche to do whatever you need to do to make it stop. If that’s not part of your just-war theory (for heaven’s sake), then your theory is wrong. Israel’s critics took great delight in accusing them of heinous war crimes in that conflict. The most serious of those charges, unsurprisingly, turned out to be total nonsense.
There is a middle-ground between Israel can do no wrong and Israel can do no right, but at the moment I don’t see any significant group of people defending that ground. Israel has become radicalized, but only after decades of hatred and intransigence from their neighbors. Netanyahu is an impediment to peace, but as recently as 2000 Israel was offering extraordinary concessions that would have led to a two-state solution, but instead were met with renewed violence for their troubles. An attack on Iran is a ludicrous idea, but Netanyahu did not hallucinate the threat that Iran presents.
The basic facts have not changed. On its worst day Israel remains a lonely bastion of civilization surrounded by tyrannical regimes sworn to its destruction. You don’t get to start one war against them after another, promote endless terrorism, and encourage a culture in which the sickest anti-Semitic stereotypes are happily believed by large segments of your population, and then act aggrieved when they sometimes overreact in response.
A final note. Comments on posts about Israel tend to get a bit heated. For that reason I will be policing them more strictly than I usually do. Criticize me all you want, but no profanity, and nothing that is even remotely antisemitic, will be tolerated. I am the sole judge of what constitutes an acceptable comment, and my verdict is final.