March 28, 2007
The War Against Israel in America: Part TwoBy Richard Baehr
[Part one is found here.]
Imagine a major orchestra playing Beethoven's 9th Symphony, with a very large chorale on stage to sing during the final movement. Their voices are easily heard throughout the hall. Today in America, we have the unusual situation of a similarly large collection of writers, and academics and propagandists, a chorus, if you may, all of whom are hostile to Israel and its supporters in America. And they are singing together in newspaper columns, magazine articles, TV and radio interviews, books, academic papers, conferences, and lectures. What they all are saying is:
There is no silence to be broken. Rather, those fighting Israel and trying to undermine its support in America, have already seized control of major information pathways, from newspaper op-ed pages to the classrooms of colleges and universities, and are dominating the messages sent out from them on the Middle East conflict. And more to the point, their advice for American policymakers in the Executive branch and Congress, is naïve, foolish, and threatening to the security of one of America's few stalwart allies in the long war we are now fighting against radical Islamic forces. By encouraging weakness if not surrender to these forces aligned against Israel, their advice is also a danger to the United States itself.
The campaign against Israel in America today is focused on a few themes:
Actually this last one is not what most of the critics of America's Middle East policy believe. Only some of them believe this.
It is worth addressing each of the first five points, albeit briefly.
Does the Israel lobby control the debate?
The supposed power of the Israel lobby in limiting debate these days seems little in evidence. In fact, it seems to be open season on Israel in the media, what with Gary Kamiya in Salon, Nicholas Kristof in the New York Times (the higher circulation Sunday edition of course), and now with his very own I Love You Nick website created for progressive Democrats who detest Israel (a large and growing group), Jimmy Carter, seemingly everywhere discussing his new bestselling book accusing Israel of being a new South African apartheid state, Professors Steven Walt and John Mearsheimer, speaking (and out with a book in September, expanding on their tendentious London Review of Books article from last year) and being feted by such charming groups as CAIR, Tony Judt writing off Israel in the New York Review of Books, Philip Weiss with his regular poison penned columns in the Nation, and so many more.
As to opening the debate, we have the recent example of former President Carter getting national airtime to make his attacks against Israel on NPR or C-SPAN, or Meet the Press, and at various colleges (Brandeis and Emory recently), and refusing to debate his critics in any of these venues.
Many of the harshest critics of Israel, such as Norman Finkelstein and Noam Chomsky, are Jews, themselves, and have opened the door to other critics to attack Israel without fear of giving offense. There are of course more mainstream Jewish critics of Israel than Finkelstein and Chomsky, both of whom seemingly believe that Israel's creation and existence are an injustice. Weiss and Kamiya and Kristof write lovingly of these groups, such as the Israel Policy Forum, B'tselem, Americans for Peace Now, Brit Tzedek v Shalom and Ameinu, and accept their criticisms of Israel as gospel. Exactly how these groups are being silenced, or kept out of the policy debate among American Jews is a mystery of course.
There is quite simply no silence, and no enforced silence. There is vigorous debate on Israel in this country, as in Israel, and what frustrates the left is that so far, they have lost the debate. Has anybody recently checked the balance of columns supporting or attacking Israel in the major newspapers of America? Anybody kept track of how many anti-Israel speakers were invited to campuses across the country versus pro-Israel speakers in the last year? Anybody want to compare the number of pro-Palestinian faculty propagandizing their students in colleges and universities these days, (the next generation of leaders) with those faculty making a more balanced argument about the conflict Can one even defend Israel on campus these days? Anybody want to compare the dollars injected into influencing the debate on Israel and the Palestinians in this country by Saudi Arabia and other Palestinian supporters with the dollars raised and spent defending Israel?
Would American policy change if the debate were opened up?
The real problem for pro-Palestinian Arabs and Muslims and their allies on the progressive left (who have adopted anti-Israel attitudes as a religion, much like their passionate hatred of the Iraq war and George Bush), is that Americans are not on their side in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. If Congress in a largely bipartisan fashion is pro-Israel, it is because their constituents are overwhelmingly pro-Israel. AIPAC did not make the man or the woman on the street uncomfortable with Palestinian suicide bombers, or with the Palestinians who cheered the 9/11 attacks in cites across the West Bank and Gaza, or with the Palestinian media, schools and mosques in which hatred is spewed for Jews, Christians, America, the West, and all non-Muslims (infidels).
The Gallup organization has been polling Americans on their sympathies in the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians for decades. In every poll taken on the subject, the pro-Israel group has always been much larger. In the latest survey, the numbers show 58% for Israel (close to an all-time high), and 20% for the Palestinians . The 38% margin is one of the largest ever recorded in the survey. Gallup says fewer Americans are neutral or do not care about the conflict than in the past. The results also show very sharp differences among self-proclaimed Democrats and Republicans. Democrat-leaning voters are much more likely to be supportive of the Palestinians than Republican-leaning voters.
In the last few years, there has been a succession of books attacking evangelical Christians, also called "right wing Christians", for their alleged control over American politics. In fact critics on the left believe they are in the center of political debate, and all who disagree with them are right wing or far right wing or "wingnuts". It is not clear whom they would regard as left wing other than Joseph Stalin and Chairman Mao perhaps (but only on their bad days). It is not surprising that some of the most vitriolic polemicists on the subject are also hard-line anti-Israel in their views (Chris Hedges is a prime example). With Christian Zionism in full bloom, the left's hysteria over and hatred of the Christian right will only be more on display, and more intolerant. Christian evangelicals are a very large group of pro-Israel Americans who are among those surveyed in all the polls taken. And no Israel lobby was needed to make them supportive of the one Jewish state.
Many on the left seem to be unconcerned about how illiberal and unprogressive are the attitudes and behaviors of those they champion in this conflict; the forever aggrieved Palestinians and their Arab and Muslim allies. They are loath to defend Palestinian (or Saudi) behavior on such issues as women's rights, gay rights, tolerance for secularists and other non-Muslim believers, freedom of speech and the press, and so on. Because cultural relativism reigns supreme on the left, the progressives refuse to judge a non-western culture by western standards (or alternatively, it is just too inconvenient to do so). Only Israel can be judged by western standards (perfection in its case) and always found wanting.
Kristof in his recent column admits that human rights abuses directed against the Palestinians pale before the much more substantial and deadly human right abuses carried out by governments or groups around the world, and in the Muslim world in particular. But after paying lip service to this fact he goes on to bash Israel exclusively. Kristof has been a frequent writer on Darfur for years. But his condemnations in his many columns on Darfur are almost always directed against Western nations, in particular the US, for not doing more, (even suggesting military action!). Kristof will not condemn the brutal Sudanese Muslim government regime for murdering its own citizens, who have the misfortune of being predominantly black, not Arab.
Americans see the hypocrisy among those who back the Palestinians and yet whitewash their behavior, and who focus only on Israel's imperfections. For all its faults (there are no perfect nations), Israel is admired by many Americans for its resolve, its military toughness and sacrifices, its economic and technological achievements in agriculture, desalinization, computer science, and medicine, all shared with countries around the world, its friendship and strategic partnership with America (no country votes more often with the US in the United Nations than Israel) , and most of all for its western culture, democratic values, first amendment type freedoms, and respect for minorities. Where in the Arab world are any of these seen?
If the Israel lobby is successful, it is because the pro-Israel case is an easy one to make, and already widely understood and accepted.
Most of those on the left look for the "victim" or the weaker party in any dispute, and automatically assign moral superiority to that party. But most Americans also see a consistent pattern of self-destructive behavior by the Palestinians: sabotaging the Camp David talks in 2000, starting a vicious intifada (terror campaign) only months later, and electing a terrorist entity to control its government in 2006. Why help those who will not help themselves?
Does the Israel lobby promote American interests?
Even the "realist school" professors Walt and Mearsheimer admit that Israel was a strategic ally in the cold war. But now they believe that American interests lie more in securing our energy needs, and Israel can be thrown overboard if it interferes with that objective. Since our energy "partners" in the Arab world hate Israel, the professors want to abandon Israel to appease these supposedly more important players.
Bless their souls, both professors say they still believe (for today at least) that Israel has a right to exist. But America should cater to Saudi Arabia, Iran, Venezuela, Nigeria, and the Gulf states, since they have what we need. Maybe Al Gore needs to talk to the professors about whether this approach is healthy for the nation or the planet; first to continue to rely almost exclusively on fossil fuels, and second on such unreliable sources at that.
It is not hard to argue that Israel remains a vital strategic ally of the United States. The focal point of the worldwide Islamic fundamentalist assault on the West is in Israel’s neighborhood, and Israel defends itself. Some of Israel’s fiercest enemies are the same nations attempting to undermine American interests in Iraq and Lebanon, namely Iran and Syria. Israel shares intelligence on radical Islamist groups with the US. The two countries jointly work on development of many weapons systems – missile and rocket defense, drones, aircraft missile avoidance systems. The two countries cooperate on homeland security, policing, civil disaster planning, and counter-terrorism strategies.
Israel is in many ways a canary in the coal mine for the West. The war against Israel highlights the strategies and tactics of radical groups worldwide. And Israel’s survival and resilience demonstrate that the West can triumph against its foes if it marshals its considerable strength and maintains the determination to succeed. The sacrifice of Israel would be an enormous gift to the enemies of the West, and only increase their appetite and belief in their eventual victory against other Western targets.
Of course, the two nations can and do disagree on policy. But support for Israel in this country reflects the fact that most Americans believe Israel is a reliable and steadfast ally. What support has the US bought with its billions in foreign aid to Egypt? Is Saudi Arabia an American ally? Sure they have bought off politicians, academics, and journalists (even ex-Presidents for that matter). Have the Europeans made themselves more secure by siding with the Palestinians and cowering before every radical Islamist group in their midst?
Finally, the argument is made that Israel is controlled by a right wing government, and the Israel lobby here is aligned with that government. This is almost a total misreading of AIPAC's role, and the recent history of Israeli politics. AIPAC works to facilitate relations between Israel and the United States, whether Israel is governed from the left or the right. Israel's government changes from left to right to left to right in rapid order. Since the election of Yitzhak Rabin and the start of the Oslo process, Israel has been governed by left or center-left coalitions for more years than by the right. Consider this list of Israeli governments that Israel's critics denounce: Rabin, Peres, Barak, and Olmert. Right wing? Likud Party? Sharon had to abandon his Likud party to accomplish the disengagement from Gaza. Even a Likud-led government of Benjamin Netanyahu withdrew from Hebron, and agreed at Wye River to a substantial withdrawal from the West Bank. Israel withdrew unilaterally from southern Lebanon in 2000 and from Gaza in 2005. Neither of these withdrawals led to new quiet peaceful borders, but rather rocket fire, kidnapping and killing of IDF soldiers, and non-stop smuggling of weaponry to positions near the border so as to fire on Israel territory, as Hezbollah did with 4,000 rockets fired at Israel in the 5 week war of 2006, and as Palestinians have with almost 2,000 rockets fired into Israel since the disengagement from Gaza.
Is peace waiting around the corner?
The media are full of stories these days of Saudi peace plans, reformulated Saudi peace plans, and the new unity Palestinian government. Peace is in the air. And of course, to Israel's critics, the only obstacle is Israel's unwillingness to end its occupation and settlement policy, which Kristof blames for almost everything wrong in that part of the world at the moment.
Is Ehud Olmert guilty of hard line policies directed against the Palestinians? Has he been adding settlements? Hamas and Hezbollah and the Palestinian Authority have done a pretty good job radicalizing their own populations for years, of course, but why concern oneself with incitement, when you can blame Israel?
The reality as to who offered peace and who rejected it, is a bit different from the Kristof fable or the Kamiya saga, or the mythologies kept alive by the peace camp true believers, here and in Israel. At Camp David, as Chief US negotiator Dennis Ross makes clear in his opus on the peace process, Israel offered 92% of the West Bank, plus land within pre-67 Israel, plus all of Gaza, to share Jerusalem, and to help finance refugee resettlement. At Taba a few months later, the vicious Palestinian terror campaign (the second and far deadlier intifada) induced a sweeter offer from Israel- over 95% of the West Bank, and a larger land exchange. Of course the Palestinians had no intention of taking either offer, but have always been happy to book an Israeli offer, and use it as the basis for the beginning of the next set of negotiations once Palestinians agree to a time out in their 80 plus year campaign of terror against Israel and Zionism.
This history is either unknown to Israel's critics, or conveniently ignored. How to explain that on three occasions in the year 2000, New York Times "news" stories misinterpreted the meaning of UN Security Council Resolution 242, adopted in November 1967, five months after the Six Day War. That resolution does NOT require Israel to withdraw from all territories captured in that war, in exchange for peace and secure borders. In fact the deliberations that led to the resolution's passage were debated for 5 months until the United States and its allies won acceptance of the language of 242 that left it up to the parties themselves how much territory Israel would withdraw from. The negotiators of 242 wrote at the time that the pre-67 War boundaries were inherently unstable, and insecure for Israel, and only encouraged future Arab attacks.
Eugene V Rostow, U.S. Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs in 1967 and one of the drafters of the resolution, draws attention to the fact that the text proposed by the British had succeeded ahead of alternatives (in particular, a more explicit text proposed by the Soviet Union):
He also points out that attempts to explicitly widen the motion to include "the" or "all" territories were explicitly rejected.
Arthur Goldberg, another of the resolution's drafters, concurred that Resolution 242 does not dictate the extent of the withdrawal, and added that this matter should be negotiated between the parties:
On each occasion when the New York Times got the story wrong, the paper, notified of the error by CAMERA, was forced to print a correction. So why did the Times get it wrong three times? Were Times reporters and editors deliberately misreporting the meaning of the Resolution (suggesting bias and malice towards Israel) or are Times reporters and editors merely stupid, uninformed and incapable of learning from error?
Israel has certainly not always made wise decisions in its dealings with the Arabs or the Palestinians. But has Israel been the principal obstacle to the two state solution that some of Israel's critics say will end the conflict? The negotiations in 2000 and during the Oslo process put the lie to that. Of course, some of Israel's critics are more honest, and want Israel to disappear into a multi-ethnic state that would soon be dominated by the Palestinians (Tony Judt, Ali Abunimah, Jeff Halper and Ilan Pappe are in this camp).
As to the need for US engagement, critics neglect to mention that President Bush was the first President to explicitly support the creation of a Palestinian state. Present Clinton engaged as none before him and came up empty. Yassar Arafat remained a terrorist ‘til his end, with no interest in ending the conflict. Now we have Hamas running the Palestinian government, and the new Palestinian unity cabinet adopting the Hamas principles to achieve consensus at Mecca: no recognition of Israel, no end to violence (resistance to occupation in all forms is supported), and no acceptance of the need to live with all prior agreements between the parties (Hamas merely acknowledges that some agreements were negotiated). This may be enough for George Soros but should not be for Israel, the United States and its roadmap partners.
Will we win more friends by abandoning Israel (in diplomatese, being more balanced, say like Europe)?
It is comical to describe the European position on the Israeli Palestinian conflict as balanced. When Europeans rate Israel the greatest threat to world peace (and the US second), we are dealing with either collective delusion, or a new 21st century form of cowardice mixed with a perceived need to appease an angry domestic immigrant population.
We have Europeanists in our midst in the United States, of course, seen most recently in the James Baker-led Iraq Study Group, which argued that if America pressured Israel into a peace deal, we could achieve a successful conclusion to our effort in Iraq. How exactly the two conflicts are intertwined, or why any of the combatants in Iraq would stop their killing of each other if only Ehud Olmert and Mahmoud Abbas were toasting each other, is never explained.
The delusionary thinking of so many of Israel's critics stems from a progressive worldview that all conflicts are resolvable, and most are caused by our side's failure to understand the other side and their grievance (if we were more open minded, even Al Qaeda might be brought around to achieve common ground with us, I guess). In fact, however, there is evil in the world, not just misunderstandings among nations or leaders. And many of the groups that seek harm to Israel have no interest in negotiated solutions or US engagement, but only to an eventual Israeli submission and collapse. Genuine realism recognizes the need for American political support for Israel, an essential ally in today's struggle with Islamic radicalism. .
The great Victor Davis Hanson was recently interviewed by the Jerusalem Post. Hanson's take on the war over Israel was as follows:
Indeed it is.
Richard Baehr is chief political correspondent of American Thinker.