The Siege

[Editor's note: The following is a transcript of an address by Richard Baehr to the Stand By Israel conference of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, in Washington, DC, September 28, 2005]

It is a great pleasure and privilege for me to have the opportunity to speak to the Stand for Israel Conference of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews. I received my invitation to speak at the conference the day I was leaving for a 9 day trip to Prague and Budapest on September 16th. As a result, it was inevitable that I thought about what I would say in this talk while on my trip.

It is not a stretch to say that the experiences in the last century of the two countries I visited — the Czech Republic and Hungary — provide some lessons for those of us who support Israel, and defend its right to exist as a homeland for the Jewish people.

Charles Krauthammer wrote an article in the Weekly Standard in 1998 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the founding of the modern state of Israel.  In his article, Krauthammer argued that small nations, like Israel, can disappear. They are vulnerable in a way that the US, China, Russia and Japan are not. Large nations can lose wars, but they live on. Israel can not afford to lose a war. Small nations have disappeared before and will in the future. 

In 1938, the British and the French met with Adolph Hitler and conceded to him that Germany had a right to the Sudetenland, the border areas with Germany and Austria within what was then Czechoslovakia, and which contained several million German speaking residents who had lived there for centuries.  The British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain said that the agreement would lead to peace in our time. Within months, the Nazis moved in and took over the remainder of Czechoslovakia, and incorporated it into the third Reich, much as they had done with their anschluss into Austria, a year earlier.  Czechoslovakia ceased to exist. In September 1939, the Nazis invaded Poland, and nine months later, Belgium, Holland, Denmark, Norway and France.

Appeasement of, and negotiations with Hitler proved unproductive for the Western nations.  And even worse, the West knowingly sacrificed a small nation in a misguided attempt to avoid a war which in the end would have to be fought and won.

In 1944 and 1945, both Hungary and Czechoslovakia were liberated from the Nazis by the Soviet Union. In the case of Hungary, the Soviets quickly established a compliant puppet regime. The Czechs had a few brief years of independence, before the Soviets consolidated their hold in 1948.  In both nations, there was a moment of resistance to the Soviets that was brutally wiped out. In 1956, an uprising by the Hungarians was crushed in days with 10,000 murdered. In Czechoslovakia, the Prague spring of 1968 was followed by an August nightmare of Soviet and satellite nation tanks, and an occupation by 750,000 troops.

The lesson for the people of both nations was that they could have no identity as independent nations, but merely as satellites in the Soviet sphere.

Today, both nations are thriving. The collapse of the Soviet empire has opened up both nations and led to a dramatic expansion of both individual liberties, including religious expression, and economic freedom.  These two small nations have come back to life.

In his article on Israel at 50 Krauthammer described Israel's and the Jewish people's unique vulnerability. In 1939, the world's Jewish population was 18 million, almost 1% of the 2 billion on the planet. Today, after the destruction of European Jewry in the Holocaust, Jews are barely 13 million worldwide, and make up only 0.2% of the world's people. More than 80% of the Jews in the world are now in just two countries: Israel and the US. 

When Theodore Herzl envisioned a new homeland for the Jews in Palestine, he believed that the Jews would flock there from Europe, and give up on their long struggle with pogroms, ghettos, anti—Semitism, and discrimination.   During the period of the 1930s and 1940s, when many Jews from Europe could have made it to safety in Palestine, the British, in an attempt to appease the local Arab population, refused to allow the Jews in, violating their League of Nations mandate to foster Jewish settlement of the land. Western nations, including our own, were not much more generous in accepting Jewish immigrants. 

Today, Israel is alone among the nations in the world in seeing its Jewish population increase. Jews in Israel do not intermarry, and they have plenty of babies. Within a few years, if not already, Israel will surpass the United States as the nation with the world's largest Jewish population.  Meanwhile in the diaspora — in the United States, and more rapidly in Europe — there is Jewish population decline. A high intermarriage rate, and a low birth rate will do that to a population.

The conclusion is obvious: the Jewish future is Israel. Herzl's dream of Israel becoming the Jewish homeland is being validated, but not in the way he imagined. He believed most of the world's Jews would move to Israel if they had the chance. Several million did. But he did not foresee 6 million Jews wiped out in the Holocaust, or diaspora communities losing population with each succeeding generation through natural population decline.

The United States will retain a strong and vibrant Jewish community even with declining numbers, Krauthammer believes, so long as Israel survives. But if Israel is destroyed, he argues that the shock of a second enormous tragedy in such a short period of time will be too much for the community to bear.  In this case, if Israel falls, Krauthammer is apocalyptic. He sees the Jews becoming a remnant, as they are in much of Eastern Europe, like the Amish in America, a small pious minority. In Prague today, there are more Jewish monuments in the beautiful Jewish museum, than there are living Jews in the city.  We are here today to help ensure that such a nightmare outcome does not come to pass in Israel.

Israel is vulnerable. Among its 5.3 million Jewish citizens, more than 60% are packed into a small area, 70 miles north to south and ten to fifteen miles wide. Smaller than Rhode Island, to be exact.  For its entire modern history, Israel has faced the unrelenting enmity of its neighbors, and murderous terrorism from within. Now there is a new threat — missiles from afar carrying nuclear weapons. Much like China's Chairman Mao, who spoke openly in the 1960s of being unafraid of nuclear war with America, since China's much larger population would insure its survival and ultimate victory, today Iranian leaders have made similar threats to destroy Israel, a nation less than a tenth its size, if they have the opportunity. 

For the past few years, European nations have tried to negotiate Iran's nuclear program away, attempting to demonstrate the superiority of their diplomatic approach in dealing with evil regimes and their threat, to America's military approach in Iraq.  It appears they have failed. Within some short period of time, Iran will have nuclear weapons.  Iran cannot always be 3 to 5 years away from developing their nuclear program, which is the estimate of the experts each and every year. Time moves on, and the window in which to stop the Iranians shrinks.  This new threat to Israel grows.

But Israel has never lived without a threat to its existence. The truth of the matter is that Israel has never been accepted as a permanent nation within the Middle East by the 22 Arab nations, and much of the broader Muslim world. First the Arabs fought to prevent Jewish settlement within Palestine, and then fought the UN partition plan to create two states within the British mandate territory. After the British left, and Israel declared its statehood in 1948, the war against it resumed. The history of Zionism is a history of terrorism and war, but through it all, the tenacity of a people building and defending their new state.

The best chronicler of the history of Zionism and the rebirth of the Jewish nation was the Irish writer Connor Cruise O'Brien. O'Brien served for several years as part of his nation's delegation to the United Nations. Due only to the accident of the spelling of his country's name, O'Brien as Ireland's representative, was seated between the representatives of Israel and Iraq. As O'Brien recalls, he was not asked to pass any messages between the two.  O'Brien's book, The Siege, is a comprehensive history of Zionism and Israel though the year 1986. It is a sympathetic portrait and history, the kind that almost no European could or would write today. Recently, pollsters surveying citizens of a dozen European nations discovered that Israel was rated the greatest threat to peace in the world. Not Iran, not North Korea, not China, not Al Qaeda, but Israel.

Western Europe's governments have already effectively abandoned Israel, much as they did Czechoslovakia in 1938. It is too much of a burden for them to defend Israel, what with their surging Muslim immigrant populations to appease with the bone of hostility to Israel. And of course since Israel is a close ally of the United States, Europe's envy of America and its power and world leadership works its way to the surface by confronting the US in the Middle East conflict, through support of the Palestinian side in international organizations, such as the UN.  

Europe, unlike America, has lost its Christian roots. And I believe this is a major reason why Europe has lost its way on the Middle East.  Much of the Christianity that remains on the Continent is really a variant of left wing secular humanism, of the kind seen in the liberal Protestant churches in America that have sought to divest their church funds from Israel the past two years. The new secular European, whether nominally Christian or not, frowns upon Israel, since he regards it as an anachronism for a Western nation to be associated with people of a certain faith, who still by and large practice that faith. 

Of course, Israel, alone among the nations in its region, provides full citizenship and religious freedom to its Muslim and Christian minorities. It is a real, functioning pluralist democracy. In Saudi Arabia, a US soldier helping to defend the country, cannot wear a cross in public or attend a church service, since no Christian house of worship is permitted.  The millions of foreign workers who do much of the daily work of the Saudi nation, most of them Christian, are required to put their faith on hold when they move there to work.  But it is not Saudi Arabia that the intellectuals of Europe condemn for the backwardness of their religious zealotry, or for their intolerance.  Europeans have different standards in judging non—western nations, and Muslim nations in particular, especially when these nations have lots of oil.  What galls the European secularists is that Israel is a Western nation, and still clings to a religious, nationalist tie to its land.  The Finns can have Finland, but the Jews can not have Israel.

In Europe, there is also great hypocrisy and blindness related to the behavior of Israel's enemies. The secular humanists who say they value women's rights, and minority rights, and the rule of law, and non—violence, and above all tolerance, should be appalled at what goes on in the Arab and Muslim world — the ruthless violence, the commitment to jihad, the oppression of and discrimination against women, the mistreatment and intolerance of minorities, including of course, Christian minorities, the autocratic nature of virtually every regime which substitutes the law of the ruler for the rule of law.

Consider something as basic as respect for holy places. The recent scenes of desecration of the synagogues in Gaza by mobs of Palestinians should give pause to those foolish enough to think that Israel and the Palestinians could live together in peace, if only Israel offered more concessions. 

The siege of Israel by its enemies is a fact of life that continues today. This siege is relentless, which appropriately enough, was the title of a documentary film made by the pro—Israel media monitoring group Honest Reporting, that presented in the film an honest report on what happened during the intifada, the sort of report you did not catch on CNN, or in the pages of the New York Times.

Today the siege of Israel has three primary fronts: in Israel itself, in international organizations, and in the United States.  The first target of course is Israel. The terror attacks have not defeated and cannot defeat Israel militarily. But over time, the terror groups and the nations which support them believe that they will soften Israel's will to fight on. The Arab world believes that terror campaigns drove the Israelis out of Southern Lebanon, and now out of Gaza. Hence more terror will drive Israel out of the West Bank. And then more terror will lead to Israeli political concessions designed to produce a single bi—national state. In such a state, the Arabs believe their numbers will dominate the Jewish population of Israel and sane Israelis will leave for safer pastures. And hence, Israel, as we know it, will be gone. This is Arafat's victory in stages.

Palestinian history since 1948 can be seen as a struggle to rewrite the defeat of the 1948 war, to use their grievance against Israel's creation as a weapon to train new generations to struggle to eliminate the Jewish state. How else to explain the fact that 57 years after the 1948 war, there are still refugees from that war living in refugee camps?  Nowhere else in the world are there such long term multi—generational refugees. And of course, the Palestinians have used the weight of the muscle they have at the United Nations, with all their Muslim nation allies and all the other nations that cower before them and their oil, to have descendants of refuges considered legal refugees as well. So third generation descendants of refugees who have never stepped foot in Israel, now demand a right of return to homes in Israel they and their parents have never seen.

While In the Czech Republic, our tour guide was candid about what happened in his country when World War Two ended. In anger over the welcome mat tossed out to the Nazis by the German residents of Czechoslovakia in 1938, the Czechs expelled over two million ethnic Germans in the period 1945 to 1947.  Poland and Russia did the same with their German minorities.  A flood of ten million Germans fled into occupied, defeated, impoverished Germany. These people were largely absorbed by the local population, much as is occurring now in Texas with fleeing Louisiana residents after Hurricane Katrina. 

The German refugees did not live for long, if at all, in refugee camps.  Today, none of these people or their descendants will be found in refugee camps, training their children to be suicide bombers to win back the Sudetenland. The very concept is patently ridiculous. They are productive citizens of a successful modern democratic state. Only in the Palestinian territories, is resettling refugees, and letting them get on with their lives, viewed as a defeat. As Golda Meir said, when Palestinians learn to love their children more than they love killing Israel's children, then we might be ready for peace. That day is not here.

It is no surprise of course that the propagandists in Hamas and Islamic Jihad are calling the Gaza disengagement a victory for terrorism and the use of violence to win political victories. These groups do not exist so as to better the lives of Palestinians, but so as to destroy Israel. Arguably, an alternative interpretation is that Sharon and Israel largely won the intifada war, and left Gaza for their own strategic reasons.  Those reasons have to do with demographic issues in Israel and the territories, as well as securing Israel's borders and its population behind defensible lines with the completion of the security barrier in the West Bank. But the Gaza discussion is another lengthy talk in itself. Personally, I find it difficult to play the hawk to Ariel Sharon's dove. He fought in five wars for Israel. I did not.

There is little evidence so far to suggest that the new Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas will have any success in reigning in the terror groups, even if he desired to, which  is also an open question.  So far Abbas has talked of co—opting Hamas into the political process, and bringing their armed men into his armed forces.  For now, he says they can keep their weapons, since he does not want a Palestinian civil war in order to establish his authority. So Hamas continues its hate campaign in the mosques and the media, and continues with the rocket firing into Israel, and the killing and mayhem it causes. In but a month, the Palestinians have turned Gaza into a state of nature, of the kind that the philosophers Thomas Hobbes and John Locke described. Abbas says there will be a single armed force after the Palestinian elections. But will he risk a civil war then to accomplish what he is unwilling to do now?

Demoralizing Israel and Israelis is also the focus of the second tier of the siege against the Jewish state — the delegitimization of Israel in international bodies.  Hence the endless stream of resolutions castigating Israel in the UN. Israel is but one of over 180 member nations. So why are 40% of all UN resolutions aimed at Israel? One might think that Israel is responsible for almost half of all that is wrong in the world if one believed that the UN had its finger placed neutrally on the scale of international justice. But it does not, of course. A once well intentioned organization is now little but a corrupt house of nasty anti—Israel posturing, run by the world's worst collections of vicious regimes.

The International Court's ruling against Israel's security fence is more of the same. Only Israel, among the nations of the world, is not allowed to defend its border.  Dozens of nations around the world have such barriers designed merely to keep out immigrants desperate for a better life. These fences bother no one at any international court. But when Israel tries to keep out suicide bombers, that is a problem.

The campaign against Israel in these international bodies, or in international human rights groups such as Amnesty International, or Human Rights Watch, are all designed to lead to a sense of demoralization and  isolation for Israelis, the same goal as those carrying out the unending campaign of terror in Israel. Demoralization it is believed, will lead to political concessions, which weaken Israel, and will lead to its eventual collapse. 

With Europe having gone over to the dark side, and international bodies stacked against it, Israel must rely on its own resolve, and the support of its one true and constant friend: America. And hence the third tier of the siege by Israel's enemies — the attempt to separate America from Israel.

This campaign has many tentacles. Until the Lebanon campaign in 1982, the media and most of academia in America viewed Israel favorably, as an  underdog, an island of Western civilization amidst  a sea of regimes run by military thugs or royal autocrats.  But things have definitely changed in these venues. While most Americans continue to support Israel overwhelmingly as compared to the Palestinians, the elites have largely switched sides. Israel is portrayed in the media as the occupier, the aggressor, the army with tanks fighting children with stones. The shamefully biased coverage of the conflict by the New York Times and NPR (National Palestinian Radio) and  the three major broadcast networks, is carefully documented by groups such as CAMERA and Honest Reporting.

Bad as they are, the BBC and Reuters, and the rest of the foreign press, are worse.  Over time, the biased coverage has an impact. More Americans now believe that both sides are equally at fault for the continuation of the conflict than once did. The language of a 'cycle of violence' has taken hold. Such cycles of course have a beginning, as does every incident of violence, if one cared to report it.

In academia, things have gotten much worse. Here the anti—Israel sentiment is not the soft bias of the major media, but the hard left's hostility to Israel. This reflects the triumph of 60s radicals who are running most of higher education today.  These radicals hate America, so how could they not hate Israel?  The sharp turn in academia against Israel, also reflects the enormous investment that wealthy Arab states have made in establishing Middle East Studies centers at major universities, so as to drum their message of Israel as the bad guy into the next generation of American leaders. Polling by Frank Luntz indicates that the attacks on Israel are working — that at the most elite schools, many students have soured on Israel.  The Palestinians are seen as the victims, and the Israelis as their oppressors.

Then there are the think tanks, also funded by Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states, which turn out a stream of position papers blaming Israel for America's problems in the Muslim world. These think tanks routinely hire former State Department and other government officials at high salaries, which tends to make government officials more sympathetic to the Arab side of the conflict while they are still at the State Department or other government jobs.

And of course, there are the liberal churches, which share the same progressive social and economic policy agenda as do many liberal American Jews. After all the years of interfaith efforts, one might think these churches might be a little more cautious about trashing Israel than they have been the past few years.  These churches have relied on the horror stories that are portrayed to them by Christians from their churches in the region, most of them deeply embedded in the saga of Palestinian victimhood, or merely fearful of the repercussions if they did not mouth the Palestinian party line. As with the UN and its obsession with Israel, one might ask why with all the places in the world where there are problems or injustice, these churches have chosen to single out Israel.  Particularly foul is how they have ganged up on Israel this past summer, when Israel was making painful concessions to give the Palestinians  an opportunity for self rule in Gaza.

And that is where we, and you come in, and why we must stand for Israel.  The single most dramatic positive development for Israel in recent years in this country has been the enormous support and passion for its cause that evangelical Christians have demonstrated. It should be no surprise that our President, a born again Christian, has been such a great friend of Israel. While Europeans called Ariel Sharon a war criminal, and demanded his arrest, President Bush called him an ally, and supported his war against Palestinian terror. President Bush refused to meet with Yassar Arafat, an unreformed terrorist thug. He made clear that Palestinian statehood could only come with a real, meaningful commitment to non—violence, a permanent end to terror, and acceptance of Israel.

But it is the support of mainstream evangelicals, the 70 million Americans unafraid to show their faith, and their love for Israel, which has also toughened Israel's resolve in the dark days. The message has been transmitted that Americans remain on Israel's side. Your support for Israel has been a grievous blow to Israel's enemies. They could change the minds of those who did not believe, those who had no moral guidance other than the values set forth in the New York Times editorial page, but not those who did.

Our work, of course is not done. Just as AIPAC works to strengthen the support in Congress for a strong US Israel relationship, we must continue our efforts to support this beleaguered outpost of democracy and civilization and western, or more properly Judeo Christian values. Israel is a real ally of America. And America remains the essential nation that is on the right side of history. America has liberated over 50 million Muslims in Kosovo, Bosnia, Afghanistan, Kuwait and Iraq in the past fifteen years. And yet the elites charge that America is at war with Islam!

In his wonderful novel Inside Outside, Herman Wouk described America as the golden medinah for the Jews. We have found a home here, and flourished with the unique opportunity that America has provided. We are a nation of immigrants who have found a new home. But Israel is the Jewish homeland, and the great miracle of its rebirth as a modern state is testament that good can triumph in this world amidst all the horror. 

I salute you for all that you do for America and for Israel. Your cause is my cause. And we will work together so that Israel can withstand the relentless siege by those who mean to destroy it. And with our efforts, with the sacrifices and tenacity of the Israelis, and with God's good grace, Israel will  live and prosper as the one Jewish state.

Richard Baehr is chief political correspondent of The American Thinker.