Thursday, September 16, 2010

Friends of Israel Initiative

The Friends of Israel Initiative launched in the US this week. As its press release at its US launch says:

The Friends of Israel Initiative (FII), a group of leading policymakers and world leaders chaired by former Spanish Prime Minister José María Aznar, announced today the U.S. launch of their
international campaign to combat the global effort to delegitimize the State of Israel.

Organized and launched in Paris and London in summer 2010, FII is a first of its kind -- a high-level group of international leaders who insist that Israel has a legal right to exist as a normal Western democracy, and that fellow Western nations have a moral obligation to defend that right.

"It is not just a matter of Israel being the West’s first line of defense against global jihadism, and that if Israel fell the West as we know it would cease to exist," said Prime Minister Aznar.

"It is certainly all of that as well, but even more critically the issue of Israel is an ethical issue. The West has lost the moral clarity required to address anti-Semitic criticisms of the Jewish State and to defend the right of Israelis to live peacefully within defensible borders."

Joining Prime Minister Aznar in the effort are the eleven original signatories of the Friends of Israel statement and the tens of thousands who have signed the group’s petition.

Reflecting Americans’ broad, bipartisan support for Israel, FII will not support the specific policies of any government, politician or political party. Instead the organization will defend Israel as a normal, democratic country, with all the virtues and defects of any fellow democracy, and as a key member of the alliance of nations dedicated to defending the West’s fundamental values of freedom, tolerance, human rights, prosperity and stability.

Aznar's speech at the Washington launch included this:

We defend Israel because we believe is the best strategy in current times to defend the West.

When we started putting this Initiative in motion, the whole World was condemning Israel for reasons I don’t need to elaborate since you know them better than I do.

Now, the atmosphere has changed a little since direct talks between Israel and the Palestinians have reassumed and the peace process is moving ahead. Despite all the difficulties the negotiations may experience, I think we all should recognize the value, the prospects, and the hopes they represent. I am sure that Israel wants peace, and I know that all true friends of Israel want to see her achive that dream of peace and security.

But as we made clear in our first statement (which should have been on your chair tonight, by the way), there are problems in the region greater than just an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement. Problems that will not go away even if a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority is eventually reached.

While Israel has made peace with Egypt and Jordan, and her economy has strengthened in recent years, now not decades ago, Israel, is facing increasing dangers. She has been forced to defend her people from Hezbollah in the North and thousands of Hamas rockets in the South. And. perhaps most worryingly, Israel is increasingly threatened by the scenario of a nuclear Iran – something the world must certainly act urgently to prevent.

On top of that, Israel is under a new kind of attack. Not conventional war as in 1948, 56, 67 or 73. Not terrorism as we saw in the 70s, 80s and 90s. But a new kind of attack – an attack on Israel legitimacy, on her right to exist. A “soft-war”, where many of its adversaries are employing legal tricks, multinational bodies, and an army of dubious NGO’s to present internationally Israel as an illegitimate state, as a barbarian State, a State that should be isolated and converted into a pariah State.

We think this is intolerable. It is unjust, morally wrong, and a strategic risk -- not only for Israel and its people -- but for all of us.

Israel is an integral part of the West, and the weaker it is, the weaker the entire West will be perceived to be.

Even if we want to turn away from the traumas of 9/11, we simply do not have the luxury to choose our enemies. As Senators Baker, Dole, Daschle and Mitchell made clear in their latest report, published 5 days ago. by the Bipartisan Policy Center, the threat to our way of life from radical islamists is real, and it has not yet been eliminated.

Let me be clear. We don’t want in any case to defend any particular Israeli government or any particular set of policies or any particular party. Israelis institutions are mature enough to defend their choices. We want to stand up for the right of Israel to exist. Judeo-Christian values form the roots of our civilization. Delegitimizing Israel undermines our identity, warps our values and put at risk what we are and who we are.

So, dear friends, it is not only the threat that if Israel goes down, which, make no mistake, many of its enemies would like to see happen, we all go down. It is that letting Israel be demonized will lead to the deligitimation of our own cherished values. If Israel were to disappear by the force of its enemies, I sincerely doubt the West could remain as we know it.
So, I conclude: Is it craziness for a group, as I said before, of mostly Europeans and non-Jews, to say: Enough. Stop this non-sense of making Israel responsible for all the problems in the region, if not beyond? Enough of the short sightedness which refuses to see Israel as a corner stone of our Western civilization?

We do believe that far from it, It is vital. For America, for the West, for Israel. And for our children and grandchildren and the world they will inherit. Because there is still right and wrong in this complicated world. And if we allow those fundamentals to be blurred and eroded and confused, we will all be dangerously adrift.

Defending Israel today means strengthening the West, standing up for our values, and their right to exist as a normal country, a fellow democracy and a celebrated ally in our great western alliance.

I hope that you will share our vision, and will help us in bringing reason and decency back to the discussion concerning Israel.
Aznar also strongly defended Israel at the WJC meeting in Jerusalem earlier this month. Here's that video:

As Jeffrey Goldberg, who attended and spoke at the Washington dinner, writes,

What other country, sixty-two years after its birth (rebirth, actually) requires advocates to argue that it should continue to exist? Why is it that the world's only Jewish country is the only country to persistently face questions about its own legitimacy? In my brief remarks at the dinner, I mentioned a prime strategy of the Israel-denial movement, which is to convince self-defined liberals and leftists that Zionism is incompatible with their understanding of the world. I hope Aznar's group does a more vigorous job of recruiting pro-Israel leftists to its ranks (one of the organization's high muckety-mucks jokingly suggested Fidel Castro as a board member), because this is a prime worry of mine, that the most liberal country in the Middle East is being abandoned by people who should be its natural allies. Of course, as I've mentioned before, I believe Israel could do a much better job of being liberal -- liberal in the broadest (and American, not European) sense of the term, but Israel's many flaws have not (yet, at least) overwhelmed the fundamental truth that it is the safest and best place in the Middle East to be, among other things, a woman, a gay person, a journalist, and a dissident. 

(h/t Zvi)