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Friday, July 29, 2011

Should Israel's policies be dictated by fears of becoming a "pariah"?

In my Twitter exchange with Jeffrey Goldberg yesterday, he pretty much admitted that Israel's giving up the West Bank would very possibly not bring Israel peace anyway. But he fell back to a second argument for Israel's withdrawal from the territory:

I believe, however, that Israel will become a pariah if the Palestinians aren't granted statehood, or the vote in Israel.

My point was that a Palestinian Arab state could exist while Israel still holds onto parts of the territories deemed necessary for security as well as areas that already have large Jewish communities.

But the issue he brought up, that Israel would become a pariah if it didn't act in certain ways, is worth exploring.

What makes Israel unpopular?

I would argue that it has almost nothing to do with Israeli policies. While certain Israeli actions cause Western opinion to temporarily go in one direction or another, the general trend of opinion is independent of Israeli actions.

The Western world liked Israel in 1967 and after Entebbe in 1976. It liked Israel immediately after the peace agreement with Egypt but that disappeared soon after. It liked Israel after the Gaza withdrawal but that disappeared when Israel acted to stop the rockets that still rained down. The world liked Israel a little after the withdrawal from Lebanon but that disappeared as well. It liked Israel after the Oslo agreement was signed but it was silent when suicide bombings flared up in years afterwards. In other words, world opinion is mercurial and the world has a short-term memory, driven by the most recent news.

But underneath the zig-zag chart of world opinion of Israel there is a longer trend against Israel, a trend that is relentlessly downward. We now live in a world where people who seem otherwise intelligent have no problem singling out Israel for perceived crimes that she is far less guilty of than even other Western nations under remotely similar circumstances. (One only has to look at the hysterical reaction to the admittedly problematic "BDS law" while comparing it to the criminal restrictions on freedom of speech in most European countries today, for a recent example.)

What is behind this continuous downtrend of world opinion?

There is, and always will be, a large and hard core set of people who are against Israel's very existence. They hated the idea of a Jewish state before it was born, they hated Israel when it was a tiny struggling nation, they hated it when it won and they hated it when it lost. This core consists of Arabs and the radical hard-Left.

Any reasonable observer can identify that the source of this irrational, seething hate is good old-fashioned anti-semitism. There is no other explanation for the double standards and disproportionate focus on only the Jewish state.

But anti-semitism is declasse. So this hate has been redefined in terms of human rights, of Arab rights, of Israeli aggression, of fairness and justice, of a tiny oppressed underdog against a huge Zionist war machine.

This coalition of Arabs and hard-left Jew-haters has been cynically framing the argument in these terms, consistently, for decades now. But make no mistake - it is a strategy, not a spontaneous expression of digust at supposed Israeli crimes. The PLO (probably in coordination with the Soviets) sketched this strategy out immediately after the Six Day War, and published it in the Palestine National Assembly Political Resolutions in July, 1968:
The enemy consists of three interdependent forces:
a) Israel.
b) World Zionism.
c) World imperialism, under the direction of the United States of America.

Moreover, it is incontestable that world imperialism makes use of the forces of reaction linked with colonialism.

If we are to achieve victory and gain our objectives, we shall have to strike at the enemy wherever he may be, and at the nerve centres of his power. This is to be achieved through the use of military, political and economic weapons and information media, as part of a unified and comprehensive plan designed to sap his strength, scatter his forces, destroy the links between them and undermine their common objectives.

A long-drawn out battle has the advantage of allowing us to expose world Zionism, its activities, conspiracies, and its complicity with world imperialism and to point out the damage and complications it causes to the interests and the security of many countries, and the threat it constitutes to world peace. This will eventually unmask it, bringing to light the grotesque facts of its true nature, and will isolate it from the centres of power and establish safeguards against its ever reaching them...

An information campaign must be launched that will throw light on the following facts:

a) The true nature of the Palestinian war is that of a battle between a small people, which is the Palestinian people, and Israel, which has the backing of world Zionism and world imperialism.

b) This war will have its effect on the interests of any country that supports lsrael or world Zionism.

c) The hallmark of the Palestinian Arab people is resistance, struggle and liberation, that of the enemy, aggression, usurpation and the disavowal of all values governing decent human relations.
This blueprint has really not changed much since 1968. The goal of these rabid Israel-haters is to divide Israel from the Western world, especially America, by painting Israel as an aggressive bully that is trampling on the rights of a poor but proud people. It is no coincidence that this plan was conceived in the aftermath of a war where combined Arab armies tried unsuccessfully to destroy Israel and when Israel was riding a wave of popularity.

The larger Left, which is not anti-semitic, has over the years slowly adapted these exact talking points as their own. This is not out of malice towards Israel so much as it is because most of their members do not know enough to argue with these points and Israel did a poor job countering them in the same frame of reference. Indeed, Israel has little to apologize for in its human rights record towards the Palestinian Arabs in the territories, and has always sought to solve the problem in the framework of a larger Middle East peace process. The problem is that the hard-left has successfully decoupled the Palestinian Arab issue from the larger Israel-Arab issue (even though even this same PLO document admits that the two are the same.) Israel, a tiny and besieged country that craves peace, has been successfully cast as a big warmongering bully.

This demonization of Israel has been infecting the rhetoric of the Left for a long time now. It is unlikely that Israel can stop it. In fact, there is an easy formula for Israel's enemies keep it alive. Even if Israel accedes to all of the current demands by the PLO, we have seen in the past how easily world opinion can be turned against Israel again - just stage more attacks. Israel's response will almost inevitably and regrettably kill civilians, and all the goodwill gained would evaporate in an instant. It happened in Gaza, it happened in Lebanon, and the lies of Jenin prove that it can happen even if Israel doesn't do anything wrong.

Given this, Israel's media strategy must be to fight the battle using the same language of human rights that has been co-opted by her enemies. It takes time to reframe the argument but that is the only option.

The fact is that a great number of Palestinian Arabs are not under Israeli rule, but living as second-class citizens under Arab rule. Issues like these need to be publicized so that Israel doesn't suffer from the tunnel-vision imposed by those with an agenda that does not accept Israel's right to exist to begin with. It is a regional issue that must be solved in a comprehensive way, and if that is impossible then a detente is the best we can hope for.

It should go without saying that Israel must act morally. The first duty of any sovereign nation is to protect its citizens, and the human rights of Israelis must be protected no less than those of Palestinian Arabs. Israel must safeguard Palestinian Arab rights as much as humanly possible without compromising on the security of Israel's own citizens.

This, not PR, must be he driving force behind Israel's policy and strategy. Major decisions cannot and should not be driven by external pressure. If a Palestinian Arab state can be set up where Israel is not threatened with terror and rockets and continuous demands for more and more concessions even after an agreement, then peace can be here pretty quickly. But short of that, concessions given because of political pressure are usually counterproductive.

One more point. It is worth noting that Western nations, and probably even Arab nations, are far more sympathetic towards Israel than they say publicly. Every nation is keenly aware of its own challenges and the threat of separatists, anarchists and terrorists are shared among most nations. There is a big game going on where states are willing to publicly castigate Israel to mollify the Arab world - with the full knowledge that the US will act as the "bad cop" and ensure that Israel doesn't fall. This is far from ideal, and it might not be sustainable, but it is also not as bad as it sometimes sounds from the media obsession about unrelenting pressure on Israel.