28 January '16..
One of the standard arguments from Israel’s American critics is that the Jewish state’s advocates are out of touch with American public opinion. In so far as that concerns the liberal supporters of President Obama that make up the majority of American Jewry, there is some truth to the assertion. There’s even more truth to the charge that American Jewish groups that consider it their duty to mobilize support for Israel have trouble connecting with young Jews on college campuses where such views are neither “cool” nor in synch with the fashionable leftism of contemporary academia. That’s why those who oppose the policies of Israel’s government and believe it must be pressured to make more concessions to the Palestinians view Israel advocacy with such disdain. But the question we should be asking about this debate is not so much whether friends of Israel are out of touch with the forces in the culture that view it negatively but whether those that oppose its policies are out of touch the reality of the Middle East. To no small degree, future of the U.S.-Israel relationship hangs on the answer to that query.
The latest to sound the theme of alienation from Israel is New York Times columnist Roger Cohen, who writes that “Israel’s image issue” runs deeper than differences about the best way to sell Israel to Americans. He chimes in to support U.S. Ambassador Daniel Shapiro’s ill-timed rant asserting moral equivalency between isolated instances of Jewish violence and a mass campaign of terrorism on the part of the Palestinians. According to Cohen, Israel’s presence in the West Bank is the problem. He thinks growing numbers of Jews are “distancing themselves from Israeli policies seen as unjust, unlawful, immoral or self-defeating.” More than that, he says that the ability of the Black Lives Matter movement to focus “minds on issues of oppression and injustice” facilitates analogies between the cause of civil rights and the Palestinians.
Such facile and misleading analogies are the core of the problem and the answer for Israel’s detractors is that it must get out of the West Bank and give the Palestinians a state. That, in a nutshell, is the sum total of the liberal critique of Israel. Such thinking has the advantage of simplicity and being in touch with left-wing prejudices. And if the views of a Black Lives Matter movement that does far more to exacerbate lingering racial divisions than heal them is your moral compass, then it all makes sense.
But if that was all that there was to the problem of creating peace in the Middle East, it would have been solved long ago. The trouble here is that those who help shape the debate about the Middle East on campuses or the fashionable left in this country aren’t so much out of touch with the facts on the ground in Israel and the West Bank as they are completely uninterested in them.
Cohen cites a column by New York Jewish Week editor Gary Rosenblatt that highlights the difficulty of explaining a complex and fractious Israeli political system to Americans who tend to want to view the Jewish state in terms of good and evil. Unlike every other country in the world, Israel is held to an impossible standard by which the normal problems in any democracy, as well as the extraordinary challenges posed by the ongoing war on Zionism, are treated as reasons to oppose its existence. The job of supporting Israel and highlighting its great achievements and its challenges is, as Rosenblatt said, “getting harder each day.” That’s due in no small measure to a dysfunctional Israeli political system and the incompetence or the utter indifference of most of its leaders to the issue of how best to present their country to the world.
But while Rosenblatt is kicking around the perennial question about improving Israel’s image, Cohen is talking about something else. In Cohen’s view, Israel is an oppressor with indefensible policies that must be altered. A refusal to comply with demands for withdrawal marks Israel as an “apartheid state.” He even chimes in to agree with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s indefensible belief that the Palestinian terror campaign is only “human nature” at work since oppressed peoples have a right to resist tyrants.
But the disconnect with reality is not on the part of Israel’s friends and the tipoff to that comes from a throwaway line in the Cohen piece about Israel’s extremism being illustrated by the fact that in the context of his own country, Prime Minister Netanyahu is a moderate.
He’s right about that. As I noted last week, even the leader of the opposition to Netanyahu, Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog has given up on the two-state solution. The point is, even the Israeli left that Cohen presumably wishes to see replace Netanyahu in power understands that the Palestinians don’t want peace. The current terror campaign isn’t about settlements; it was started by lies about the Temple Mount that illustrated Palestinian public opinion that views Jews as having no rights to any part of the country and sees murdering them, whether they are in Tel Aviv or a hilltop West Bank settlement as an act of heroism. Herzog knows that Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas won’t recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn. Like Netanyahu and the overwhelming majority of Israelis, Herzog also knows that any land given up to the Palestinians will become a terror state like Gaza, from which Israel pulled out every Jew in 2005. Most Israelis would prefer a two-state solution, but the majority of Palestinians oppose it because their goal remains the destruction of Israel.
That liberal Americans and college students don’t know these basic facts or don’t care about them is sad, but it’s no reasons for friends of Israel to stop speaking up for what is right or to join the chorus of jackals baying for Israel to make suicidal concessions. Rather than bending to join those demanding Israel conform to the opinions of those that ignorantly compare it to apartheid-era South Africa, what friends of the Jewish state need to do is to double down on advocacy pointing out the justice of its cause and the lies of its opponents. The apartheid canard must be denounced, not compromised with or accepted.
The answer to lies is truth, not compromise. The Jewish people have a right to their own state in their ancient homeland, and there is nothing analogous between the predicament of American blacks during the Jim Crow era and that of Palestinians who are merely frustrated in their efforts to eradicate the one Jewish state on the planet. Those that haven’t the courage to denounce those who make such analogies should either pipe down or get out of the way.
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