Isolation is the new situation

Usually I keep my articles about ‘the situation’ — the various threats against Israel — pragmatic and short-term. Because, after all, who knows what will happen in the long term.

But the turmoil in Egypt — which has just turned ugly — and the rest of the Arab world prompts me to ask some long term questions.

While we can’t predict who will come out on top in Egypt with certainty, the inexorable flow of time means that it won’t be the 82-year old Mubarak, even if he survives this crisis. In the short term, Mubarak did Israel a favor in practical terms by keeping a lid on Islamist forces, opposing Hamas and Hizballah. But from a longer perspective, perhaps the deliberate way he stoked the fires of anti-Zionist and antisemitic hatred in Egypt, the way he ensured that ‘peace’ between Egypt and Israel would never be more than an extended cease-fire, simply postponed the conflict that he could have ended.

A shame, because it was in his power to take a different path. He didn’t have to take the approach, so common in the Middle East, of using Israel as an excuse for everything — a police state, military buildups, etc. He had absolute power, and he was starting from a situation in which Sadat had ‘recovered Egypt’s honor’ in 1973. But instead, Egypt became the source of the worst antisemitic incitement in the Middle East.

The Palestinian Arabs are another sad story. Unfortunately, the ideological dynasty that supplied their leadership, from the Nazi Mufti al-Husseini through Yasser Arafat and Mahmoud Abbas, and to the heir apparent, Marwan Barghouti, has always been singlemindedly dedicated to the destruction of Israel. Barghouti, by the way, who is presently in prison for masterminding at least five murders, is often said to be the one man who could bring Fatah and Hamas together. Here’s is what he said last week:

I address special greetings to the great Palestinian nation, initiator of revolutions and Intifadas, with a legendary history of resolve facing the worst and most abominable enemy known to humanity and modern history; the enemy which does not refrain from carrying out massacres, continuing aggression, theft of land, establishment of settlements and expanding them, and to Judaize Jerusalem – the city of cities and the jewel in the crown of the [Arab] nation – and continues with a policy of detention against the members of a defenseless people. — PMW

The Palestinian authority government of Mahmoud Abbas, which also seemed to follow an ‘incite but don’t fight’ policy like Mubarak’s, has been seriously weakened by the so-called “Palestine Papers,” which are being exploited by Hamas. Today it is propped up only by US money and the IDF. It would not surprise me to see the US dumping Abbas as it dumped Mubarak, and putting pressure on Israel to release Barghouti to become the new Palestinian strongman.

The fact is that the Arab world, all of it, has been fed anti-Zionism and antisemitism for several generations now, and it shows. Today in the age of the Iranian-influenced Aljazeera, the voice of hatred is global in its reach.

Indeed, let’s look at the rest of the globe. The non-Arab Muslim nations are all hostile to Israel, because Muslims have been convinced that Israel and Zionism are enemies of Islam itself, not just Palestinian Arabs. Although it doesn’t make sense, this argument has been persuasive, probably because nobody dares to criticize the violent Islamists that make it.

Sometimes there are pragmatic benefits from hatred. In Turkey for example the AK party has orchestrated conflict with Israel to mobilize its base to support it in coming elections.

What about the West? Here things get interesting. Probably since the time of the Roman Empire, antisemitism has been manifest. Jews were taken as scapegoats in Europe throughout the Middle Ages and after. After the Enlightenment, Jews took various paths — to assimilation, Zionism and migration, but then Hitler showed that escape from the problems of Jewishness wasn’t as easy as some thought.

The reaction to the Holocaust was a huge setback for antisemitism. Sane politicians and intellectuals agreed that antisemitism, indeed all kinds of racism, were evil and must never be allowed to proliferate again. In the US, this coincided with the civil rights movement, where institutionalized racism was practically eliminated, and racist ways of thinking — including antisemitism — were stigmatized as unacceptable.

But like a mutating virus, antisemitism changed in a way which made it immune to the societal defenses against racism. It turned into collective hatred of the Jewish state, rather than being directed at individual Jews. So it became possible to say “I’m not antisemitic, I’m critical of Israel. It’s just politics, not racism.” While analysis of this position often exposes the double standards and demonization that indicate that it is not ‘just politics’, this response hasn’t gotten much traction outside the pro-Israel community.

Worse, Israel-haters have taken advantage of the very taboos that should protect Jews and turned them against Israel. So they accuse Israel of violating the human rights of Palestinian Arabs, being racist and creating an apartheid state.

These false accusations, repeated over and over by left-wing academics, politicians, and media personalities — some, especially the academics, bribed with Arab oil money — are much more effective than traditional antisemitic language at creating hatred. In some countries, like the UK, almost no other voices are heard in the media. In the US it’s less prevalent, but can be found consistently in places like NPR and the NY Times.

I believe that this anti-Israel propaganda actually gains force by awakening echoes of antisemitism in listeners who perhaps would not allow themselves to consciously entertain antisemitic notions. But disliking Israel, unjustifiably but viscerally, feels great.

So what is the consequence of this world-wide epidemic of anti-Israel feeling?

If there’s one word that characterizes Israel today, it’s isolation. Physically, there are Hizballah and Syria to the north, Hamas to the southwest, perhaps an Islamist or at least Islamist-influenced Egypt in the south and the weakened PA to the east. This degree of isolation characterized the Jewish state in its early years, but I think is seen as a new phenomenon because it’s changed so much for the worse since the 1990’s.

Politically, support for Israel is weak to nonexistent in Europe. While there is popular and Congressional support in the US, the administration is borderline hostile. Some of this is due to practical politics — i.e., Arab economic power — but a lot comes from mutated antisemitism (the prevalence of academics in our administration is an indicator).

I think that we are entering a very difficult period. Israel’s main ally, the US, is weak as a result of two wars and economic difficulties, and it is governed by an incompetent and ideologically suspect administration. The most powerful nation in the Arab world is teetering between its traditional conservative leaders and Islamism (democracy is not a real possibility). And the revolutionary Islamism of Iran has taken over Lebanon and is only growing in strength.

What should the response be?

From a military point of view “ain hochmot“. There aren’t any clever tricks, just adequate planning and allocation of resources. Probably Israel will have to allocate more of its GDP to preparedness, both for the armed forces and the neglected home front.

I think that Israel stopped underestimating the military capabilities of its enemies after 2006. The real problem will be in the information war, the need to keep fighting until a decisive victory is achieved, despite pressure from a propaganda-affected US and Europe. Clearly, the precautions taken to avoid civilian casualties in Cast Lead, while elaborate, did not prevent the defamation of the IDF.

With respect to fighting delegitimization, here is my admittedly amateur prescription: Israel should attack the double standards, etc. of the haters. It should not be defensive or show weakness. The principle is this: the phenomenon of Israel-bashing by the West is a form of bullying. Bullies are encouraged by a show of weakness and deterred by strength and resolve.

It’s a new reality for Israel, a much more difficult one.

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2 Responses to “Isolation is the new situation”

  1. Robman says:

    Superb article, Vic.

    I only have this to add: Wouldn’t things look a helluva lot different if McCain had won in ’08?

    Sure, you’d still have the Israel-bashing academics, and the media would probably be about the same. But the Leader of the Free World could still have a lot of influence in places like the UN, and upon the policies of other first-world secular liberal democracies.

    He or she can give speeches like the one Obama gave in Cairo early in his term. And unlike that speech – which put the world on notice that Obama was going to do his utmost within and perhaps slightly beyond the limits of political possibility to throw Israel under the bus – future speeches can be in the other direction.

    Imagine the kind of speeches McCain might have given. When he visited Israel in March of ’08, he refused to meet with ANY representatives of the PA. One of his top aides declared that summer, “Jordan is Palestine”. What could he have done from that “bully pulpit”?

    I can’t see Obama getting re-elected. His appoval ratings among likely voters is around 49% right now, and it is only downhill from here. His only significant “accomplishment”, the health care bill, is under major attack. His foreign policy is a disaster. Unemployment remains stubbornly high; this combined with inflation, stagnant wages, increasing oil and gas prices, all of this spells trouble for all of us, but certainly for Obama’s political fortunes.

    Less than two years from now, someone else will be in office. I think Obama’s Saudi puppetmasters are hedging their bets – WATCH OUT FOR RON PAUL – but as long as they don’t prevail, and especially if someone like Palin or Huckabee wins in 2012, there is going to be a radical change for the better.

    I’d also point out that there is a grimly ironic “positive” side to the rise of these Islamist movements across Moslem NE Africa/SW Asia. For decades, U.S. policy makers have equivocated on support of Israel on the basis of not offending our “moderate” Moslem allies. What if there are no more “moderates” left? Then we have no choice but to stand by Israel.

    Fortunately, despite their populations and even their oil money in some cases, Israel’s adversaries are generally social/economic basket cases. Their military forces are still manned by ill-trained peasants, and they’ve proven again and again that they are utterly inept at carrying out modern warfare. Iran and her proxies will do serious damage to Israel in a future war with their ballistic missiles, that is true; but if the Arabs “smell blood” because of who we have in the White House right now, and the push Israel into a corner, well, “the gloves are off”. Israel will probably fight like she’s got nothing left to lose…and she’ll decimate her enemies.

    I am nervous in the extreme about the remaining two years of Obama’s term in office. No matter what happens, I expect he’ll leave Israel twisting in the wind no matter how barbaric her enemies. But after those two years are up, there is real cause for optimism that things will start to turn around in our favor.

  2. Shalom Freedman says:

    I agree with Robman that this is a superb article. I also agree with much else which Robman says, but I am not at all sure he is correct in predicting that President Obama will be defeated. I do agree that his foreign policy has been incompetent or worse in regard to the Middle East. I find that his abandonment of Mubarrak is both immoral and self- defeating. I too agree that the U.S. is weakened now , seems to be on the way out of the Middle East And this while he is allowing its domino by domino- Islamization.
    As to the main point of the article regarding Israel’s isolation it is , unfortunately, right. Israel should not however respond by pitying itself for its isolation, or glorifying itself for it. It should be working to strengthen ties with friends, make new friends if possible. It still has after all the great majority of Americans with it, the Congress with it, the support of the greatest share of world Jewry, the support of many Christian groups, the support of many of those who care for Democracy and Freedom.