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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