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Israel's Powerful Friends

By George Szamuely, 06/2000, www.antiwar.com


George W. Bush and Al Gore made the predictable pit stops at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). With characteristic daring, Bush vowed to waste no time moving the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. He also denounced the Clinton administration for putting too much pressure on Israel. "In recent times Washington has tried to make Israel conform to its own plans and timetables...but this is not the path to peace." The next day it was Gore's turn and he seized the opportunity to denounce...Bush's father. In 1991 the elder Bush blocked loan guarantees to Israel, protesting the continued building of settlements. "I vividly remember standing up against a group of administration foreign policy advisers who promoted the insulting concept of linkage," Gore boasted. "We defeated them..."

So there we have it: the next administration's attitude will be that Israel should be able to do whatever it wants with the vast fortune that the U.S. annually bestows on it, and we should have no say at all in the matter.

Every other country gets hit with sanctions the moment it fails to follow Washington's orders, but not Israel. No country in the world is the object of so much hysterical veneration, so much anguished cheerleading and so many outrageous double standards as Israel. Case in point: a recent Weekly Standard cover story written by Charles Krauthammer. "Israel's enemies see the future," he writes, "a future Israelis themselves may now be creating: a world without Zionism, a world without Israel." Krauthammer bases his conclusion on Yoram Hazony's new book The Jewish State. Hazony, invariably described as Israel's leading "neoconservative," claims that the "idea of the Jewish state is under systematic attack from [Israel's] own cultural and intellectual establishment." Israel's elite is in the grips of something called "post-Zionism," a way of thinking that sees no point to the continued existence of a specifically Jewish state. According to Hazony, fashionable people believe that Israel should become a state like any other a so-called "state of its citizens." They want to divorce Jewish nationality from the state of Israel.

Hazony finds this horrifying. But why? Everyone else is giving up on nationalism. Fifteen European nations have surrendered much of their sovereignty. No one even talks about the American nation. We are simply the "indispensable nation." Why should Israel be immune? Krauthammer provided an answer a couple of years ago in a New Republic symposium marking the centenary of the Zionist movement. He wrote: "Large nations may suffer defeats, even occupation. They may even, for a time, lose their independence. But they cannot disappear. Small nations can. Israel is a small nation. That is the reason post-Zionism is so dangerous. It is dedicated to dismantling the Zionist fortress state... To do so when the danger is at the gate is suicide." What he says about small nations is true. But he fails to mention that, unlike other small nations, Israel can call on the services of the greatest power in the world. Israel's enemies, on the other hand, have no one to call on.

Moreover, it would be nice if Israel's champions would occasionally acknowledge the existence of other "small nations" who may be fighting for survival. Instead, Israel's amen corner is notable for the virulence of the attacks it directs at the national aspirations of others. Few publications are as filled with visceral hatred as The New Republic. Russians are condemned for "reactionary nationalism"; the Kurds for "romantic nationalism"; the Chinese for "bellicose nationalism." Arab nationalism a creation of Christians "fearful of Muslim dominance" is all "Germanic ideas about volk and anti-Semitism." When Marty Peretz's boys are not denouncing "the age-old European bugaboo of nationalism," they are fretting about the "neo-nationalists" of Japan, who "are dangerously anti-American, or harbor loopy notions about reconstructing a stronger and more aggressive Japanese military." Then there was Daniel Goldhagen's anti-Serb screed last year surely the most repulsive atrocity The New Republic ever perpetrated: "The vast majority of the Serbs are animated by a particularly virulent variant of the nationalism characteristic of Western civilization... The majority of the Serbian people...have rendered themselves both legally and morally incompetent to conduct their own affairs."

You get the idea. Jewish nationalism is good and every other nationalism is bad. Yet endless repetition scarcely makes the claim any more plausible. "Israel was our sovereign land from which we were exiled and the claim to which we never renounced," writes Krauthammer, "unlike the colonizers of, say, Australia, South Africa and North America, we are returning to...our patrimony. And the argument from necessity that a people savagely persecuted and denied refuge in every corner of the globe needs at least one place of its own was made 50 years ago, tragically and definitively, in the wake of the Holocaust."

This is the standard argument and just about every ingredient in it is unsustainable. First, the Jews who arrived in Palestine were colonists and the indigenous people did not want them there. The claim that your ancestors lived there 2000 years ago is not legally the soundest. Moreover, the Jews in Israel, surrounded as they are by Arab enemies, are hardly secure. Jews are much safer today in almost every country in the world than in Israel. And if Israel is the proper home for the Jews, why are so many Jews choosing to live elsewhere? America's Jews are staying put.

In the end, Israel exists because it won its wars. It faces no mortal threat to its existence. And no more Jews are expected to arrive any time soon. The time has come for Israel to address some of the painful issues of the past and to become a normal state. The worst possible outcome would be if "neoconservatives" Israeli or American were to come to dominate this debate.


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