April 4, 2004 - Israel is not merely a Jewish issue.
In recent years support for Israel has become increasingly controversial. Israel has received a lot of bad press, much of it due to a fairly successful Palestinian public relations effort that presents selected parts of the news out of context and distorts much of the rest. The strategy is to alienate Israel from world opinion and especially to divide Israel and the United States.
Israel's enemies want us to blame Israel for Arab aggression. "Why do they hate us?" we are encouraged to ask. "Because we support Israel" is the expected answer; "If America had not always supported Israel, 9/11 never would have happened." Such sentiments have become increasingly common.
Blaming terrorist attacks on support for Israel is a calculated strategy of divide and conquer. More than that, it is justification for blackmail: the terrorists say they attack us because they don't like our friends - so if we abandon our friends, maybe they will be nicer to us.
If people attack me because they don't like my friends, I won't blame my friends, I'll blame the people who attacked me. That is the morally correct thing to do. Nevertheless, Americans in particular and Westerners in general need a practical reason to support Israel. Self-interest, not morality, is the driving force in international politics. Westerners need to know that supporting Israel is in their self-interest.
Support for Israel is not only in the interest of Israel but also in the interest of every Western democracy. This is because the terrorist war against Israel, the terrorist war against America, and the emerging terrorist war against the West in general are all the same war.
The terrorist war against America is fundamentally not about America's support for Israel. America's support for Israel is not one-sided. America also supports the creation of a Palestinian state. The Roadmap President Bush has proposed makes strong demands on Israel as well as on the Palestinians. America's policy has, over the years, become more and more what Arabs themselves like to call "even-handed."
The terrorist war against America has to do with something much bigger than Israel. It is the resurgence of the age-old battle between the Islamic East and the Christian West.
The "conventional wisdom" is that America is hated because it supports Israel. But if one listens carefully to what Islamic extremists are saying, it turns out that Israel is hated because it is seen as a Western colony. The following, written shortly after 9/11 for Arabic News (4), is typical:
The British daily "the Observer" issued on Sunday criticized the US President George Bush and the British prime minister Tony Blair for their negligence of facts in the Arab region, noting that the western media especially the British dare no[t] to mention the Israeli element behind the attack against the US last Tuesday.
The paper added that no body in the British media will dare to mention that "Israel" is an American colony where billions of US dollars and weapons flow to, noting that the pressures of the Jewish Lobby in Britain make many of the British journalists even those who are known for their courage, keeping apart and far away from ta[l]king about the Israeli role in the attacks.
The original article in the Observer (3), while venomously anti-Israel, does not go so far as to mention an "Israeli element behind the [9/11] attack." The latter is a distinctly Arabic touch. Even now many in the Arab world still insist that the attacks of 9/11 were a Zionist plot. The original article also speaks of an "Israeli lobby"; Arabic News changed that to "Jewish lobby." So much for claims that these Israel-haters are only against "Zionists" and not Jews.
The perception of Israel as an "American colony," an intrusion of American values and interests into Arab home territory, is widespread in the Arab world. Is America hated because of Israel, or is Israel hated because of America? It reminds one of the chicken and the egg.
The battle between Muslim East and Christian West, which helped shape history for hundreds of years, was obscured in the twentieth century after the demise of the Ottoman Empire and the rise of the Soviet Union. After the collapse of the latter - due in no small part to Islamic nationalism - the old battle began to reemerge. The conflict we face right now results from historical forces that are far older and greater than we often realize. It is not simply due to the mistakes of one or another American administration. There was really no way to prevent it.
The rhetoric that Islamic extremists use against Israel and against the West is becoming increasingly difficult to distinguish. Hamas wants all of Israel because it is all Muslim land. Al Qaeda wants Spain ("al-Andalus") because, having once been ruled by Muslims, it too is Muslim land. This trend will increase as the large Muslim populations of Europe, which to a great extent have rejected the values of their host countries, become more assertive.
The values of the Islamic extremists are profoundly anti-democratic (and anti-humanistic), and can never coexist with Western values. This is not merely an inference. It is what the Islamic extremists are actually telling us. In the words of one Islamic leader (2):
Democracy is the rule of the masses or the rule of paganism, which is conducted according to a constitution [written by humans] and not according Allah's laws....
Democracy is an outcome of despicable secularism and its illegitimate daughter, since secularism is a heretical school striving to separate religion from state and government.
Unfortunately, these values seem to be gaining traction in the Muslim world. It will become increasingly evident, as the new century progresses, that Israel, America, and the other Western democracies are fighting the same war.
This war cannot be won by giving terrorists what they say they want. Palestinians say that all they want from Israel is an end to "occupation." Yet after Ariel Sharon announced his plan to withdraw from Gaza and parts of the West Bank, terrorist violence only escalated. The Palestine National Authority rejected Sharon's plan and called it "an attempt to destroy the peace process" (1). But the Palestinians have never cooperated with the peace process.
Throughout the long history of this conflict the Palestinians have refused any opportunity for a peaceful solution, beginning even before their rejection of partition in 1948. More recently the Palestinians repudiated peace when they walked out of negotiations in the fall of 2000, refusing even to make a counteroffer to the historic proposal of Clinton/Barak, which would have met almost all of their demands. Instead they launched their current war against the Israeli population, which has lasted over three years. Are they fighting out of desperation? Hardly, since it is actually this fighting, using terror tactics, that keeps the conflict going and makes the creation of a Palestinian state impossible.
Ironically, the Palestinians seem to be fighting to prevent a Palestinian state. Terrorist bombs have shattered every movement toward peace. The Palestinians declare a hudna or "cease-fire" only to disrupt it with suicide bombers. And simply killing Israelis is never enough - it must be done with an exquisite sadism, loading the bombs with nails and bits of shrapnel soaked in rat poison, to take out limbs and eyes and to keep the blood from coagulating so as to promote internal bleeding. Is it conceivable that Israel would not try to defend itself against such primitive cruelty? Without the terrorism, Israel would have no justification for remaining present in the territories. A negotiated settlement would become possible. But the continued attacks on the civilian population make certain that a peaceful resolution will forever remain out of reach.
While the suicide murderers are often glorified as "martyrs," they are not dying for any sacred cause, nor even for any useful purpose. Their actions are the strongest possible statement they could make rejecting peaceful coexistence. By their actions they express a deep and perverse hatred, telling the Israelis: "I would rather kill myself than live in peace with you." The Palestinians do have other options: negotiation, nonviolent protest, using their energy to construct a viable society instead of tearing down that of their neighbors. They choose not to exercise those options.
Why? Because this is not a war against occupation, it is a war against Israel, and this is what Palestinians themselves are saying to those who will listen. Recognizing this is the only way to make sense of their behavior. The resort to terrorism when other options are available makes sense only if the goal is not peace but the wholesale destruction of Israel. This explains the dilemma Israel is now facing: It cannot withdraw with a bilateral agreement, it cannot withdraw unilaterally, and it cannot remain where it is. If Israel stays in the territories there is violence, and if it leaves, there is even more violence.
This leads us to the basic flaw in the logic of those who say that to solve the problems of the Middle East, we must first solve the Arab-Israeli conflict. No solution of that conflict in which Israel still exists will satisfy the Arab side.
At this point some of you are sure to be asking: Is it fair to classify the entire Palestinian population as extremists, or even as terrorists? No, it is not fair. But the question may be moot. If there is a significant faction within the Palestinian community unequivocally repudiating violence against civilians and supporting peaceful coexistence with Israel, it has not found a voice. Instead, when innocent Israelis die, we see thousands of Palestinians cheering in the streets. Indeed, we see much the same thing when innocent Americans die.
Anti-Jewish hatred, borrowing themes from the Protocols of the Elders of Zion to Nazi propaganda, is rife throughout the Arab world. It is as irrational and implacable as anti-Semitism has always been. While Christianity, which gave rise to many of these anti-Semitic themes, has largely been outgrowing them, Arab culture has been adopting them, with a mentality harking back to the Middle Ages - the same medieval mindset that wishes to destroy Western civilization and replace it with the Caliphate. In the Arab world the Jews play the same role they played in medieval Christendom: the incarnation of evil itself and the source of every plague. And so the Arab world holds onto the hope that liquidating Israel will solve all its problems. (If this statement sounds exaggerated, just read the Arab press, or listen to a Friday sermon - you can find examples elsewhere on this web site, as well as in many other sources.)
If Israel goes, the terrorist threat we are facing now will only intensify. Israel is the front line of resistance against radical Islamic terrorism. If Israel is destroyed, all of Palestine will become a base for this corrosive ideology, which will not suddenly be satiated.
The terrorists themselves have revealed their program, which goes far beyond eliminating Israel. Halevi (2) has compiled several direct quotations from the speeches and writings of Islamic extremists detailing their goals. These include the violent overthrow of Muslim governments that are not sufficiently Islamic. Iraq would have been on their list, as are Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Al Qaeda terrorists have already twice attempted the assassination of Pakistan's Pervez Musharraf. The reclamation of Europe would be next. The Muslim scholar Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, spiritual authority for the worldwide Muslim Brotherhood, wrote that "Islam will return once more to Europe as a conqueror and as a victorious power."
The grand prize, of course, is America. Hamas founder Sheikh Ahmed Yassin once announced that the goal of jihad is to "bring Islam to a dominant global position and release it from the hegemony of America and its Zionist allies." And in his book The Foundations of the Legality of the Destruction that Befell America the prominent Saudi scholar Abd al-Aziz al-Jarbou calls America "the source of evil," a mortal enemy of Islam that "spreads abomination and corruption in the world." "Even Satan does not behave like America does," he writes, calling for all-out war against the United States.
These extremists will not be appeased by the disappearance of Israel, but only emboldened. That has always been the pattern: when the Soviet Union fell, the mujahedin took credit, Al Qaeda emerged, and they became far more daring. If Israel goes, then all of Palestine will become another base in which this radical ideology will thrive. Israel is fighting our war. It is not a war of our choosing, anymore than it is a war of Israel's choosing. But still we are involved. This is why support of Israel is crucial and in our own best interest. Islamic extremists would love to divide Israel and America, since that would make easier their war against both.
We cannot buy peace by sacrificing Israel. This is what Islamic extremists are telling us, if we respect them enough to take seriously what they write and what they say: their agenda does not end with Israel. Israel's presence in the region is a check on Islamic radicalism. In America we need a broader and deeper sense of history, to understand the currents that began to form even before America became a nation. No commission set up to discover the causes of 9/11 will find the true story if it examines only the preceding eight months.
Finally, Europe must confront its long legacy of anti-Semitism, to recognize that there really is a threat waiting on its doorstep, and that this threat is not Israel.
(1) "Arafat rejects Sharon's 'disengagement plan'." Arabic News, January 13, 2004.
(2) Halevi, Jonathan D. "Al-Qaeda's Intellectual Legacy: New Radical Islamic Thinking Justifying the Genocide of Infidels." Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, December 2003.
(3) Ingrams, Richard. "Who Will Dare Damn Israel?" Observer,September 16, 2001.
(4) "The Observer: Why the Israeli Element in the Attacks in America is Ignored." Arabic News, September 17, 2001.
Peace with Realism