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Why it is important to support Israel!
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Why Support Israel?
It would certainly be easier not to.
By Victor Davis Hanson, author most recently of Carnage and Culture:
Landmark Battles in the Rise of Western Power.
February 4, 2002 8:30 a.m.
he Muslim world is mystified as to why Americans support the existence
of Israel. Some critics in the Middle East excuse "the American
people," while castigating our government. In their eyes, our official
policy could not really reflect grassroots opinion. Others misinformed
spin elaborate conspiracy theories involving the power of joint
Mossad-CIA plots, Old Testament fundamentalists, international bankers,
and Jewish control of Hollywood, the media, and the U.S. Congress. But
why does an overwhelming majority of Americans (according to most
polls, between 60 and 70% of the electorate) support Israel - and more
rather than less so after September 11?
The answer is found in values - not in brainwashing or because of
innate affinity for a particular race or creed. Israel is a democracy.
Its opponents are not. Much misinformation abounds on this issue.
Libya, Syria, and Iraq are dictatorships, far more brutal than even
those in Egypt or Pakistan. But even "parliaments" in Iran, Morocco,
Jordan, and on the West Bank are not truly and freely democratic. In
all of them, candidates are either screened, preselected, or under
coercion. Daily television and newspapers are subject to restrictions
and censorship; "elected" leaders are not open to public audit and
censure. There is a reason, after all, why in the last decade Americans
have dealt with Mr. Netanyahu, Barak, and Sharon - and no one other
than Mr. Arafat, the Husseins in Jordan, the Assads in Syria, Mr.
Mubarak, and who knows what in Lebanon, Algeria, and Afghanistan.
Death, not voters, brings changes of rule in the Arab world.
The Arab street pronounces that it is the responsibility of the United
States - who gives money to Egypt, Palestine, Jordan, Afghanistan and
others, has troops stationed in the Gulf, and buys oil from the Muslim
world - to use its influence to instill democracies. They forget that
sadly these days we rarely have such power to engineer sweeping
constitutional reform; that true freedom requires the blood and courage
of native patriots - a Washington, Jefferson, or Thomas Paine - not
outside nations; and that democracy demands some prior traditions of
cultural tolerance, widespread literacy, and free markets. Moreover, we
give Israel billions as well - but have little control whether they
wish to elect a Rabin or a Sharon.
Israel is also secular. The ultra-Orthodox do not run the government
unless they can garner a majority of voters. Americans have always
harbored suspicion of anyone who nods violently when reading Holy
Scripture - whether in madrassas, near the Wailing Wall, or in the
local Church of the Redeemer down the street. In Israel, however,
Americans detect that free speech and liberality of custom and religion
are more ubiquitous than, say, in Saudi Arabia, Iran, or Palestine -
and so surmise that the Jewish state is more the creation of European
émigrés than of indigenous Middle-Eastern fundamentalists.
Pluralism exists in Israel, rarely so in the Arabic world. We see an
Israeli peace party, spirited debate between Left and Right, and both
homegrown damnation and advocacy for the settlers outside the 1967
borders. Judaism is fissured by a variety of splinter orthodoxies
without gunfights. There are openly agnostic and atheistic Israeli Jews
who enjoy influence in Israeli culture and politics. In theory, such
parallels exist in the Arab world, but in actuality rarely so. We know
that heretical mullahs are heretical more often in London, Paris, or
New York - not in Teheran or among the Taliban. No Palestinian
politician would go on CNN and call for Mr. Arafat's resignation; his
opposition rests among bombers, not in raucous televised debates.
Israeli newspapers and television reflect a diversity of views, from
rabid Zionism to almost suicidal pacifism. There are Arab-Israeli
legislators - and plenty of Jewish intellectuals who openly write and
broadcast in opposition to the particular government of the day. Is
that liberality ever really true in Palestine? Could a Palestinian,
Egyptian, or Syrian novelist write something favorable about Golda
Meir, hostile to Mr. Assad or Mubarak, or craft a systematic satire
about Islam? Past experience suggests such iconoclasts and would-be
critics might suffer stones and fatwas rather than mere ripostes in the
letters to the editor of the local newspapers. Palestinian spokesmen
are quite vocal and unbridled on American television, but most of us -
who ourselves instinctively welcome self-criticism and reflection -
sense that such garrulousness and freewheeling invective are is
reserved only for us, rarely for Mr. Arafat's authority.
Americans also see ingenuity from Israel, both technological and
cultural - achievement that is not reflective of genes, but rather of
the culture of freedom. There are thousands of brilliant and highly
educated Palestinians. But in the conditions of the Middle East, they
have little opportunity for free expression or to open a business
without government bribe or tribal payoff. The result is that even
American farmers in strange places like central California are always
amazed by drip-irrigation products, sophisticated water pumps, and
ingenious agricultural appurtenances that are created and produced in
Israel. So far we have seen few trademarked in Algeria, Afghanistan, or
There is also an affinity between the Israeli and Western militaries
that transcends mere official exchanges and arms sales. We do not see
goose-stepping soldiers in Haifa as we do in Baghdad. Nor are there in
Tel-Aviv hooded troops with plastic bombs strapped to their sides on
parade. Nor do Israeli presidents wear plastic sunglasses, carry
pistols to the U.N., or have chests full of cheap and tawdry metals.
Young rank-and-file Israeli men and women enjoy a familiarity among one
another, and their officers are more akin to our own army than to the
Republican Guard, Hamas, or Islamic Jihad.
The Israelis also far better reflect the abject lethality of the
Western way of war. Here perhaps lies the greatest misunderstanding of
military history on the part of the Arab world. The so-called Islamic
street believes that sheer numbers and territory - a billion Muslims, a
century of oil reserves, and millions of square miles - should
mysteriously result in lethal armies. History teaches us that war is
rarely that simple. Instead, the degree militaries are westernized -
technology that is a fruit of secular research, group discipline
arising from consensual societies, logistical efficiency that derives
from capitalism, and flexibility that is the dividend from constant
public audit and private individualism - determines victory, despite
disadvantages in numbers, natural resources, individual genius, or
We hear a quite boring refrain from enraged Palestinians of "Apache
helicopters" and "F-16s". But in the Lebanese war of the early 1980s we
saw what happens in dogfights between advanced Israel and Syrian jets
in the same manner Saddam's sophisticated weapons were rendered junk in
days by our counterparts. So Israel's power is more the result of a
system, not merely of imported hardware. The Arab world does not have a
creative arms industry; Israel does - whether that be ingenious
footpads to wear while detecting mines or drone aircraft that fly at
night over Mr. Arafat's house. If the Palestinians truly wished
military parity, then the Arab world should create their own research
programs immune to religious or political censure, and ensure that
students are mastering calculus rather than the Koran.
Nor are Americans ignorant of the recent past. The United States was
not a colonial power in the Middle East, but developed ties there as a
reaction to, not as a catalyst of, its complex history. Israel was
instead both created and abandoned by Europeans. The 20th century
taught Americans that some Europeans would annihilate millions of Jews
- and others prove unwilling or unable to stop such a holocaust. We
sensed that the first three wars in the Middle East were not fought to
return the West Bank, but to finish off what Hitler could not. And we
suspect now that, while hundreds of millions of Arabs would accept a
permanent Israel inside its 1967 borders, a few million would not - and
those few would not necessarily be restrained by those who did accept
the Jewish state.
Somehow we in the American heartland sense that Israel - whether its
GNP, free society, or liberal press - is a wound to the psyche, not a
threat to the material condition, of the Arab world. Israel did not
murder the Kurds or Shiites. It does not butcher Islam's children in
Algeria. Nor did it kill over a million on the Iranian-Iraqi border -
much less blow apart Afghanistan, erase from the face of the earth
entire villages and their living inhabitants in Syria, or turn parts of
Cairo into literal sewers. Yet both the victims and the perpetrators of
those crimes against Muslims answer "Israel" to every problem. But
Americans, more than any people in history, live in the present and
future, not the past, loath scapegoating and the cult of victimization,
and are tired of those, here and abroad, who increasingly blame others
for their own self-induced pathologies.
The Europeans are quite cynical about all this. Tel Aviv, much better
than Cairo or Damascus, reflects the liberal values of Paris or London.
Yet the Europeans rarely these days do anything that is not calibrated
in terms of gaining money or avoiding trouble - and in that sense for
them Israel is simply a very bad deal. All the sophisticated op-eds
about the shuffling of Mr. Jack Straw about Islamic liberalism cannot
hide the fact that Europe's policy in the Middle East is based on
little more than naked self-interest. If Israel were wiped out
tomorrow, Europeans would ask for a brief minute of silence, then sigh
relief, and without a blink roll up their sleeves to get down to trade
Our seemingly idiosyncratic support for Israel, then, also says
something about ourselves rather than just our ally. In brutal
Realpolitik, the Europeans are right that there is nothing much to gain
from aiding Israel. Helping a few million costs us the friendship of
nearly a billion. An offended Israel will snub us; but some in an irate
Muslim world engineered slaughter in Manhattan. Despite our periodic
tiffs, we don't fear that any frenzied Israelis will hijack an American
plane or murder Marines in their sleep. No Jews are screaming at us on
the evening news that we give billions collectively to Mubarak, the
Jordanians, and Mr. Arafat. And Israelis lack the cash reserves of
Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, and they do not go on buying sprees in the
U.S. or import whole industries from America. So the reason we each
support whom we do says something about both Europe and the United
Instead of railing at America, Palestinians should instead see in our
policy toward Israel their future hope, rather than present despair -
since it is based on disinterested values that can evolve, rather than
on race, religion, or language that often cannot. If the Palestinians
really wished to even the score with the Israelis in American eyes,
then regular elections, a free press, an open and honest economy, and
religious tolerance alone would do what suicide bombers and a
duplicitous terrorist leader could not.
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