January 15, 2008

Having read Patrick Foy’s comments about Israel in his “€œSack of Annapolis,”€and having just spent the better part of a month living in the Holy Land, I feel compelled to respond to his wholesale criticism of the Israelis. Foy’s critical judgment that it would be unjust for the Israelis to hold more territory, even without the West Bank, than they did under the initial partition in 1947 is not at all persuasive. It is based on truncated history. The first partition gave way to a war in which the Jewish settlements had to deal with a multinational Arab army. The Israelis responded with their own military forces and in the ensuing conflict took more territory from the Palestinians than they had held before. Admittedly, Palestinian residents, mostly in the north, were driven from their homes, but similar, well-documented incidents occurred in areas in which the Palestinian-Arab forces overran Jewish positions. Moreover, well over a million Mizrachim (Asian and North African Jews) came to Israel after its creation, the overwhelming majority of whom were encouraged to leave by unfriendly Arab states and, in Iraq and Yemen, after prolonged, brutal treatment.

Although there are Palestinians living in camps in Jordan and elsewhere, some Palestinians have left these camps, with the permission of the host countries, and gone to work. Those who have stayed in the camps would be returning to Israel at the price of generating a perpetual security nightmare. Contrary to what Foy suggests, the Israelis would be committing suicide to let in this uniformly hostile Palestinian population, most of whom do not have the means to support themselves. One of Foy’s respondents posed an apt question when he asked whether Foy would accept a similar demographic change in proportionate numbers if one could demonstrate that the ancestors of the U.S.’s present enemies had been displaced by an earlier generation of Americans. Given his expressed views on immigration, I doubt that Foy would support such a harmful policy for his own land.

At the present time, Israel already includes more than a million Palestinians within its territory, not counting the West Bank; and in the Golan, unless the Israelis return this area to the Syrians, there are tens of thousands of additional Arabs. An Israeli friend described Israel’s territorial configuration as a maslul tzar (a “€œnarrow lane”€), one that is about five to ten miles in width in the section where most of the population reside and one that has the Mediterranean on one side and the West Bank on the other. In the town of Netanya, where I have been staying, the wall separating the West Bank is a morning’s walk away, and until a separation barrier was erected, the town was a regular target of Palestinian bomb throwers. The victims of these attacks, by the way, were about evenly distributed between Israeli Jews and Israeli Palestinians. On one point, I must give AIPAC its due. In terms of religious rights and economic and political freedom, Palestinians are better off in Israel than they would be in most Arab countries. In Arab villages and in East Jerusalem, I found lots of Palestinian merchants hawking Arafat T-shirts; no Israeli policemen interrupted these sales and as far as I can tell, Israeli Palestinians have the right enjoyed by other Israeli citizens to engage in peaceful protest.  

It is not my intention, however, to produce the kind of PR statement routinely ground out by American Zionist lobbies. As everyone should know by now, I have repeatedly attacked AIPAC as a vicious, libelous organization, from whose minions I have suffered more than any other contributor to this website. I”€™m also not suggesting that the Israeli government has always acted properly, and like Mr. Foy, I was shocked that so little curiosity was displayed by the American government about the fate of the USS Liberty.

But what stirs my juices is the attempt to demonize the Israeli state and its inhabitants as singularly evil, and indeed even more so than the despotic Muslim regimes that call for Israel’s destruction. The society that I”€™ve encountered totally conflicts with the one portrayed in Foy’s invective. Among other things, I”€™ve been impressed by the large number of Asians and Eastern Europeans who have come in as a work force. The foreign workers I have spoken to seem pleased with the fair and friendly treatment received, and some of those who have been to the U.S. find living in this supposedly Nazi-like country at least as agreeable. And most of the police I”€™ve seen on the streets are Ethiopian Jews, who despite their racial differences have been remarkably well accepted. They have risen relatively far in a very short time. As for the Jews, the majority are overwhelmingly non-European, who look and sound very little like their obnoxious friends in the U.S. and Canada.

I was amused to find that the Israelis give lots of play to both the Crusader government and Roman occupation of their territory. The visible historical remains of these occupations have not only been used to bring in tourist dollars but are also the subjects of intense popular interest. Israelis visit the fortified buildings put up by the Knight Templars in Acre and the Roman ruins in Caesarea in swelling numbers, and the government spends lavishly on maintaining these sites as parts of the history of their country. Unlike American Jews, nobody here seems to care that the Romans and the Crusaders once persecuted the Jews. Those events took place in the distant past. I also find among Israelis very little hatred of Arabs in general. Although Arabs are perceived as a “€œsecurity problem,”€ there is also a widespread interest in their language and culture. On the roads and in areas with large Palestinian populations, the signs are in Arabic as well as in Hebrew and English. In many business establishments, workers are expected to know Arabic as well as Hebrew and at least a smattering of English. Since many of the Jews hail from Arab countries, many of them and their descendants continue to speak Arabic (as well as Hebrew and often French).

In short, my impression of this country does not coincide with the unsympathetic depiction conveyed by Foy’s description. I suspect that what he has done, and this is a tendency I”€™ve observed in many paleocons, is to project his justified loathing of AIPAC and the neocon crowd onto Israel’s present inhabitants. This is not a good habit. Loathsome people do not always support loathsome causes, even if the reasons they give for their support of worthy causes are often duplicitous or at least suspect. The neocons are correct that Israel is morally and politically superior to most of its Arab neighbors. But that assumption does not require us to march in lockstep with Israel’s hard nationalist Right or to condemn efforts to achieve a Middle Eastern peace, on terms other than those being pushed by the Commentary editorial board. And saying that the Israelis behave better than their Arab neighbors does not mean giving carte blanche to what Murray Rothbard used to call the “€œsmearbund.”€ Israel’s friends have to learn the value of “€œdemocratic”€ discussion instead of calling for the bombing of foreign countries in order to teach them neocon-style democracy. The Zionist smearbund in the U.S. would do well to imitate the Israelis by learning more tolerance of dissent.

Foy may also be reacting to the fact that many of Israel’s American Jewish backers predictably practice a double standard. They are universalists and even multiculturalists in Western Christian countries, but then are ethnic nationalists in the case of Israel. I agree with this complaint, but see no reason to hate the Israelis because we dislike their local advocates. Just because Israel’s friends in the U.S. are insufferable loudmouths does not mean that we should ask the Israelis to commit suicide. And I think this is what Foy, who blames the Israelis entirely for the present conflict with the Palestinians, would like to have them do. But I for one wouldn”€™t ask this of any nation, and particularly not of one that behaves in its own country with exemplary tolerance. Even granting that Israel’s founding was not based on perfect justice, this is not an adequate reason to wish to see the country pass into oblivion. And that would happen if Patrick Foy had his way and Israel immediately acceded to the demands of its declared enemies. Israelis would have to hand over its country, except for some small areas, to the Palestinians, and before long the non-Palestinian population would leave, the way the whites have been leaving South Africa since its supposed liberation. Every year Israel is losing productive citizens to the U.S., and this has less to do with financial opportunities than it does with the sense of narrow borders and ubiquitous security checks, aspects of today’s Israeli life that are not likely to change in the foreseeable future. One could only imagine the flight from the Jewish enclave that would be occurring if Foy got to dictate the terms of a Middle Eastern peace. I trust that will never happen.


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