Woefully Ignorant or Willfully Misleading?

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The Ascendancy of Lieberman

Beinart bewailed the strengthening of Minister of Foreign Affairs Avigor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu party as evidence of a widening disregard for liberal democratic values in Israel.

However, a far more powerful case can be made to ascribe Lieberman’s electoral success to the dramatic failure of the left-wing’s “Chamberlainian” program of “land-for- peace” and the consequent disappointment with this disastrous doctrine. It is an approach which, for the past two decades, has wrought nothing but death and destruction on both Jew and Arab alike.

Actually, Beinart’s loathing for Lieberman’s party appears to be based more on hearsay rather than hard facts.  After all, Lieberman has not only accepted, at least implicitly, the notion of a two state solution but is in fact offering arguably even more territorial concessions than most left-wing parties.

It is true that this would involve redrawing the 1967 borders in certain places to exclude large population centers of Israeli Arabs. These would then be annexed to the Palestinian Authority. Yet, it is not quite clear why this would be considered odious to anyone who believes that a viable functioning Palestinian state is realistic, as Beinart presumably does.

Indeed, Israeli Arabs continually claim that the dominant Jewish character of Israel is incompatible with their ethno-religious identity and complain that, as a result, they are often subjected to various forms of prejudice and discrimination. So, if one assumes that a viable functioning Palestinian state is indeed feasible, one is compelled to ask, from both a moral and a practical perspective, why would Israeli Arabs not leap at the chance of being extricated from the clutches of the discriminatory Zionist regime and brought under the auspices of an egalitarian non-discriminatory Palestinian one?

As this would not involve the physical displacement of a single Israeli Arab from his/her home, what possible liberal democratic principle would Beinart invoke to object to such a proposal?

The Sentiments of Israeli Arab

Beinart’s contention is that Israel Arabs object to this arrangement of annexation to the Palestinian Authority because “they consider themselves Israeli.” But this has a rather suspicious ring to it. Is Beinart seriously suggesting that that Israeli Arabs “feel Israeli” in the sense they identify with: the words of the national anthem Hatikva – expressing 2000 years of yearning by the Jewish soul to be free in the land of Zion; the Star of David displayed on the flag; the biblical Menorah as the State symbol; Saturday rather than Friday as the official Sabbath; Yom Kippur Passover, Rosh Ha’Shana as national holidays; Hebrew as the predominant language; or Independence Day as a triumph over Arab aggression?

And if not, how is it possible to make them, as he suggests, “feel more comfortable in their Israeliness”? To annul the Jewish character of Israel as expressed by the prevalence of Jewish symbolism in public life and Israel’s social institutions?

Beinart is of course right that Israeli Arabs strongly object to their annexation to the Palestinian Authority, but wrong in ascribing this aversion to a desire to become more fully integrated into the fabric of Israel. A more plausible explanation would be the desire of Israeli Arabs to continue enjoying the best of both worlds: the benefits of greater economic prosperity and personal freedom that life as an Israeli citizen affords them, and also the expression of their ethno-religious identity through an ongoing and intensifying hostility toward the entity that provides them these benefits.

Beinart’s attempt to demonstrate Israeli Arabs’ attachment to Israel seems curiously contradictory.  He quotes a poll allegedly conducted in 2006 during the Second Lebanon War, and proclaims that “when they polled Israeli Arabs, they found that by a factor of about 3 to 1 they supported Israel [rather than the Hezbollah.]”  Although several hours of Google-searching failed to produce any trace of such a poll, I have no reason to doubt that it may in fact exist.

Other survey results that are extremely difficult to reconcile with Beinart’s contention regarding the sentiments of Israeli Arabs for their country of residence.  A 2007 poll conducted by Haifa University’s Sami Smooha, a well-known sociologist of well-known left-leaning proclivities, found that:

  • 48.2% of Arab citizens of Israel said they believed that Hezbollah’s rocket attacks on northern Israel during that war were justified;
  • 76% of Arab citizens of Israel described Zionism as racist;
  • 40.5% of Arab citizens of Israel deny the Holocaust; among high school and college graduates the figure was 33%.

A later poll by Smooha produced arguably even more disturbing results:

  • Only 41 percent of Israel’s Arab minority recognize the country’s right to exist as a Jewish and democratic state;
  • Only 53.7 percent of the Israeli Arab public believe Israel has a right to exist as an independent country – Jewish or otherwise.

So, almost 60% do not recognize Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state, and almost half deny Israel any right of existence at all. Was Beinart, who made no reference at all to these findings, unaware of their existence? If not, then he is surely woefully ignorant.  If so, then he is clearly willfully misleading

The Nuclear Threat

While Beinart acknowledges that “an Iranian nuclear weapon would be a disaster,” he goes on to expose a massive misunderstanding of the threat Israel would face if Tehran in fact realized its nuclear ambitions.  He merely proclaims that in such a case “Israel would have to deal with some of the things [as India] with Pakistan on its borders, and that has a nuclear weapon.”

This comparison is ludicrous. India has a population five times that of Pakistan spread over an entire subcontinent seven times the size of Pakistan. It is in no danger of annihilation from its impoverished eastern neighbor, even if it were to suffer a surprise first-strike that wiped out several of its population centers.  India has – and Pakistan knows it has – absolute first strike survivability and unassailable second strike capability to devastate Pakistan in retaliation.

In stark contrast, Israel has a population less than one tenth and an area one eightieth of Iran’s. Moreover, 80% of Israel’s civilian population live in a narrow coastal strip 8-10 miles wide and 60 miles long, of which much, indeed most, would be wiped out by a single nuclear weapon.  This would dramatically undermine the ability of the country to continue to function as a viable national entity. So although Israel allegedly has marine-based second-strike capability and may be able to inflict devastating retaliation, this will not ensure its survival if Iran miscalculates the cost of a first-strike or calculates that it is worth the risk.

It also should be remembered that while Iran has overtly threatened Israel with destruction, this has never been the declared intention of Pakistan regarding India.

Furthermore, with a nuclear Iranian umbrella, terror groups such as Hamas, Hezbollah, and the Islamic Jihad, could operate with far greater freedom against Israel. The fear that harsh retaliation may precipitate a nuclear confrontation would make ordinary life in the country untenable.

So, while Benart may be right in pointing out that modern day Israel should not be likened to the powerless, helpless Jews in Europe, this does not mean it is not facing existential threats and genocidal dangers that could precipitate tragedy on the scale of the Holocaust.  He should remember that if there is a lesson to be learnt from the Holocaust it is this: it is extremely dangerous to dismiss declared intentions of despots, however delusional they may initially appear.

The Real Failure of the American Jewish Establishment

Beinart is right in diagnosing the failure of the American Jewish establishment.  But it is a failure quite different than the one he writes about.

Assuming that Beinart is sincere when he implies that Israel “is the place we care about the most,” then all of the following comprise a catastrophic moral lapse on the part of the American Jewish establishment:

  • The failure to vigorously assert Israel’s right to defend itself and its citizens against attacks perpetrated against them just because they are Jewish;
  • The failure to unequivocally repudiate the prevailing custom that portrays every measure Israel undertakes to protect itself as “racist”;
  • The failure to reject the egregious standard by which Palestinian inconvenience is considered more heinous than the threat to Jewish lives;
  • The failure to unambiguously distinguish between the causes and the consequences of Arab antagonism; and
  • The failure to comprehend and support policy imperatives.

Addressing and correcting these failures is a far more urgent, a far more pertinent, and a far more authentic mission than any obsessive tendency to dwell on the imperfections of Israel’s vibrant liberal democracy. Such imperfections are only the product of security driven exigencies and not illiberal, anti-democratic proclivities.

To expect Israel to conduct itself in a manner totally divorced from the exigencies of its environment and totally detached from the nature of its adversaries, is a position that reflects neither moral merit nor political prudence.

It is this that the American Jewish establishment, including its liberal democratic members, needs to understand and to address accordingly – before great tragedy overtakes the Jewish people again.

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  • Sandy

    Mr Beinart needs to live in Sderot before he pontificates to Israelis about how they should defend themselves. He is prepared to sell out "his" people and support the propaganda of its enemies for the success of a lecture tour. . . I hope his career meets the ignominious end it deserves and we hear no more of his crap.