I have not talked much about Israel except to note that:
- It was a large bone of contention between Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the bureaucrats in Foreign Affairs because they, the striped pants set in the Lester B Pearson building, objected to his principled stand, supporting Israel, because they, probably correctly, guessed that his stand cost Canada a seat on the United Nations Security Council. I might have had some, a very tiny bit of sympathy for the bureaucrats if ~
- I thought a UNSC seat was worth anything at all; and
- If they had refrained from actively campaigning against the government they had sworn to serve. In my opinion the Canadian foreign service is a national disgrace; and
- It is an even bigger bone of contention in the whole Middle East situation. Many, many Arabs (and others) believe that the very existence of Israel in the Arab ummah is offensive and that Israel must be destroyed and the Jews expelled … at least.
The problem is that the Balfour Declaration (1917), and all that followed from it, is over and done with. Israel exists, and it is a vibrant, liberal democracy, isolated in a sea of (mostly) very, very illiberal dictatorships and absolute monarchies and oligarchies. Tiny Israel (population 8.5 million, only 75% of whom are Jews) has, since 1948, inflicted humiliating defeat after humiliating defeat on the score of countries with many hundreds of millions of people (there are over 450 million people in the 22 member states of the Arab League) that have gone to war against it. That’s another HUGE problem.
But the situation is that Israel is there, a successful, dynamic, democratic and productive state, surrounded by corruption and ineptitude and worse. It rose out of the ashes of one of the greatest crimes in human history …
… Israeli colleagues impressed upon me, again and again, that Israel has to win every war, almost every battle but, as they said, the Arabs only have to “get lucky” once.
In my lifetime our attitudes towards Israel have shifted … it was, just before I was born: “none is to many;”in the mid to late 1940s we, almost all of us, were, rightly, horrified (and that’s too mild a word) at what had happened in Nazi occupied Europe. In the 1950s and ’60s we were impressed with the plucky little country that was making the desert bloom …
… then, in the 1970s, we were mightily impressed with Israel’s military prowess …
… but then the tide turned. The Arabs, especially the Palestinian Liberation Organization, changed tactics. There were no longer willing (or able) to risk a tank on tank, battalion on battalion, conventional war with the Israelis: the results had been, again and again, the same. The Israelis were, very simply, too good, too efficient, too Germanic, in a word. They turned to terrorism, but even that didn’t work as well as they hoped ~ think about the Entebbe Raid and the Munich atrocity, which backfired, and so on ~ and then they launched an amazingly successful media campaign that turned Western public opinion back to what it was in the 1920s and 1930s.
The key was that a couple of giant American ad agencies were hired. Those folks really, really understood how to change, to manipulate opinions … they managed, in just a few short years, to move the Israelis, in a large part of the public imagination, from a brave little liberal country, the darling of the left, under attack from all sides, to stormtroopers in jackboots, denying fundamental rights to the poor, innocent, peace loving Palestinians.
Now, there had to be some truth in the narrative … the Israelis had become, as I said, ruthlessly efficient soldiers and pretty good at the machinery of counter-insurgency campaigning, too. Some of their tactics do give one pause to ask if there couldn’t, shouldn’t, mustn’t be a better way. And the Palestinians do have legitimate complaints, even if most of their outrage ought to be directed at Arab states who exploited their suffering.
A couple of things turned my mind towards this, mostly an article in the New York Times by Roger Cohen, an Op-Ed columnist, about the Anti-Semitism of the Left that led me to another article, this one from the Autumn 2015 edition of Fathom, by Prof Allen Johnson, a self-described “person of the left,” who went on to explain what he calls “Antisemitic anti-Zionism.” It has, he suggests, three components: “a programme, a discourse, and a movement.
First, antisemitic anti-Zionism has a political programme: not two states for two peoples, but the abolition of the Jewish homeland; not Palestine alongside Israel, but Palestine instead of Israel.
Second, antisemitic anti-Zionism is a demonising intellectual discourse (as I outline in my chapter in Gabe Brahm’s and Cary Nelson’s book, The Case Against Academic Boycotts of Israel). The Left is imprisoning itself within a distorting system of concepts: ‘Zionism is racism’; Israel is a ‘settler-colonialist state’ which ‘ethnically cleansed’ the ‘indigenous’ people, went on to build an ‘apartheid state’ and is now engaged in an ‘incremental genocide’ against the Palestinians.
And there is the ugly phenomenon of Holocaust Inversion – the deliberate and systematic Nazification of Israel in street placards depicting Netanyahu as Hitler, in posters equating the IDF and the SS, in cartoons portraying Israelis as Nazis, and even in the language of intellectuals.
Third, antisemitic anti-Zionism is a presence within a global social movement (the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions, or BDS movement) to exclude one state – and only one state – from the economic, cultural and educational life of humanity: the little Jewish one.”
Roger Cohen say, very correctly, in my opinion, that “Criticism of Israel is one thing; it’s needed in vigorous form. Demonization of Israel is another, a familiar scourge refashioned by the very politics — of identity and liberation — that should comprehend the millennial Jewish struggle against persecution.“
I will listen, respectfully, to anyone who criticizes Israel’s polices but I will stop listening when they demonize Israel, and Israel alone, for things that dozens and dozens of other countries do in the normal rounds of national and international political and military intercourse. Then I know that my interlocutor has stopped reasoning for him or herself and is, simply, quoting propaganda.
Israel is not a perfect country, neither is Canada.
It is a vibrant, liberal democracy surrounded by dangerous enemies. Israel has tried to make peace, with some success … it is, probably, not trying very hard right now because it is not clear that those who fund Hamas and Hezbollah are, in any meaningful way, interested in any sort of “peace,” except, for Israel, that of the grave.
On balance, I think my Israeli colleagues were right: Israel has to win every war, just to survive and, given the state of the attitudes ~ manufactured opinions ~ of a very large slice of the Western population, the need for a Jewish state, somewhere where “never again!” has meaning, seems pretty clear. The Arabs do “only need to get lucky once” and it’s all over. mathematics says that, sooner or later, the Arabs will have to “get lucky” and we will benefit from a couple of million well educated Jews who will flee for their lives … will we, yet again, when asked how many Jewish refugees should be welcomed in Canada, say “none is too many”?
There is an alternative, of course: Israel could make peace with more and more of its neighbours … the questions are: How? and With whom? I don’t have the answers.
There are two side to every story and the Antisemitic anti-Zionism of the left is just one of them; the other is the principled foreign policy that Prime Minister Stephen Harper pursued, despite being sabotaged by dishonest and disloyal civil servants. Not everyone agrees with those principles and that’s fine with me … as long as the disagreement is equally principled. But I fear that most often, as in the boycott and divest movement that is so popular on (too) many university campuses, it is just manufactured opinion, fuelled by the campaigns of big ad agencies, bought and paid for by Arab oil money. In other words I fear that too much of the anti-Harper policy is unprincipled.