When Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visits the White House Tuesday, President Obama will have the chance to be the first American president since the founding of Israel to ask The Question.
The Question is never addressed by Israel’s supporters and rarely raised by Israel’s detractors. But for those of us who are taxpayers in a nation that has been the state of Israel’s chief benefactor for 42 years — or those of us with Jewish ancestry — it is becoming the only question to ask. It is simple, self-interested, and fundamental: Does the existence of Israel make Americans and Jews safer?
And here is the paradox: Though support for Israel among Americans, and especially Jewish Americans, remains high according to recent Gallup polls, historical evidence says the answer to The Question is “no.”
“There was not a single act of Arab terrorism against Americans before 1968, when the U.S. became the chief supplier of military equipment and economic aid to Israel.”
The history of Israel and its relationship with the U.S. is infinitely complex, but there’s one damning fact that’s ignored as often as The Question: There was not a single act of Arab terrorism against Americans before 1968, when the U.S. became the chief supplier of military equipment and economic aid to Israel. In light of this fact, it’s difficult to credibly sustain the argument that Arab terrorism is spawned by Islam’s alleged promotion of violence and antipathy toward American culture or by a “natural” Arab anti-Semitism. It also suggests that no matter what policies Israel enacts to protect itself — even a withdrawal from the occupied territories or a two-state “solution” — it must be a perpetual wartime state.
Very few Americans today are aware that the question of American and Jewish self-interest was first raised at the time of Israel’s founding by officials in the highest levels of the U.S. government. In 1948, several members of Harry Truman’s Cabinet predicted that the creation of a Jewish state in the Middle East would spur Arab violence against Jews and Americans, advising the president to shun Israel.
These included Secretary of State George Marshall, Defense Secretary James Forrestal, and George Kennan, then the leading policy strategist in the State Department. They argued that if the United States helped to set up an independent Jewish nation it would provoke terrorist attacks on Americans and inaugurate an endless war between Arabs and Jews. “There are 30 million Arabs on one side and about 600,000 Jews on the other,” Forrestal told those in the administration who favored recognizing Israel. “Why don’t you face up to the realities?”
Israel apologists will plead that Thaddeus Russell’s commentary is one more instance among international efforts — rapidly gaining steam — to delegitimize Israel.
Strangely, in response to what is perceived as a campaign of degitimization, there is, as far as I’ve seen, no Israel legitimization campaign. Those mounting a defense, do nothing more than attack their critics — and usually do so with an unbridled viscousness.
For instance, Robin Shepherd, writing in the Jerusalem Post about a decision last week by the Methodist Church of Britain to launch a boycott against goods emanating from settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, says:
Overall, a church that behaves in the manner of the Methodists has buried its credibility under a gigantic dunghill of intransigence, pedantry, lies and distortions.
But let us not allow this matter to rest with a mere recognition of whom and what they have chosen to become.
If the Methodist Church is to launch a boycott of Israel, let Israel respond in kind: Ban their officials from entering; deport their missionaries; block their funds; close down their offices; and tax their churches.
If it’s war, it’s war. The aggressor must pay a price.
While it’s often said that attack is the best form of defense, that principle does not hold in the art of persuasion (and rarely for that matter in national security). The ranks cheering an attack such as Shepherd’s are small and shrinking. Indeed, the more venomous Israel and its supporters become, the less sympathy the Jewish state will evoke and the closer we will move to a critical juncture: where the world has given up on Israel and Israel has given up on the world. At that point, Israel’s isolation becomes the world’s nuclear peril.