Ian S. Lustick asks: How close is Israel to pariah status? Quite close. Americans know that ratings for Congress are now in the single digits: below traffic jams, colonoscopies and cockroaches, though still above North Korea and telemarketers. If Israel were included in that survey it would of course do better than Congress — among Americans. But not in the world at large.
In a 2003 European Union-sponsored poll, Israel was seen as more dangerous to world peace than any other country. In 2006, an Israeli government poll conducted in 35 countries found Israel had the worst public image in every category it tested. In 2012, the BBC reported that 50% of 24,090 people polled worldwide thought Israel had a “mostly negative” impact on the world, tied with North Korea and exceeded only by Pakistan and Iran.
Worried about “delegitimization” as an “existential threat,” the Israeli government and its U.S. friends have funded a host of rebranding PR efforts. But Israel’s image has suffered more from repeated outrages to the world’s sense of fairness than from bad public relations.
Israeli leaders have repeatedly threatened to attack Iran, a signatory to the nuclear nonproliferation treaty, for developing nuclear technology with weapons potential, even as they refuse to join the NPT or acknowledge Israel’s own immense nuclear force. Israeli governments have launched several onslaughts against the Gaza Strip and Lebanon, inflicting collateral damage to innocents that has hugely exceeded Israeli casualties. In response to the United Nation’s decision to recognize Palestine as an observer state, the Israeli government announced radical expansion of Jewish settlement in sensitive areas of Jerusalem and the West Bank. Jews living in Palestine thousands of years ago are cited to justify a right of 21st century Jews to “return,” while Palestinian demands to return after 65 years of exile are deemed absurd.
Such policies and actions have shaped the international image of the Jewish state as defiant rather than courageous, belligerent rather than reasonable, dangerous rather than reliable.
Netanyahu and his allies can be blamed for many of Israel’s current excesses. But there are much deeper forces at work. One of them is the still-unrecognized reality of post-Zionism. Israel’s founding ideology has not adapted gradually to a changing world, and the American colossus has protected it from the consequences. When adaptation cannot occur gradually, it occurs suddenly. It is wrenching and disorienting. This is the sort of change in store for Israel. [Continue reading…]