Note: You might well want to read this in conjunction with my article, “It Isn’t Israel in Danger of Disappearing, It’s The People Who Think That Way.”
By Barry Rubin
People frequently ask me to respond to the latest article of You Know Who, Complete Ignoramus, or even the World’s Most Pompous Columnist, and various others of that ilk. I almost always respond that I’ve done that kind of thing already, or at this point one should only ignore such people, or it is better to spend one’s time writing constructively to explain reality than to waste time combatting endlessly recycled lies and nonsense.
But then I realized that there was a totally different and far more revealing way of approaching this issue, a way of using this kind of criticism to show precisely how wrong it is.
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The basic line of criticism being used is that Israel doesn’t know what’s good for itself. Here it has this wonderful opportunity to have an independent Palestinian state next door, thus the conflict would be over, Arabs and Muslims would all accept Israel, and there would be no more war, no more bloodshed. The West would also love Israel.
All of the country’s problems would be over! Why are Israelis so blind to elect such a government when they should elect one that is willing to go back to the 1967 borders, accept a Palestinian state with minimal conditions, and stop making any demands of its own? Don’t worry, be happy!
Or to put it into song, specifically Ed McCurdy’s “Last Night I had the Strangest Dream”:
“I dreamed I saw a mighty room…
And the paper they were signing said
They’d never fight again….
“And the people in the streets below
Were dancing ’round and ’round
While swords and guns and uniforms
Were scattered on the ground.”
Well, it is a wonderful dream, may it come true speedily in our times.
But the Middle East version might go like this:
And while people in the streets below
Were dancing ’round and ’round,
The other side took up swords and guns and
Put the well-intentioned fools in the ground.
Or, to put it another way, where you have governments like those in Iran, Syria, the Gaza Strip (Hamas), Lebanon (dominated by Hizballah), and movements like the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafists who daily preach death to Israel and kill the Jews, the McCurdy vision should curdle your blood.
But you know that already. Here’s what’s new: What should You Know Who, the Complete Ignoramus, the World’s Most Pompous Columnist, and various others of that ilk be writing? In other words, if you want to challenge Israel’s stance how should you do it?
The answer is by taking the exact opposite position. Here it is:
Acknowledgment of experience:
Israel and Israelis have good reasons for being mistrustful based on what they have lived through during recent decades.
1. Acknowledgement of responsibility:
We know that the West has let Israel down by naiveté toward its enemies, failure to provide sufficient support, excess and unfair criticism.
2. Awareness of Israel’s legitimate needs
We understand that Israel needs secure borders, strong security guarantees, limits on Palestine’s armaments, an iron-clad commitment that a peace agreement ends the conflict, and resettlement of Palestinian refugees in Palestine.
3. Understanding of the dangers of a Palestine state and what’s needed to produce a stable, lasting peace
We know that a Palestinian state could continue cross-border attacks, incitement to murder Israelis, and a military build-up that would threaten Israel, viewing the new situation as not one of peace but of a second stage in the battle. We must take steps to stop this from destroying a peace agreement.
4. The regional scene
We understand that we failed to live up to our commitment to Israel in the 2006 Lebanon ceasefire agreement—letting Hizballah return to the south—and that the current regional scene is very dangerous. Consequently, we understand that absolute clarity is needed on revolutionary Islamism’s threat, combatting Iranian influence, helping moderate democratic movements but doing all possible against radical ones (even if camouflaged as moderate), comprehending Turkey’s transformation by an Islamist regime and opposing it. We will work with Israel and other moderate forces against the revolutionaries and those who want to wipe it off the map.
5. The conclusion
Therefore on the basis of this absolute clarity of the threat to Israel and of our need to fight against it—especially since these are also anti-Western forces–we are working for a just, stable, and lasting two-state solution. Let us together devise methods of making this work.
Now, that would be a lot more persuasive. Or to put it graphically:
Current critique of Israel’s policies:
You will now jump off the cliff for your own good! Nothing can possibly go wrong! There is no yawning chasm, no precipitous drop, no pointy rocks below! Your claiming otherwise is purely a mirage, if not a deliberate lie. How dare you not jump when we tell you to do so! You’re so stupid! Maybe you really are evil!
Persuasive critique of Israel’s policies:
Here is the finest possible bungee cord. I have done comparison shopping and this is the best there is. Let’s run some tests and set up the jump as close as possible to your specifications. We will stake our lives on making sure your enemies don’t cut the rope. We will search them thoroughly to make sure they don’t have knives and can’t come close enough to fiddle with the equipment. Oh, and we will make sure they jump also from their cliff and not just stand by while you take all the risks.
Nothing can be more conducive to knowing you are right than seeing how bad are your foes’ arguments. It’s one thing for people to disagree with you and even criticize you, but quite another when you examine their arguments closely and find that they are simply out of touch with reality, biased, and illogical as well. We really read what they say and write very carefully; they ignore what we say and write (except occasionally in the hope of finding something misworded that can be turned into a “gotcha!” claim).
At the same time, though, I’m not going to risk my life, the lives of my family, country, and people on the demonstrable ignorance of those who give advice so bad that it doesn’t even pretend to take into account those risks.
And it is the very nature of these criticisms—naïvely based on wishful thinking and ignoring threats rather than based on a since and sophisticated understanding and response to them—that is the most persuasive proof of all that they are wrong.
Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His book, Israel: An Introduction, will be published by Yale University Press in January. Latest books include The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). The website of the GLORIA Center is at http://www.gloria-center.org and of his blog, Rubin Reports, http://www.rubinreports.blogspot.com