The proposals that Israel should be admitted to NATO, discussed by Clifford Kiracofe in a post not long ago, provide yet another illustration of the inability of so many of that country's most committed supporters, both in United States and elsewhere in the West, to grasp the suicidal nature of the course they have encouraged it to follow.
At a time when the waves of unrest sweeping the Arab world are calling fundamentally into question the ability of the United States to persuade governments in crucial countries – above all Egypt – to act in ways which Israel wants, support for that country in some of the traditionally most loyal allies of the US has been collapsing. Certainly, the Israeli government's presentation of its policies towards the Palestinians – and also Lebanon and Iran – as the unavoidable defensive responses of a beleaguered outpost of Western civilisation, confronted by that civilisation's implacable Arab and Muslim enemies, retains powerful traction, particularly among neoconservatives, in Europe as in the United States.
So in Britain for example a prominent neoconservative, Michael Gove – Education Secretary in the current Tory/Liberal Democrat coalition government – has argued in his influential polemic on the Islamist threat to Western civilisation, Celsius 7/7, that Israel must be defended all costs because it 'is an integral part of the West, a vessel for its values, an example of its virtues and is hated not for what it does but what it is'.
But neoconservatives like Gove – who in 2008 described the invasion of Iraq as ‘a proper British foreign policy success’ – are not being entirely successful in persuading their own peoples. While the events of the past decade have encouraged a wave of Islamophobia in Europe, as in the United States, this has signally failed to produce an increased sense of solidarity with Israel among the population at large. The annual poll of perceptions of the global role of different countries done for the BBC World Service, published earlier this month, showed a marginal improvement in Israel's worldwide rating, which still however left Iran, Pakistan, and North Korea as the only countries surveyed ranked as having a more negative influence. Among the generally very negative views of the country in Europe, a particularly dramatic change was the increase in negative ratings in the UK from 50% to 66% – with only 14% now giving the country a positive rating.
Interestingly, this brought British perceptions almost precisely into line with those in Germany, where there was a slight improvement in how Israel was regarded, with negative ratings falling from 68% to 65%, and positive rising from 13% to 15%. So among those peoples who have traditionally been the closest allies of the United States, and who have a long history of supporting Israel, the country's standing has collapsed. There is clearly a major gap between European and American perceptions -- although negative ratings of Israel in the US were also reported as rising, from 31% to 41%, leaving them just short of positive ratings, at 43%.
Alliance with neoconservatives has in fact been a poisoned chalice for Israel. The last thing that country needs is friends like Michael Gove, who encourage Israelis to believe that attitudes to them have nothing whatsoever to do with actions of theirs which others may find objectionable, and are purely to do with their virtues. The belief that one represents a state of achieved perfection, and that any hostility on the part of others can only be understood either in terms of their moral turpitude or one's failure adequately to explain one's virtues, is dangerous enough for the United States and Britain, who have the benefit of relatively secure geographic locations. The Israelis, who do not, simply cannot afford to duck out of the endeavour – which is commonly liable to be less than entirely pleasurable – of confronting how one is actually seen by others, in order to understand how they have responded to what one has done in the past, and calculate how they might respond to what one might do in the future.
The last thing I would want to do is to replace one kind of nonsense by another, and suggest that if the Israelis were prepared to confront how they were seen by others, all their apprehensions would be revealed as the delusional products of Holocaust trauma. Whatever they did, the hostility of the Arab and Muslim peoples among whom they live would confront them with intractable problems. But the propensity to assume that hostility is practically invariably a matter of essentially motiveless anti-Semitism – with Hitler's aspiration to destroy Jews simply because they were Jews as the central point of reference – does Israel and its external supporters no favours. In relation to Arabs and Muslim peoples, it is suicidal.
If one sees these as imbued with some kind of ineradicable desire to eliminate Jews, the idea that a state in the Middle East could ever represent a 'safe haven' for actual or potential victims of anti-Semitism, which has been central to Zionism, has to be a mistake. Confronted by such implacable malevolence, even the most determined resistance, under the wisest leadership, could hardly be expected to do more than delay the inevitable end. Granted the premise, logic points inescapably to the conclusion that the whole Zionist enterprise was hopeless from the start. And sensible Jews able to see which way the wind is blowing, and in a position to find a comfortable refuge in safer places, will be prone to do so.
In relation to declining support in the West, Israel and its external supporters commonly talk about delegitimation, as though this decline reflected the malign efforts of people implacably hostile to the very idea of a Jewish state. But in relation to my own country, Britain, this is delusional. The decline of support for Israel simply does not reflect cunning propaganda from Palestinian advocates – whose efforts, taken in themselves, resonate among rather limited sections of the population. It is the actions and words of successive Israeli governments and their supporters in this country and in the United States which have shifted sympathy away from the country.
One element in this remarkably successful effort at shooting oneself in the foot is a failure on the part of the Israeli government to grasp the premises on which on which support for the country has commonly been based – and in particular, the crucial role of the assumption that a two-state solution was feasible. As long as I can remember, it has been taken for granted among most people here concerned with these issues that there existed a division of Palestine such that, with patient encouragement from outside, sooner or later it would come to seem preferable to the leaderships on both sides to any other option available to them. And crucially, it was also assumed that the difficulties they could be expected to face in taking their peoples along with them, in the face of the obvious ability of 'rejectionists' on both sides to stand in the way of and disrupt any likely agreement, could be overcome.
A pyrrhic victory.
If there was to be such a division, it has been clear ever since 1967 that it involved the Palestinians acknowledging that 78% of historical Palestine contained within the the borders prior to the Six Day War was irrevocably lost, in return for Israeli withdrawal from the remaining 22% -- with minor border adjustments. The successful defiance by Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu of the timid attempts by the Obama Administration to persuade it to observe some minimal restraints on the ongoing process of settlement of the West Bank – a pyrrhic victory if there ever was one -- have in the minds of many on both sides of the Atlantic finally put paid to belief such a division is ever going to happen.
Coming together with the revelations in the 'Palestine Papers'in January about the extraordinary lengths to which Palestinian leaders were prepared to go to accommodate Netanyahu's predecessors, the conclusion is increasingly being drawn that there is no Israeli 'partner for peace'. And indeed, people have increasingly been asking themselves whether they have been deluding themselves, and failing to recognise that the continuation of the settlement of the West Bank throughout the period since the 1993 Oslo Accords meant that the whole 'peace process' has been misconceived.
In Britain, this scepticism has been moving into the journalistic mainstream. At the time of Obama's attempts to resuscitate the 'peace process' last August, the international affairs editor of the Financial Times, David Gardner, published an article entitled 'A poisoned process holds little hope.' Having pointed to the 'relentless and strategic Israeli colonisation of occupied Palestinian land' as the fundamental problem vitiating the 'peace process', and he went on to remark:
It is essential to remember that the biggest single increase of Jewish settlers on Arab land – a 50 per cent rise – took place in 1992-96 under the governments of peace-makersYitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres at the high-water mark of the Oslo peace accords. Many Israelis will point to the perfidy of the late Yassir Arafat, who wanted to talk peace but keep the option of armed resistance dangerously in play. But what killed Oslo was the occupation. The second intifada which erupted a decade ago was essentially the Oslo war.
The most remarkable transformation, however, has been at the Daily Telegraph – which in the days of Lord Conrad Black used to be a central neoconservative stronghold, and where the neoconservative presence remained extremely strong even after his departure. It has certainly very far from vanished, but last September Peter Oborne, who back in 2009 took a leaf out of John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt's book and co-authored a notable pamphlet on Britain's own Israeli lobby, moved to the paper as chief political commentator.
What provoked the pamphlet was a speech given by the Tory leader David Cameron to an organisation called the Conservative Friends of Israel not long after the attack on Gaza, in which Cameron went out of his way to praise Israel because it 'strives to protect innocent life'. When Oborne remarked to some Tory MPs that it was difficult to reconcile this with the 'numerous reports of human rights abuses in Gaza', he recalls, they 'looked at me as if I was distressingly naive, drawing my attention to the very large number of Tory donors in the audience.' However, the problem the British Israeli lobby is finding increasingly difficult to handle is that the actions of successive Israeli governments are producing revulsion and disillusion – and also disgust at the pusillanimity of our own political leaders,and their willingness to cave in to the combination of financial inducements and emotional blackmail deployed by Israel's sympathisers.
The ‘fulcrum moment’.
In article in the Telegraph at the end of last year about the deep splits in the governing coalition about policy towards Israel, Oborne remarked that the 'fulcrum moment' in making a close alliance with Israel 'which once seemed so natural' appear 'anachronistic and embarrassing' was the Israeli invasion of Lebanon back in 2006. And as with the David Gardner article, that by Oborne brings out the immense impact on perceptions of the continued building of settlements, as a result of which, he writes, 'the Middle East peace process is dead, and the prospect of an independent Palestinian state has vanished.'
And this is indeed the crux of the matter. An Israel which can be expected to find a modus vivendi with the Arab and Muslim worlds it inhabits has a reasonable chance of retaining both elite and mass support in Britain. But the actions of an Israel which promises to remain indefinitely in a state of embattled conflict with those worlds will divide opinion. Moreover, at the heart of the division are issues which have nothing whatsoever to do with attitudes towards Jews, and which in fact divide Jews just as much as they do the general population.
Introducing Conservative Friends of Israel back in 2007, the organisation's Political Director, Robert Halfon, opened by explaining that‘with over 2,000 members and registered supporters alongside 80 percent of the Conservative MPs, Conservative Friends of Israel has become the largest affiliated group in the Party.’ And he went on to say that anyone who signs up as a new member gets a free copy of ‘Michael Gove’s book about extreme Islamism ‘Celsius 7/7’.
Given that Michael Gove's book rehashes a whole range of neoconservative themes – prominent among them the familiar claim that Islamists are motivated by a deep hatred of freedom – Halfon could hardly have found a better way of persuading opponents of neoconservatism, that the CFI is a catastrophic influence on British politics. This claim, clearly, provides a useful propaganda tool for those wanting to suggest that enemies of Israel poses a mortal threat to people in Britain or the United States. As the owner of this blog, and also other commentators here, have reiterated time and again, such ideological simplicities obscure the diversity of political movements in the Arab and Muslim worlds, as well as the crucial fact that rather few of these pose any kind of fundamental threat to the United States, as also to Britain.
What is also obscured is the crucial fact that jihadists are motivated by concrete grievances, and also can exploit such grievances in recruiting support. Against this background, Gove’s continued rosy view of the military intervention in Iraq, which certainly caused widespread Muslim antagonism and also succeeded in replacing a defanged Sunni tyrant with Islamist Shia close to the clerical regime in Tehran – a real potential threat to Israel – is palpably delusional. Moreover, against this background an Israel which is not capable of attaining a modus vivendi with Arabs and Muslims, but tries to salvage its position by the kind of indiscriminate violence practised in Lebanon in 2006 and Gaza in 2009, and by definitively turning its back on the two-state solution, is not a strategic asset, but a major strategic liability. Jihadist terrorism is not an existential threat to Britain, any more than to the United States. The implications of a full-scale ‘clash of civilisations’, which the words and actions of Israel and its American and British supporters encourage, couldvery well be.
The one-state solution.
The logic of this view was spelt out in the address given by Ambassador Chas Freeman in Oslo last September, in which he suggested that the stranglehold of the Israeli lobby on US policy-making made it imperative for Europeans and Arabs to get together to put the kind of real pressure on Israel to which it has never been subjected throughout the Oslo process. The crucial question which he left open was whether this pressure should be directed to a kind of last minute attempt to salvage the two-state solution, or whether this should be regarded as vanished beyond hope of recovery, and the pressure should be directed to a one-state solution.
What makes the position of the CFI and other elements in the British Jewish lobby particularly absurd is precisely such pressure, which they will determinedly resist, is the only way in which Israel could conceivably be prevented from committing suicide. Absent the two-state solution, as the former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert remarked in 2007, Israel becomes an apartheid state, which will lead inexorably to the collapse of its power base among American Jews, and the one-state solution. This would certainly spell the end of Zionism. Whether Jews could coexist successfully with what is likely to be a majority Palestinian community in a binational state is an open question -- I must admit my own inclination is to be pessimistic.
It is clear that emerging splits among American Jews are a crucial element in how the policy of the United States towards the Middle East will evolve in coming years. The same holds true in Britain. And it is here that one of the most important effects of Netanyahu's defiance of Obama is liable to be felt. As in the United States, most British Jews have believed in the two-state solution. There is certainly a wide spectrum of attitudes among those who have placed their hopes in the possibility of a settlement with the Palestinians. But I think it is fair to say that a bedrock element is an identification with the fate of fellow Jews which memories of the Holocaust make if traumatic to abandon without a sense of guilt and betrayal. In a world where hopes of settlement with the Palestinians have disappeared, however, the tension between identification with Israel and the liberal values shared by very many Jews in Britain as in the United States is going to become unmanageable.
It really has become difficult to find rational grounds for optimism that the trends of the past few years can be reversed. An Israel where Avigdor Lieberman can be Foreign Minister is not going to turn back into the Israel where Abba Eban was Foreign Minister. And often repeated mantras, such as the notion that it is precisely leaders of the right, like Netanyahu, who can make fundamental compromises and carry their followers with them, look threadbare: after his defiance of Obama, the notion of him as a Nixon going to China,or a de Gaulle surrendering Algeria, looks fatuous.
Meanwhile, although still largely beneath the surface, the question of 'dual loyalty' is rearing its head. In the wake of the Holocaust, it came to be accepted as natural that British Jews should feel loyalty to Israel as well as to Britain. Indeed loyalty to Israel has commonly coexisted with a very deep sense of loyalty to Britain -- and there has been an immense Jewish contribution, much of it from refugees from disasters of twentieth-century European history, to British life. But vanishing prospects for a two-state solution raise the question of whether loyalty to Israel and loyalty to Britain remain compatible. For neoconservatives, be they Jewish or Gentile, they obviously are in harmony. But most British Jews are not neoconservatives, any more than are most American Jews. In Britain, as in the United States, issues which bitterly divided the Jewish community in Britain back in 1917, when the Balfour Declaration paved the way for the creation of Israel, and was eagerly championed by leading Jewish liberal politician, Herbert Samuel, and vitriolically attacked by another, his cousin Edwin Montagu, are again becoming inescapable.
What seems likely is that the stranglehold which the Israeli lobby has secured on the political process in the United States, together with his alliance with neoconservatives in that country and elsewhere, has blinded Netanyahu – and indeed many other Israeli leaders and supporters – to the suicidal nature of recent Israeli policy, and indeed of the whole attempt to colonise the West Bank. The extent to which Netanyahu simply has not grasped the implications of his actions was made amply evident in the extraordinary phone call he made to the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, to express his disappointment after Germany supported last month's UN resolution declaring Israeli settlements in Palestinian territories to be illegal and a 'major obstacle to the achievement of a just, lasting and comprehensive peace'. The resolution, which was sponsored by at least 130 countries, this was supported by all members of the Security Council, apart from the United States, which vetoed it. His complaint provoked a furious response from Merkel, according to Haaretz, who complained that Netanyahu had not 'made a single step to advance peace.'
Even with Germans, the assumption that one can rely on Gentile guilt over the Holocaust to inhibit criticism of Israel cuts less and less ice. One comes back again to the automatic assumption that opposition to what Israel does reflects hatred of Jews – related to which is the assumption that accusations or imputations of anti-Semitism are both an appropriate and effective means of stifling such opposition. In fact, as the balance of opinion about Israel shifts, such accusations not only progressively lose traction, but become counter-productive. The use of the post-war taboo on anti-Semitism, which arises out of the Holocaust, to stifle criticism of Israeli policy tends to create a particularly toxic form of resentment, which comes when people are prevented from expressing thoughts and feelings they regard as perfectly legitimate – while enabling those creating resentment to blind themselves to the fact they are creating it. It also is visibly tending to weaken the taboo, which is much to be regretted.
That there are sinister undertones to some of the opposition to Israeli policy – and certainly among some pro-Palestinian activists – is clear. A revival of anti-Semitism, as also the current upsurge in Islamophobia, is something to which men and women of goodwill should be implacably opposed. But anti-Semitism is certainly not the prime driver of the ongoing shift of opinion in Britain as elsewhere against Israel, and until Israelis and their supporters abroad grasp that fact, they will continue to act in ways which are leading inexorably to the end of the Zionist experiment, and indeed may already have put paid to hopes for its survival.