It is in the spirit of democracy and independence of the state of Israel that I force myself to break away from my studies and write this blog. Today, in a New York Times (gasp) op-ed, titled “Israel Needs to Learn Some Manners,” Oxford Professor Avi Shlaim, accuses Israeli leaders of lacking (if you haven’t already guessed) manners. This revelation will surely go down in the historical record, as rivaling Galileo’s discovery of the earth’s rotation around the sun and, foreshadows Professor Shlaim’s promising future career as a forecaster of yesterday’s weather. Joking aside, Professor Shlaim’s op-ed is extremely troubling, because he seems to have missed the 65 year old news flash: Israel is an independent state.
In his piece, Professor Shlaim uses Defense Minister Ya’alon’s criticism of Secretary of State John Kerry to preface a long list of complaints that lead him to dislike Israel (one of which is Israel’s audacity to prevent suicide bombers from killing its civilians by building the separation barrier). This introduction dispensed with, Shlaim arrives at his main point:
“America gives Israel money, arms, and advice. Israel takes the money, it takes the arms, and it rudely rejects the advice.”
That’s right folks, this Oxford professor is advocating unadulterated imperialism in the New York Times. Apparently, Professor Shlaim is of the opinion that Israel’s obedience to every dictate issued by Washington costs a mere 3 billion dollars a year. The aid Israel receives from the USA, both militarily and diplomatically, is invaluable. But giving aid is not like buying a car, and foreign assistance does not afford the US the right to command the sovereign state of Israel.
In case he didn’t make his 19th century worldview clear, Professor Shlaim goes on to advocate making US aid to Israel contingent on Israel’s respect for US advice. Two false assumptions underpin Shlaim’s thinking: the belief Israel does not do anything at all to create a reciprocal relationship between itself and the United States, and that friendship with stubborn Israel only hurts US interests. In justifying this position, Professor Shlaim makes a fatal error, conflating the alleged damage done to US interest by Israeli settlement construction with the overall value of America’s relationship with Israel. Even if we accepted the assertion that settlement construction hurts American interests, the professor ignores the value brought to the United States by its alliance with Israel. Considering the current state of affairs in the Middle East, the value of having a staunch and friendly democratic ally in the most volatile region in the world can’t be overstated. Furthermore, Professor Shlaim forgets that most aid dollars are used to purchase goods and services produced in the US, bolstering demand for American goods, and creating American jobs. For the sake of making his argument against state sovereignty, Professor Shlaim throws all logic out the window.
Returning to the source of the professor’s rant, I would like to remind him that Secretary of State Kerry is in the region to negotiate a peace deal between the Israeli’s and Palestinians. In a negotiation, the participating parties are entitled to voice their opinions about the positions of their moderator. While Defense Minister Ayalon’s personal attacks on the Secretary of State were a mistake, Israel is not required to bend the knee to the whim of the United States on any matter, and should certainly not be forced to take steps that it feels are damaging to its security, no matter who issues the demand.
Professor Shlaim, if Prime Minister Menachem Begin were alive today, he would remind you, as he reminded President Reagan, that Israel is not a banana republic, and would likely admonish you for attempting to put a price on Israeli sovereignty. Your argument is an artifact from bygone days. Today, the international consensus that the decisions made by sovereign governments should be rooted in the consent of the people they govern is well established. Nevertheless, I intend to look for your future articles condemning all countries that receive military aid but rebut American advice, hoping against hope that you are an intellectually honest man.