Netanyahu’s problems are Israel’s

Recently, international affairs guru Fareed Zakaria opined in The Washington Post that the formation of the Kadima-Likud coalition, by freeing Prime Minister Netanyahu from any real domestic opposition, could turn his attention to reconciliation with its Arab neighbors. Zakaria argued yet again that Netanyahu has consistently exaggerated the Iranian threat and that Israel’s strong economy and its own nuclear arsenal, one of the largest in the world, eliminated the possibility that Iran could actually threaten the Jewish State. Zakaria also claimed that Netanyahu’s new political freedom would allow him  to “move toward a peace settlement” with the Palestinians.

Zakaria’s column echoes a number of viciously critical public attacks on Netanyahu in recent weeks. Of course, the days when Israel was the darling of journalists and academics has long passed. In recent decades every Israeli prime minister has been harshly criticized for allegedly not doing enough to pursue peace with the Arabs. A certain number of these critics have always been either Israelis or American Jews. But the recent attacks on Netanyahu have shed light on a troubling change in the relationship between Jewish critics of Israel and organized Jewish communal life. Once critics of Israel were virtual outcasts from mainstream Jewish institutions. They were not affiliated with the Jewish Community, and Jewish organizations wanted little to do with them. However, now that some of these critics are active members of synagogues and other mainstream Jewish organizations, few Jewish organizations will deny them a platform. Thus, much of the organized Jewish community has bestowed legitimacy on the notion that Netanyahu’s policies are the obstacles that have stood in the way of the resolution of Israel’s conflict with the Arabs.

For instance, at a YIVO conference on “Jews and the Left” in New York earlier this month, a number of  speakers described the frightening entry of anti-Semitic notions into the discourse of mainstream left-wing  writers and intellectuals in Europe. Yet, many of the same speakers made a point of declaring that not all criticism of Israel constituted anti-Semitism, and they emphasized that they opposed many of Netanyahu’s policies — in particular his failure to halt Jewish settlement on the West Bank.

Similarly, the New Republic’s Leon Wieseltier blamed Netanyahu for “the Israeli government’s refusal to press relentlessly and imaginatively for an answer to the most difficult problem.” He, too, was referring to the Palestinian issue. More specifically, Wieseltier focused on Netanyahu’s reaction to an incident in which Israeli soldier Shalom Eisner, the deputy commander of the Jordan Valley command, struck with the butt of his rifle a pro-Palestinian Danish protester:

Prime Minister Netanyahu was said to be shocked. I wonder why. For many years he has been schooling his compatriots in a contempt for the world, and treating pro-Palestinian sentiments as anti-Semitic hallucinations with no basis in any of Israel’s actions.

To be fair to Wieseltier, he is one of the few Netanyahu critics who is willing to acknowledge that the Palestinians are at least partially responsible for the lack of success in peace negotiations:

Mahmoud Abbas, too, is leading his own people nowhere, and using Benjamin Netanyahu as his excuse. His immobility, and his search for every remedy, but a negotiated one, will perpetuate Palestinian statelessness, and hasten an explosion.

And only a few days earlier, reacting to Netanyahu’s Holocaust Remembrance Day speech, Haaretz editorialized:

Behind the weighty arguments for preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons lies the fear of a second Holocaust. Netanyahu is constantly feeding that fear…. It appears that the use of the Holocaust rhetoric in connection with external  threats also reflects a sense of internal threat. Fundamental problems are gnawing at the self-assurance of the State of Israel: the absence of agreed-upon borders; the conflict with the Palestinians; social tensions and the inability to come to agreement on a constitutions.

As reported by The Times of Israel, Elie Wiesel chimed in. Asked in an interview whether Netanyahu’s tendency to invoke parallels between the Iranian and the Nazis, Wiesel said that such comparisons were out of place because “I don’t compare anything to the Holocaust.” While acknowledging that “Iran is a threat”, he questioned whether “it will make a second Auschwitz.”

In fact, Netanyahu and the right have set few precedents in either rhetoric or deed. For instance, the idea that Nazi thought was prominent in Palestinian nationalism did not, as Wieseltier claims, originate with Netanyahu. Indeed, almost exactly two years ago, within weeks of when Peter Beinart publish the original article that served the basis for his current controversial book, “The Crisis of Zionism,” NYU scholar Paul Berman, a writer with impeccable liberal credentials, published his own book, titled “The Flight of the Intellectuals.” Ironically, Berman dedicated that book to none other tham Leon Wieseltier, as well as the then-owner of the New Republic, Martin Peretz.

Much of “The Flight of the Intellectuals” was devoted to the way that many western intellectuals and journalists had embraced the well-known European Islamic scholar, Traiq Ramadan, as a liberal — in spite of the existence of considerable evidence that Ramadan had articulated views that weren’t liberal at all. In the course of making his case against Ramadan, Berman examined his pronouncements of reverence for his maternal grandfather. That grandfather just happened to have founded  Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood in 1928, and was a great supporter of the Palestinian nationalism’s first leader — the mufti of Jerusalem in the 1920s and ’30s, Haj Amin al-Husseini. Berman lays out the large body of  evidence, which has been known for decades, that Haj Amin Al Husseini, had actively collaborated with the Nazis, when he was forced to flee Palestine and seek refuge in Hitler’s Germany during the Second World War.

Nor has Netanyahu been alone in comparing the present Iranian regime to the Nazis. About six months ago, I attended a Holocaust Remembrance Service in Toronto with my mother, who is a Holocaust survivor. The two speakers at the event, both survivors, expressed concern over the rise of the “new Anti-Semitism,” and both cited the ruling Iranian regime as a source of this new anti-Jewish hatred. Certainly, neither of these speakers got the idea of likening the Iranian  and Nazi regimes from Israel’s prime minister.

Wieseltier is, like me, the child of Holocaust survivors. We all heard our parents and their friends say that the international vilification is just the latest manifestation of the world’s age-old hostility toward Jews. Wieseltier must know that this notion did not originate with Netanyahu.

As to substance, it’s hard to understand why anyone would object to Netanyahu framing both Iranian and Palestinian hostility toward Israel in terms of anti-Semitism and the Holocaust. While neither the current Iranian regime nor the Palestinians have done anything that is even remotely comparable to the Nazis’ atrocities, surely, this is more attributable to their lack of opportunity rather than lack of desire.

Iranian President Ahmadinejad’s is a Holocaust Denial. He has also publicly branded Zionists as “criminals and murderers” and called for the destruction of Israel. The Iranians, as Wiesel suggests, may never create their Auschwitz. But that’s beside the point. Israel and the rest of the world should assume that the current Iranian regime will take any chance that it might get to kill or hurt Jews.

This intense hatred of Jews is what makes the potential Iranian acquisition of nuclear weapons so significant. Zakaria’s may be correct in his assessment that it would be impossible for Iran to acquire a nuclear arsenal that would be large enough to destroy Israel. After all, acquiring such large arsenals has turned out to be extremely difficult. But why does Zakaria, like so many of his fellow pundits require Israel to ignore all threats which may fall short of being existential? The bulk of Israel’s population lives in a small urban area in the center of the country, Should even one Iranian nuclear bomb land there, both the human and economic damage would be incalculable.Zakaria cites the fact that only the United States and China have more companies listed on the NASDAQ than Israel as a reason for why it should not worry about the Iranian threat. But how does this protect Israel from the consequences of an Iranian nuke landing in heavy-populated Central Israel?

The record of the Palestinian regime is no less hate-filled and belligerent. Earlier this year in the Canadian edition  of the Huffington Post. I reported on how the Palestinian media, which is completely under the control of the Palestinian regime, glorifies terrorists that have killed Jews. .” And, viewers of BBC World News on Nakba Day would have seen Salam Fayyad, allegedly the great Palestinian moderate, dating the Palestinian Catastrophe to the creation of the State of Israel. He also suggested to make up for this alleged injustice, Palestinians must be granted the “right of return” to the Jewish State. It’s only most universally recognized that granting the Palestinian Arabs an unlimited “right of return” would result in Palestinians swamping the Jewish population of Israel and the eventual end of the Jewish State. It’s significant that nobody in the Palestinian movement dates the Catastrophe from the occupation of the West Bank, instead of the creation  Last December, Shlomo Avineiri, one of Israel’s most distinguished intellectuals, and no right-winger, told the the New York Times, “There is no doubt in my mind that in the mainstream of the Palestinian national movement, Israel is considered illegitimate. This is the inner truth of the Palestinians. They really mean it. It’s not what they say on CNN, but is what they teach their children.” There is thus no evidence for the notion that Palestinian hostility toward Israel is rooted in what the Netanyahu administration or any other government of Israel has done. The Israeli writer and theologian Daniel Gordis pointed out a few months ago:

No fair reading of the Middle East conflict’s past or present can deny that had Palestinian society undergone the profound transformations that Israeli society has, the conflict would be over. There was once an era in which no major Israeli party recognized the Palestinians as a people. Today, they all do. There was a time when no significant Israeli political leader would entertain the notion of a two-state solution. Today, they all do; even Benjamin Netanyahu, who now heads the party once led by Menachem Begin, has endorsed that position.


On what position though, have the Palestinians changed their stance? On the refugees right of return (which would end Israel’s Jewish character)? On recognizing Israel’s right to exist? On their willingness to allow even a few Jews to remain in a future Palestine, just as Arabs lives in Palestine? Tragically, they have not budged on any of these issues.

As with its conflict with Iran, Israel’s ability to resolve its dispute with the Palestinians does not depend, as Zakaria suggests, on either Israel military and economic power or the political strength of Israel’s ruling coalition. Rather, peace will only be  possible when the Palestinians fundamentally change their attitude toward a Jewish place in the Middle East.

Yet many so-called “experts” refuse to acknowledge this transparent truth. Instead, the “occupation” is regarded as perhaps the world’s worst injustice. Arab assaults on Israel spark less outrage than what Israel must take to defend itself. Israel politics and society are examined with a microscope while the corrupt, anti-Semitic dictatorship that rules the Palestinian Authority escapes international scrutiny. Israel, a vibrant democracy, is treated much more harshly in the press and in academia, than brutal totalitarian regimes in places like North Korea, Venezuela, and Zimbabwe. Can Wieseltier credibly chastise Netanyahu, or anybody else for that matter, from framing the widespread international vilification in anti-Semitic terms?

Here’s the bottom line. Netanyahu’s left-wing critics are left throwing their unqualified support behind a Palestinian nationalist movement that has never repudiated the Nazi collaboration of its founder, officially spreads anti-Semitic ideas and explicitly demands the right, for the first time since the Holocaust, to create a state that is Judenrein. The Palestinian national movement’s supporters echo these odious calls for the forced removal of Jews from any of the territory over which a Palestinian government may one day rule. And these supporters have continued to champion the  creation of a full-fledged Palestinian state in spite of the present Palestinian regime’s abysmal record of sacrificing political and economic development to the continuation of its struggle against Israel and the Jews.

Netanyahu’s critics consistently confuse essential from peripheral issues. Israel is a democracy, albeit a flawed one, and some of its institutions and policies contradict democratic principles. One can legitimately question the privileged status of the ultra-Orthodox, the discrimination against Conservative and Reform Jews, or the decisions to bar Gunter Grass or pro-Palestinian Flytilla participants from the country. Actually, all of this makes me feel uncomfortable. Yet, it’s absurd to see them as fundamentally threatening Israel’s democracies. Jews living in many places and in both contemporary times and throughout history couldn’t even have dreamed of enjoying the religious freedoms and legal protections that Jews affiliating with liberal denominations possess in Israel today. Similarly, Wieseltier takes a cheap shot when he accuses Netanyahu of showing a “Putinist” strain by trying to ban Grass and the Flytilla participants from the country. Wieseltier knows that other countries, whose democratic credentials are rarely questioned, place restrictions on the free speech of both residents and guests, Canada, for instance, has hate-speech laws and the strongest support for them comes from people who consider themselves to be liberal. Haaretz, and others, are right to expose and take a stand on Israel’s democratic flaws. But the paper is dead wrong to claim that these flaws pose a more fundamental challenge to Israel than the threat from Israel’s Arab neighbors.  But more importantly once you’ve taken up the cause of the anti-Semitic autocrats who rule the PA, you’ve surrendered the moral authority to criticize the democratic deficiencies of Israel or any other country.

Netanyhu’s critics also often confuse the cause of some events with their consequence. Most notably, the occupation and the absence of universally accepted borders around Israel is the consequence of the refusal of the Arab states to acknowledge the Jews to the Holy Land and their right to a homeland there. The occupation, on the other hand, is not the primary source of ongoing conflict between Israelis and Palestinians.

At the conference on “Jews and the Left” I was troubled by the speakers’ efforts to distinguish between opposing the Netanyahu governments’ policies and the anti-Semitism that now sweeps the Arab world and  Europe, and the other Western democracies.In theory, such differences are possible. On the ground in the Middle East, such distinctions amount  really to merely splitting hairs. Both frustrating Netanyahu’s efforts to destroy Iran’s nuclear program and trying to force him to bend the demands of the Palestinians inevitably only embolden and empowers to neighboring regimes that are hostile to Jews and their States. That makes the criticism of Netanyahu not only a personal problem. for the Prime Minister. It’s also a problem for Israel.

About the Author
Martin Krossel is a freelance political journalist living in New York