“Sticks and Stones”
Friends and supporters are pleased when pro-Israel information appears in the press or social media. They spread it around and hope it will take some of the edge off the growing swamp of nasty charges and commentary about Israel as an “apartheid” state, or a criminal enterprise, or even a Nazi-like regime. Hundreds—thousands?—of people are circulating a fabulous set of posters highlighting the contributions of Israeli Christians (not all of whom are Arab) and Israeli Arabs (not all of whom are Muslims) to Israel’s civic, educational, and economic life. Mais Ali-Saleh, the valedictorian of her class at Technion, Dr. Aziz Darawshe, head of emergency medicine at Hadassah Hospital, and Miss Israel Rana Raslan are among them.
There are files full of heartwarming stories about Israelis who risk life and limb to rescue injured Syrians and bring them to Israel for treatment, and who supply warm winter clothing to Syrian refugees again, at great risk. Remember the “Good Fence” that provided hundreds of jobs, primarily for Lebanese women, in northern Israel after the 1982 war? Israeli water and agriculture projects in Africa are legendary—and true. Israel was the second country after the United States to provide aid to earthquake-stricken Haiti and the first to supply a full field hospital.
But at the end of the day, Israeli generosity, political sensitivity, democracy, tolerance, respect for diversity, civil liberties and rule of law—the facts of Israel itself—may not be enough to transform the anti-Israel brigade into supporters or even win over the uncommitted.
This is the message, intended or not, of Joshua Muravchik’s thorough and important book, Making David into Goliath. Israel’s image is not undermined by what Israel actually does as much as by deliberate, popular, and well-funded sources pursuing warfare against Israel off the battlefield. The sources include:
- Arabs using the machinery and money of the United Nations
- European Socialists and European governments afraid to challenge the Arab states over oil and terrorists over ideology
- Edward Said and the rest of left-wing academia, including Israeli academics, led by “new historian” Benny Morris, who are adversarial toward the State, and
- The New Left
Sometimes, not being perfect by any means, Israel is itself a source of fodder for these groups, according to Muravchik, showing “a less endearing face” to the rest of the world. Now, you might say, “Well, yes, Israel isn’t perfect, but that ‘less endearing face’ is still certainly better than any face Syria shows the world, or Iran or China.”
That would only prove you hadn’t read the book.
In The Beginning
The first chapter, “When Israel was Admired (Almost) All Around,” begins with Ari Ben Canaan and Exodus and ends with the triumph of the Six-Day War. It was at that point that Israel ceased to be perceived as endangered and therefore ceased to command the world’s sympathy. The perception was enhanced by the fact that Israel found itself in control of hundreds of thousands of poor and unhappy people who had been occupied by Jordan on the West Bank and Egypt in Gaza.
The Arab states, in one of the most impressive political turns of the modern age, switched the conversation from Arab rejection of Israel to Israel’s occupation of the Palestinians. They were helped by oil politics, terrorism, and the collapse of pan-Arabism, which left the field open to individual Arab groups to press claims, including the Palestinian claim to statehood. Muravchik shows the interesting early ambivalence of Yasser Arafat toward an “independent Palestinian State” believing as he did that the Palestinians were part of the larger Arab brotherhood.
Terrorism flowered in Europe during the 1970s—airplane hijackings becoming almost ubiquitous, starting in European capitals and flying to Middle Eastern or North African airfields, demanding ransom or prisoner releases. Here, Muravchik comes to the ugly—and current—truth of European politics: European countries were willing to barter with Palestinian organizations in order that they mostly leave Europeans alone. France, Switzerland, Germany, and others made deals, including an ignominious German trade of the three surviving Olympic Massacre terrorists for German passengers and crewmembers aboard a hijacked plane. “The world repeatedly submitted, paying ransoms and releasing prisoners, and granting a miscellany of other demands. In this climate, terrorists never needed to fear capture. If arrested, they could be confident that new hostage taking operations would follow to secure their freedom,” Muravchik writes. “Such appeasement had a corrosive effect on the spirit of Europe, as almost always happens when people bow to threats and violence rather than finding the courage to stand up to them.”
The past as prologue
The next step was the Arab oil embargo, which caused real panic in Europe and the United States. OPEC singled out the Dutch and the EEC formulated a new statement on the Middle East. The Economist ridiculed European submissiveness: [It is] “a brand new EEC spaniel policy. This new community policy for lying-on-your-back-and-wagging-your-feet-in-the-air has the following public rules. Any member state caught standing up to the Arab oil embargoes must immediately lie down on its back again, put out its tongue and wave its feet.”
And they did, while forging what they called a Middle East policy separate from that of the United States, still seen as “too pro-Israel.” The Arab states responded by turning on the taps at much higher prices, using their newfound oil wealth to buy whole academic departments in Western universities and think tanks, and to support radical Islamists as far afield as Chechnya, Afghanistan, and Uzbekistan.
Critics from Within
In the chapter, “Israel Spawns its Own Adversarial Culture,” Muravchik addresses in depth prominent Jewish and Israeli anti-Zionists including Benny Morris, Amos Oz, Uri Avnery, Ilan Pappe and the organization B’Tselem. But he also discusses the role of such left-wing academics as Oren Yiftachel, Lizi Sagie, and Anat Biletzki, well known in Israel, and well known to Israel’s enemies, but unfamiliar to Israel’s supporters in the West. B’tselem founder Palestinian journalist Bassam Eid emerges as the only hero of the chapter for his determination to hold the PLO/PA to a standard of human rights comparable to that of Israel. For this, Israelis including Avnery called him a “collaborator,” the worst possible epithet.
Avnery did not even pretend to have any information hat Eid was an actual collaborator. He meant simply that Eid’s work embarrassed Arafat and “whoever destroys [Arafat’s] standing in the international arena is pulling the carpet from under the feet of the Palestinian cause.” Having argued…that mistreatment of Palestinians by Arafat’s regime should not be publicized by an Israeli organization, Avnery now objected to its being publicized by Eid’s indigenous Palestinian organization…and by adding an Israeli imprimatur to the charge of “collaboration” he quite wittingly made it more likely that Eid would be murdered.
Morris recast his views during the 2000-04 “second intifada,” but the international damage was done. The academics, in lock step with left-wing journalists—particularly Amira Hess, Akiva Eldar and the management of Ha’aretz—influenced American opinion elites and poisoned the atmosphere in American institutions. Hess may be best known for writing in the aftermath of a Palestinian stone throwing attack that killed a 25-year-old Israeli and his 1-year-old son, “throwing stones [at Israelis] is the birthright and duty” of Palestinians… “also within Israel’s recognized borders.”
The other leonine figure in academia was Edward Said, who is skewered by Muravchik as much for his simply bad scholarship as for his political proclivities. The chapter is notable for the sound of a once great—though thoroughly unwarranted—reputation deflating.
After taking on the Europeans, the Israeli left, and academia, Muravchik turns to the American left: Rachel Corrie, Walt and Mearsheimer, the evolution of Human Rights Watch from anti-communist to anti-Israel. HRW’s Kenneth Roth, a vociferous critic of Israel, maintains that the organization is only concerned with how wars are fought, not with who starts them. This, to Muravchik,
[is like having] criticized the Japanese for their treatment of prisoners of war, the Americans for interning Japanese citizens, the Germans for collective punishment against the resistance, and the Allies for the bombing of Dresden – all without saying a word about Pearl Harbor or the invasions of Manchuria, Poland, France and the rest.
Blind to the Truth
The penultimate chapter covers how journalists see one thing but want it to be something else, so they simply choose NOT to cover what they see. Think about it this way: People, including journalists, politicians, and academics, actually DO know that Israel is not a vile, apartheid, Nazi country. They DO know that the IDF tries as hard or harder than any civilized military to limit civilian casualties. They DO know that tolerance is a prime Israeli virtue. But they don’t want it to be that way. They want to support the Palestinian “cause,” the oil dictators (who spend veritable fortunes buying them and others) and the left-wing intelligentsia. So they ignore what they see and report what they want it to be. Hence, Robert Fisk can call Mohammed Fadlallah, Hezbollah’s “spiritual leader” who said he sought to “obliterate Israel,” “among the wisest and most eloquent of clerics.”
The conclusion is simply that such organized hate and misinformation narrows the field in which Israel can defend itself.
Readers will find themselves nodding most of the time, and often saying, “I remember that,” or “I wondered how that happened.” The historical details, of which Muravchik is a master, tickle our memories and restore the truth of many of Israel’s positions. But that’s mostly because readers of Making David into Goliath are inclined to be Israel supporters to begin with. If there is one truth that emerges, it is that there is an “osmotic process by which some of the views of the Left seep, albeit in diluted form, into the mainstream.”
The book won’t convince anyone who doesn’t want to be convinced, remind anyone of truths they don’t want to be reminded of, or shed light for those who don’t care to be enlightened. All the more reason supporters of Israel should buy it, read it, and try to take the next step—having identified the flaw in the “selling” of Israel, is there a path forward?
Shoshana Bryen is Senior Director of The Jewish Policy Center and Editor of inFOCUS Magazine.