Commentary Magazine


When in Doubt, Blame Israel

There are plenty of reasons to worry about the future of what some are calling the “Arab Spring,” the region-wide movement that led to successful revolts in Tunisia and Egypt, the civil war in Libya, and efforts in Syria, Yemen, Bahrain and elsewhere to overthrow existing autocrats. But whatever happens in these countries, it won’t be Israel’s fault one way or the other. Despite the claims of Arab propagandists who have been telling us for generations that dislike of Israel and its Western supporters is the key issue motivating Muslims, these revolts have been about the shortcomings of the protesters’ own governments and nothing else. But it doesn’t take much for critics of Israel to justify injecting the Jewish state into the debate.

Hussein Ibish of the American Task Force on Palestine is seen by some in the pro-Israel community as a moderate, but even he can’t seem to resist the impulse to blame Israel for the potential failure of the Arab Spring. Writing today in Foreign Policy, he asserts that the recent upsurge in Palestinian terrorism could derail the Arab Reform movement. According to Ibish, if Israel attempts to suppress Hamas terror attacks such as the fatal bus bombing yesterday in Jerusalem it could lead to Arabs’ being distracted from their campaign for self-rule and allow existing ruling elites to stay in power.

There are a couple of major problems with this analysis.

First, it infantalizes Arabs to assert that they are incapable of understanding that the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians has nothing to do with attempts to overthrow their own dictators. Does Ibish really believe that Muslims are so simple as to suddenly throw themselves into the arms of Islamists like the Muslim Brotherhood who have no interest in democracy or the rule of law simply because Israel and Hamas wind up going another round in the century-long war to secure the existence of a Jewish state? If, as he claims, most Arabs including the Palestinians don’t support the Islamists, then why would they suddenly buy into their rhetoric about the West and the Zionists being the source of all their troubles when they know very well that their problems are due to the corrupt leaders they have allowed to stay in power for decades?

Second, as is the case with many on the left who wish to wrongly assert a moral equivalence between Israel’s democratically-elected government and the tyrannical Islamists of Hamas, he sees the Netanyahu government as being somehow in cahoots with the rulers of Gaza when it comes to fomenting another war. Israelis know full well that neither the moderates of Fatah nor the extremists of Hamas want peace, but their main desire is to avoid violence. Ibish, who repeats the slanders put forward by more extreme Palestinian propagandists about Israel’s counter-offensive against Gaza-based terror in December 2008, puts down all counter-measures against Hamas as an “overreaction” while ignoring Netanyahu’s peace moves and the Palestinians’ refusal to talk.

Netanyahu has no desire for another war. But that is not only what Hamas wants, it is intrinsic to its nature as a terrorist group dedicated to armed conflict. The recent attacks on Israel are not part of another “cycle of violence” in which sides are complicit but rather yet another expression of a Palestinian nationalism that appears incapable of renouncing violence.

That this is so is a tragedy but not one for which Israel bears responsibility. Foisting the blame for Hamas terrorism on Israel is absurd but part of a long tradition of anti-Zionist propaganda. That Ibish would expand upon this theme in order to potentially blame Israel for the possible failure of the pro-democracy movement in the Middle East is, however, a new variation on the theme that insults the intelligence of both Arabs and Jews. No matter what the situation, it seems that some people can never resist blaming the Jews for anything that happens in the world.