Anti-Israel analysts spent decades peddling the myth of linkage. According to that very convenient canard, the Arab-Israeli conflict was the root cause of Middle East pathologies, rather than Middle East pathologies—especially Arab and Muslim anti-Semitism, and the refusal to accept a Jewish presence in the region—being the root cause of the Arab-Israeli conflict. It followed not only that a peace deal built on Israeli concessions would engender positive regional change, but that the deal was a vital prerequisite to that change.
Then Wikileaks came along and showed that foreign policy experts were 100% backward when it came to the priorities of Arab leaders. Analysts, including and especially those echoed by the White House, had insisted that mobilizing regional action against Iran was impossible because Arab leaders were too fixated on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Leaked diplomatic cables illustrated that exactly the opposite was the case. Arab leaders were beside themselves with frustration because the administration was obsessing over Israel even as Iran gobbled up more and more of the Middle East. Linkage advocates had been substituting their own wishful thinking, and their own hostility towards Israel, for reporting and analysis.
So a new pretext had to be found. Linkage 2.0 was that, while Arab leaders didn’t much care about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Arab Street was stuck on it. “Don’t focus on the opaque inside baseball that we’ve been parsing for years in order to build our ethos and push an anti-Israel line,” ran the argument from self-styled experts, “focus instead on how the average Arab citizen can’t get past the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” Then the Arab Spring came along and showed that the average Arab citizen had other things on his or her mind.
Some brave souls are still trying to cling to the old line. Yesterday J Street’s anti-Zionist co-founder Daniel Levy flatly asserted that “it is clear that Palestinian statelessness is a defining issue and key prism through which America is viewed.” He invoked General Petraeus’s Congressional statement about Afghanistan, in which the General ostensibly testified that Israeli construction in East Jerusalem endangers US troops abroad. That’s not what Petraeus said, of course, but it’s convenient for the anti-Israel left to pretend that it is, so they do. The implication is that uneducated Afghan cave dwellers who’ve never seen a globe care desperately about whether Gilo gets new gas stations, and that’s kind of absurd, but the argument means that Israel is again to blame for Middle East violence, so why not?
Still, for less committed partisans than Levy, in the aftermath of Wikileaks and the Arab Spring, linkage is now trotted out only ruefully, as a kind of pro-forma gesture to the expectations of the audience. A new justification for obsessively focusing on Israel had to be found: “The Arab Spring has come to Israel.” It’s the world’s most predictable game of Mad Libs. Something is happening in the Middle East, so take that and put “. . . Israel” at the end.
The theory is—on its face, by definition, as a matter of what words mean—fairly silly. The Nakba Day mobs were organized by the Assad regime in Syria and by Hezbollah in Lebanon. The Syrian regime’s thugs are currently mowing down hundreds of pro-democracy protesters. Hezbollah is a Lebanese proxy of the Iranian government, is responsible for the murder and suppression of the pro-democracy March 14 movement, and has provoked a democratic crisis so deep that Lebanon hasn’t had a government for the last four months. Syria and Hezbollah are at the precise opposite poll of the Arab Spring. Yet somehow their stage-managed stunts are extensions of pro-democracy sentiment, which also conveniently means that Israel has to desperately appease Palestinian leaders with territorial concessions.
More broadly, with the President about to embrace the Arab Spring, it’s helpful for anti-Israel partisans if “Arab Spring” became synonymous with “pressure on Israel.” So they’ll pretend that it does, until they can’t credibly pretend any more, because that’s how Middle East analysis proceeds. There are few consequence for being wrong, provided that one is toeing the proper anti-Israel ideological line, and so casual and exquisitely timed anti-Israel themes can be invented, trotted out, and then discarded as political expediency demands.