Commentary Magazine


Contentions

Israel’s “True Friends” Don’t Understand What Neighborhood It’s Living In

In a rare moment of perception, Thomas Friedman wrote recently that if you want to be taken seriously in Israel, “there is an unspoken question in the mind of virtually every Israeli that you need to answer correctly: ‘Do you understand what neighborhood I’m living in?’”

What brought this to mind was the latest broadside by Friedman’s fellow New York Times columnist Roger Cohen, who reiterated what has become the favorite mantra not only of those who support Chuck Hagel for secretary of defense, but of liberal American Jewish groups like J Street and even the Union for Reform Judaism: that Israel’s “true friends” are those who tell it, loudly and publicly, that its policies are “self-defeating and wrong,” in an effort to stop what they perceive as its rush to self-destruction. I fully agree that friends should warn against behavior they view as self-destructive. But anyone who thinks that confronting Israel publicly is helping rather than hurting it doesn’t understand what neighborhood Israel is living in.

As even Cohen acknowledged, Israel has real enemies. He cited Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal’s eliminationist threats; one could quote identical rhetoric from Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, “moderate” opponents of Ahmadinejad like former President Hashemi Rafsanjani, and Muslim Brotherhood leaders in Egypt. A good example is this clip (courtesy of MEMRI) of Egyptian cleric Mahmoud Al-Masri being interviewed on Egypt’s Al-Nas TV in November: After gleefully prophesying that the Brotherhood’s rise in Egypt and a successful conclusion to the revolution in Syria will enable Egypt and Syria to unite in a war of annihilation against Israel, Al-Masri assures his followers that this is just the beginning: “Ultimately, not a single Jew will be left on the face of the earth.”

So given that lots of people truly want to destroy Israel, how do Israel’s friends keep that from happening? The only way is through deterrence: convincing these enemies that, however much they’d like to annihilate Israel, they lack the capability to succeed. First and foremost, of course, that depends on Israel’s own military capabilities. But it also depends on perceptions of Israel’s international support.

To understand why, it’s worth reviewing that clip of Al-Masri’s, in which he blithely declares that Israel would have been annihilated in 1973 had the superpowers not intervened to stop the war. In reality, that’s nonsense: The war ended with the Israeli army threatening both Cairo and Damascus. But that doesn’t matter. What matters is that millions of people all over the Middle East believe it. And they believe the same about Israel’s victories in 1948, 1956, 1967, etc.–that Israel won only thanks to nefarious international assistance.

For that reason, perceptions of Israel’s international support are crucial: The more Israel’s enemies come to believe that Israel’s traditional supporters are drawing away, the more they will believe the ultimate military victory they seek is achievable. And since Israel has no more important supporter than America–its government, its public and its Jewish community–the perception that Americans are drawing away from Israel is particularly harmful. Yet when Israel’s “true friends” in America pick very public fights with it, that’s precisely the perception they create, however unintentionally.

People like Cohen or the leaders of the URJ would be genuinely horrified if Meshaal’s eliminationist vision came to pass. But by their very public broadsides against Israel, they make it far more likely that Israel’s enemies will seriously attempt to realize this vision. Thus with the best of intentions, they are causing Israel enormous harm–just because they refuse to understand what neighborhood it’s living in.



Join the discussion…

Are you a subscriber? Log in to comment »

Not a subscriber? Join the discussion today, subscribe to Commentary »





Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
YOU HAVE READ 8 OF 8
FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
for full access to
CommentaryMagazine.com
INCLUDES FULL ACCESS TO:
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
CommentaryMagazine.com.
LOG IN WITH YOUR
COMMENTARY MAGAZINE ID
Don't have a CommentaryMagazine.com log in?
CREATE A COMMENTARY
LOG IN ID
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.