Israel and the United States-Cont'd
To the Editor:
In his salutary reminder that the nations of the world apply the double standard to Israel, pressing it to accept conditions (and make concessions) which nobody would dream of demanding of any other people, Norman Podhoretz ascribes this attitude to anti-Semitism [“The Abandonment of Israel,” July]. This is true enough and dangerous enough. It must, however, be added that this attitude is very often an inherited hangover from the days when we had no state. What is most significant is that the application of the double standard feeds on Jewish readiness to accept it. Regrettably, the Israeli government’s acceptance of a second- or third-rate status—as, to cite one blatant example, in the case of the Suez Canal, where in contravention of the Constantinople Convention, Israeli ships are not allowed, but the recent permission by Egypt for the transit of Israeli cargoes was nevertheless hailed as a victory in Jerusalem—is not calculated to wear down this type of anti-Semitism, or even to induce in its perpetrators a sense of wrongdoing.
This pliancy is usually ascribed to the fact that the Israeli government is subject to pressures. Be that as it may, how have the articulate, influential, concerned Jewish intellectuals in the Diaspora (and specifically the United States) behaved? Integrated in Western culture as they are, many of them bearing its message and its burdens, alert to Israel’s special significance as a nation and a state, to its unique experience, to its unique danger, and to its down-to-earth rights as a member of the family of nations in the second half of the 20th century, what have they done to insure equal treatment for Israel? How have they reacted in the face of the phenomena referred to by Theodore Draper and the Rev. Douglas Young—both cited by Mr. Podhoretz—and by Mr. Podhoretz himself? If we recall especially the tense, fear-filled weeks that preceded the Six-Day War when the fulfillment of the Arab threat to annihilate Israel seemed imminent, and the ordeal and the agony that then gripped the Jewish Diaspora, how is it that these articulate people-who-care, when the danger had been repelled and they could breathe again, did not speak up in American society, to their government and their media and, with all the force of persuasion, the passion of a just cause, and the authority of a common American experience and culture, insist that they stop demanding of Israel unjust, humiliating, dangerous, and unique concessions? Should they not moreover have fought tooth and nail to educate their legislators and their publicists on the dangers for the United States—and the West in general—of a Munich-type policy toward Israel?
And should they not have applied themselves to sharpening the awareness of the Israeli government and people as to the truths now so eloquently spelled out in Mr. Podhoretz’s article, urging them to stand firm against pressures, against accepting the equation of “territories for peace” which they knew to be spurious, which they knew could be suicidal?
Some no doubt did try. Most of those with access to the corridors of influence did not. Was it inherent psychological weakness, “Jewish” accommodation to less and to worse; or was it the mere uncritical belief that submissive Israeli postures had freed them from the inconvenient obligation of possible friction with the American establishment?
They were under no pressure from the State Department. Yet they welcomed and encouraged the notion that black was white, and found themselves espousing, implicitly or explicitly, the theme that in fact the Arabs (or more usually, this or that Arab leader) “wanted peace”—that in fact all that was needed for peace was Israeli concession of territory. They pretended they did not know (or could they possibly really not have known?) that unless you accepted the legitimacy of Israel’s ceasing to exist this was a lie. It was certainly cozier for them not to have to take the American establishment to task for treating the Jews in their own state as a second- or third-class people so accustomed to discrimination that it could also get used to life-or-death wars every few years which must inevitably result in retreat to frontiers temptingly vulnerable to the Arabs.
They thus contributed—unthinkingly—to the shows of propaganda (lyrics by Arabs, music by State Department, Whitehall, Quai d’Orsay, oil companies, Moscow, et al.) designed to make people forget that the sole cause of the conflict in Palestine is the refusal of the Arabs to tolerate any Jewish state and, since it came into existence, their efforts to annihilate it; and that history, and the absence of peace, did not begin with an “Israeli occupation” in 1967.
The free American Jewish intellectual should have been the first instinctively to take the offensive, and to urge the Israelis boldly to do the same, in proclaiming the truth: “Of course, Israel is ‘intransigent.’ After our experience since 1947, who would not be? We know moreover that only our intransigence, our determination not to be deceived for the fourth time into giving up territory, holds out the hope that one day the Arabs, finding they have no prospect of achieving their lethal purpose, will turn their minds from their imperialist greed for territory and toward a search for peace.”
This is surely the logic, the thrust, and the message of Mr. Podhoretz’s powerful article. Yet in the midst of it, as though withdrawing for a moment from his bold confrontation with the cold winds of truth into the shelter of the conventional wisdom, he injects the following passage:
The idea that it is the intransigence of the Israelis which has prevented a peaceful settlement in the Middle East is yet another stunning inversion of the truth. The only thing about which the Israelis have been intransigent is their right to live in peace as a sovereign Jewish state among their Muslim Arab neighbors. For this they have always been ready to make territorial and other concessions and still are. There is of course a small if strident minority of Israelis who wish at all costs to hold onto all the territories forever. But the polls and every other indication show that the great majority of Israelis are still willing to do whatever may be necessary to achieve a sure and lasting peace.
Thus suddenly, even if only momentarily, there is an implicit reversion to the thesis that it is the Israeli occupation of territory that prevents peace, and moreover that most Israelis accept this thesis—the thesis attacked and refuted throughout the whole of the rest of Mr. Podhoretz’s article. Indeed a few lines further on he writes:
Given the intransigent determination of the Arabs to do away with a sovereign Jewish state in their midst and given their belated discovery that the oil weapon is so potent an instrument for accomplishing this purpose, why would they stop using it after the first victory (the return of Israel to the 1967 boundaries) or even the second (the establishment of a Palestinian state on the West Bank) were won? With Israel reduced and weakened, the way would be open for a military coup de grâce.
Quite so. “The logic,” as Mr. Podhoretz goes on to say, “is as inexorable as it is terrible.” If then he assumes that a majority of Israelis believe that doing “whatever may be necessary to achieve a sure and lasting peace” means to give up territory and thus, precisely, to “reduce and weaken Israel and open the way for a military coup de grâce”—why does he not warn them against such soft-headedness, against this terrible blunder which will lead them not to peace but to war in such forbidding circumstances that he foresees their having to fall back on the nuclear option? Why, to top if off, does he direct words of denigration precisely at those Israelis who refuse to shut their eyes and brains to the Arab purpose, who object to a repetition of the costly blunders since 1947, who, in short, are alive to the facts and alert to the implications so cogently expounded by Mr. Podhoretz in the whole of the rest of his article?
For some unfathomable reason he refers to these Israelis as a “small if strident minority.” I would be curious to see the source of his information. He appears to be hopelessly misinformed. As though in answer to Mr. Podhoretz’s evaluation, there is the recently published survey by the Institute of Applied Social Science in Jerusalem carried out over a period of three years, 1973-75, among high-school students on the one hand and adults on the other.
They were asked to comment on the proposition that the more administered territory Israel returns, the more will the Arabs be prepared to make a true peace.
The results showed that 8 per cent of the students, 9 per cent of the adults, answered yes. The vast majority do not believe that “what has to be done” to achieve peace is to surrender territory to the Arabs.
The persistent brainwashing by the Israeli establishment to induce the people to believe that, regardless of their gut-knowledge of the Arab purpose, they will have to give in to American arm-twisting (and in spite of their experience of that arm-twisting) has not succeeded in reducing the percentage of young people opposed to the surrender of any territory at all (or very little, in the terms of the survey) below 65, or the percentage of adults below 47. It is not irrelevant at this point to add—in the light of misinformation purveyed by American newspaper correspondents—that the sampling in this survey also favors settlement in the territories in the following proportions (relating to the different areas): adults—between 69 and 83 per cent; students—between 75 and 88.
If the people of Israel believe they are faced with the kind of dilemma which Henry Kissinger made part of his stock-in-trade in his dealings with their government—in effect, “Either you give up territory or you’ll be thrown to the wolves”—and if the Israeli government persists in the policy of submissiveness and the concomitant brainwashing of its people—the erosion of spirit may be resumed (it was stemmed by the Entebbe operation) and one day there could indeed be a cowed, resigned majority who will allow themselves to be led to the brink of catastrophe. (Mr. Podhoretz pictures Israel being “forced into a Paris-type or Munich-type agreement”—that is surely, in the spirit of Munich, to “acquiesce in whatever may be necessary to achieve a sure and lasting peace.”)
But this has not yet happened. There is still enough spirit in the Israeli people not only to justify Mr. Podhoretz’s forecast that after a sellout the Israelis would fight, but to stand up politically to pressures and coercion. Not the least element in such a stand is the belief that, no less than at Munich, a sellout is ultimately as dangerous to the seller as to the victim, that the “abandonment of Israel” would be a disaster for the West in general and for the United States in particular. Because the process of our “Munich”—which has already begun—is a more drawn-out one, it is still possible to halt it. To do so not only a spirited and politically adroit Israel is needed, but also American Churchills to educate their countrymen. It surely does not help to implant in the U.S. the grotesquely untruthful notion that only a “small minority” in Israel is resisting the process leading to a “Munich-type agreement.”
In parenthesis, Mr. Podhoretz’s use of the word “strident” to describe the imaginary “small minority” has its element both of tragedy and of humor. Tragedy because there is surely enough to be strident about. We see a worldwide coalition (in effect) of all the Arab states, determined in the final analysis to complete Hitler’s work, supported by Moscow and most of the Communist bloc, backed by the Third World, now also by France and Italy and Japan, encouraged by U.S. State Department policy—and facing it the same blindness and wishful thinking of Jewish leaders, the same mindless drive toward an abyss, and this with the supercilious aplomb of superior wisdom. Would stridency not then be understandable?
Unconscious humor because I, being of that “small strident minority” and perhaps therefore unable to judge the volume and timbre of our voice, found myself thinking as, admiringly, I read Mr. Podhoretz’s essay, that this was an article that, by and large, could reasonably appear not only in Israel’s centrist Ma’ariv (as, I’m glad to say, it did) but also, without disharmony, in Zot Ha’aretz, the organ of the Land of Israel movement—by Mr. Podhoretz’s definition the very temple of stridency and, in fact, the most consistently sane political journal in Israel.
Finally, a word about the suggestion in Mr. Podhoretz’s article that the vast majority of Jews in Israel are so afraid of the problems posed by the million Arabs in Judea, Samaria, and Gaza that they contemplate giving up those areas to the Arabs.
This, again, is simply not so. The survey I have quoted—and every poll—bears this out; and it is, after all, no secret that precisely on a possible withdrawal from Judea and Samaria and Gaza—the only area where the demographic problem exists—is there the most determined opposition. Moreover, the repetition of the theme of wihdrawal for demographic reasons can only serve to stiffen the determination of the Sadats and the Faisals, and the Assads and Arafats, and their confidence in ultimate victory.
The problem itself is in fact a tremendous headache. It must be tackled with intelligence, with courage, and with an understanding of the human problem involved. It will require a combination of remedies, but none of them can be applied except by a sovereign Israeli government which will make it clear that, just as in Jerusalem, Eretz Yisrael—which the Arabs call Falastin—will remain united under Jewish auspices.
I do not here suggest a blueprint. I do not believe any blueprint prepared today could be valid. What should be said, however, is that two guiding principles would be essential for creating the modus vivendi of a solution:
- Equality of rights and obligations of all citizens of the Jewish state.
- No coercion of Arabs to acquire citizenship.
Above all, however, the demographic problem is first and foremost a Jewish, not an Arab, problem. The prophets of doom not only assume a freezing of present birth rates, but ignore the fact that the life blood of the Jewish state is immigration, aliyah. Without aliyah, the essence of Zionism, the Zionist venture will be in dire danger even without any Arab help—even if we could live in attenuated borders. Aliyah is the first imperative for all who are concerned with the Jewish future.
Tel Aviv, Israel
To the Editor:
In “The Abandonment of Israel” Norman Podhoretz traces with ruthless objectivity the steady . . . deterioration of Washington’s suport for Israel, and its continuing surrender to Arab threats and blackmail. Readers who might be . . . shocked by the title should first read the article; in it they will find no weak link in the carefully built chain of evidence.
The moral strength of this great country . . . is not evident today as we grovel before the Arabs and rush to meet their slightest demand. Neither oil nor balance of payments can be fashioned into a moral position.
Just as we built up Japan so that it could attack us, we are now, to an even greater degree, arming such racist Arab countries as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Southern Yemen, and Jordan, and soon Egypt and Syria—all totalitarian countries and enemies of the democratic way of life. . . . The almighty dollar dominates our international affairs. We are for sale to the highest bidder. Today it is the Arabs. Tomorrow? Who knows?
. . . When the Arab confrontation and back-up states have been saturated with American planes and missiles and tanks and guns, then the “abandonment of Israel” will be climaxed by an Arab ultimatum. Israel’s reply might well be what Mr. Podhoretz describes in his last two paragraphs. Of course, Israel will not surrender. It is the only country in the world that will not bow to terror or threat. . . .
Los Angeles, California
To the Editor:
Norman Podhoretz’s article could not have come at a more crucial time for all concerned. Though the article may not contain the key to Middle East peace, it strips away the layers of propaganda, both Arab and American, to expose the basic issue at stake: Israel’s right to exist, under conditions and in areas that will assure, as far as is humanly possible, the permanence of that existence. . . .
American military leaders have testified to the importance to America of maintaining a strong Israel as an ally in the Eastern Mediterranean. Admiral Elmo Zumwalt . . . in his recent book, On Watch, in commenting that our commitment to Israel “apparently” involves many military risks, adds that the “United States would face the same risks in intensified form in the Middle East if there were no Israel.” He sees the Soviets as the “principal fomenters of trouble” with the long-range objective of getting control of Arab oil. “I have no doubt that if Israel fell, the Soviets would find it both simple and advantageous to turn from egging on the Arabs against Israel to egging on one set of Arabs against another. In that situation the U.S. still would be threatened with the loss of Middle Eastern oil and still would be compelled to ship out arms—and to much less potent and reliable friends than Israel, at that.” Zumwalt emphasizes that “. . . a strong Israel plays a critical part in safeguarding America’s interests not only in the Middle East but in Europe as well.” . . .
It is an absolute fact that Israel has never threatened or attacked any Arab state that desired peaceful relations. The Arabs, the true intransigents, have kept the Middle East in continual turmoil with five major wars against Israel, and probably five times as many with each other. Lebanon is but the latest. Being substantially Christian and democratic, its destruction was an inevitable step in the Arab march for an all-Arab and an all-Muslim Middle East. That is why Israel is such a bone in the collective throat of the Arab “nation.” Arab imperialism is the block to peace, not the refugees (Arab-spawned), not the “Palestinians” (who were Jordanians without a whimper for nearly twenty years), not “inalienable rights” (of which there was not a trace during 500 years of Arab rule over Palestine and during another 500 years of Turkish rule). This Arab imperialism is just as dangerous to America as is the Russian brand. . . .
But the “abandonment of Israel,” which Mr. Podhoretz so brilliantly documents, need not happen. The Jews, an ancient people, have faced many trials. Ancient Israel rose and fell, rose and fell, and rose again in the modern era. Its people today speak the same tongue, worship the same God, and live in the same land as their ancient forebears. . . . In the final analysis, only Israel can abandon Israel, and before that can happen, young, strong hands will take the helm.
The world can help in the process of keeping Israel strong, secure, and independent, or it can hinder the process. It can make Israel suffer a bit more, take more losses; but after the six million, there is no terror Israel cannot face and vanquish. . . .
Charles J. Levin
Los Angeles, California
Norman Podhoretz writes:
As I think I made clear in “The Abandonment of Israel,” my position is that Israel should give up territory only as part of a settlement involving an acknowledgment by the Arab countries, and the Palestinians as well, of the right of a sovereign Jewish state to exist in the Middle East in peace and security (both of which entail negotiation over boundary lines and inter-state relations).
If I am “misinformed” in believing that the vast majority of Israelis would be ready, and indeed eager, to accept such a settlement, the figures Samuel Katz cites certainly do not demonstrate that I am. They demonstrate only that most Israelis very sensibly reject the idea that one-sided territorial concessions by Israel can lead to peace. As for the “demographic problem”—i.e., the brutal fact that Israel cannot hold onto the territories without endangering either the Jewish or the democratic character of the state or both—Mr. Katz’s reliance on high Jewish birth rates and aliyah for a solution seems to me as unrealistic as his assessment of the political climate within Israel itself.