Commentary Magazine


Israel and the United States

To the Editor:

I was emotionally moved by Norman Podhoretz’s article, “The Abandonment of Israel” [July], nearly to tears. Each day, in and out of the halls of Congress, I see the validity of his statements concerning this abandonment. I constantly say to myself, how can it be? What has happened to the world’s conscience? And then as a precursor of what would be in store for Israel were it to rely on that conscience is what has occurred in Lebanon, where an Arab-Christian minority, surrounded by multi-millions of Arab Muslims, teeters on the brink of disaster, if not genocide. And the entire Christian world, from the Vatican to the United States, has sat mutely by and allowed those who seek the Islamization of that beleaguered community to go forward without even raising their voices, let alone their arms to stop that continuing tragedy. Fortunately, the Christian community is receiving assistance from Syria for complex reasons—because it is in Syria’s interest at the moment to help Lebanon and repress terrorists who, after destroying the Christian community, would become a cancer within the Syrian state itself. Lebanon is also receiving help from Israel which recognizes its identification with a small, beleaguered people, and the tragedy and genocide that would occur if that Christian minority were overrun. In the mysterious ways that the Almighty works, it is nice to report that at the writing of this letter [early July] the Christian minority is at the moment in the successful role of David against Goliath.

But if the Christian world would not speak up for, nor assist, their Christian brothers and sisters in Lebanon, what would they do if the Jews of Israel were on the brink of a comparable catastrophe? The answer, I suggest, is nothing. Perhaps some ships would be sent to take the survivors from its shores, but little more. Is it any wonder that Israel will not agree to the return of occupied territory unless and until it is assured of a true peace involving the exchange of ambassadors and all other peaceful and commercial exchanges that exist among nations that don’t seek each other’s destruction?

Not long ago an Italian-American who is a member of Congress and a good friend of mine asked me how many Jews there are in Congress. “Twenty-two,” I replied. “How many of you are there?” I asked. “Thirty-eight,” he said. “And what do you do when you get together?” I asked him. “Well, mostly we eat,” he replied, laughing. I thought to myself, would that we Jews had the kind of climate that permitted us to say the same. Instead, the fact is that mostly we meet to prevent catastrophe.

Edward I. Koch
House of Representatives
Washington, D.C.

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To the Editor:

. . . “The Abandonment of Israel” is the most incisive analysis of Israel’s situation I have seen in years—and the most frightening. . . . I altogether agree with Norman Podhoretz’s view of the situation. . . .

Arnold Forster
Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith
New York City

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To the Editor:

. . . Norman Podhoretz’s essay articulated precisely the growing apprehension felt by many of us concerning United States and European policy toward Israel. Especially illuminating was his analysis of the growing detachment from reality of many intellectuals. This detachment sometimes reaches the point of stunning inversions of political fact, a stage preliminary to a moral inversion by means of which the destruction of Israel can be made to seem “just.” However, in his reference to an Israeli “Samson complex” it seems to us that Mr. Podhoretz inadvertently supported one of the mechanisms whereby such detachment from reality takes place: namely, inappropriate psychologizing.

There is nothing of a “complex” in Israel’s accumulation of nuclear weapons and its determination to use them, if necessary, in the interest of self-preservation, even at the risk of global nuclear war. This policy, it strikes us, is a combination of courage and Realpolitik: the great powers, particularly the United States, realize that not only their moral integrity but their very survival may well be linked to Israel’s. What other policy is reasonable for a small nation surrounded by enemies, and in danger of abandonment by its “friends”? This fundamental reality is unnecessarily blurred by the invocation of a “complex,” which might make it appear that Israel could be “driven crazy.” Such “psychological” thinking is the mirror image of that which once held the Arab “ego” to be sensitive to “humiliation.” United States policy must be based not on Israeli or Arab “complexes,” but on the ground-level realities of the situation, which now include Israeli nuclear potential. . . .

[Dr.] Daniel Birger
[Dr.] Stephen Rittenberg
[Dr.] Sheldon Roth
[Dr.] Herbert Wyman
[Dr.] Jack Terry

New York City

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[The signers of this letter are psychoanalysts on the faculties of Cornell Medical School, Albert Einstein College of Medicine, and Harvard Medical School.—Ed.]

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To the Editor:

In an otherwise perceptive article, Norman Podhoretz writes that “No one doubts any longer that they [Israel] have such [nuclear] weapons.” I and a number of others at the Hudson Institute, where I am a consultant, firmly believe that Israel does not have nuclear weapons. Our opinion is based on an analysis of the possible value of nuclear weapons to Israel as well as private conversations with a number of highly placed Israelis.

The public position of Israel’s leaders on the question of nuclear weapons has been clear-cut and unchanged for years: Israel will not be the first to introduce nuclear weapons into the Middle East. One would tend to discount these statements—if Israel had nuclear weapons, would it tell anyone about them?—except that from almost every consideration, economic, military, political, and strategic, developing nuclear weapons seems unwise for Israel.

Israelis are by far the most heavily taxed citizens of the world. Over a third of Israel’s GNP is already devoted to national defense. One should not expect Israel to expend much of its resources on an expensive nuclear-weapons program unless to do so would greatly improve its military strength.

However, given the relatively small numbers and yields of any Israeli nuclear force in the foreseeable future, the only efficient use of such weapons would be to attack enemy cities. Yet a counter-city war, with large numbers of civilian fatalities, is anathema to Israel. Moreover, with most of its population concentrated around Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, and Haifa, Israel would probably suffer greater losses in such a war than its Arab opponents.

Nor would nuclear weapons serve as a truly effective deterrent against Arab attacks. Inevitably, especially given their oil riches, the Arabs will acquire their own nuclear weapons. Any number of undeterrable attacks could occur. For example, Libya might allow the PLO to “steal” a nuclear weapon. In 1973, one should not forget, perceived total Israeli military superiority did not prevent Egypt and Syria from attacking Israel.

While the benefits of an Israeli nuclear-weapons program seem low, the costs are quite high. An extensive nuclear program would strain Israel’s limited financial resources and pool of scientific talent. The political costs, however, would far outweigh the economic costs. The United States would be very upset by an Israeli nuclear-weapons program. Strains far beyond those seen to date could lead to a basic change in the United States’ support for Israel.

Arab nations would immediately begin the search for nuclear weapons of their own. This could force them to rely on the Soviet Union for nuclear expertise and/or weapons. Just what price the Soviet Union would exact in return is not clear. The consequences are not likely to be favorable to Israel and/ or the cause of peace in the area.

One suspects that Mr. Podhoretz has been misled by recurrent news reports of Israeli “bombs.” The CIA, apparently, does believe that Israel has nuclear weapons. But there is no indication of what basis they have for their belief. Conceivably, prudent Israeli planners may have taken steps to guarantee that nuclear weapons could be deployed “in time,” were menacing events looming on the horizon, and the CIA may have misinterpreted these actions as evidence that Israel had already deployed such weapons.

It is also possible, however, that the CIA estimate is an example of “worst-case” analysis of the worst type. Israel has the scientific skills and access to radioactive material necessary for nuclear weapons. The CIA may have just calculated how many nuclear weapons Israel could have built, without examining what motivations it would have had to do so.

Time has also joined the ranks with a story of Israel hastily building nuclear weapons—at the start of the October 1973 war. Alas, Time did not provide a shred of evidence to substantiate its wild story.

Clearly, no amount of analysis of public pronouncements can guarantee that Israel does not have nuclear weapons. But given the lack of any clear-cut political or military utility to Israel of nuclear weapons, the strong burden of proof should rest on those who insist Israel’s leaders speak falsely when they state Israel does not have nuclear weapons.

Edward S. Boylan
Department of Mathematics
Rutgers University
Newark, New Jersey

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To the Editor:

Even though I am neither Jewish nor in tune with COMMENTARY’s . . . compassionate liberalism, I have to say amen to Norman Podhoretz’s article, if only for cold-bloodedly geopolitical reasons. . . .

The United States has a debt of honor as well as a commanding role to play in insuring the survival of Israel as our only solid outpost in the Near East. If we were “led” by fewer dilettantes like William Scranton (who seems to be the Ripon Society’s answer to Henry Kissinger) and by more hard-souled realists like Daniel P. Moynihan and/or James R. Schlesinger, we might expand that outpost into a Balkan-Near East alliance—Yugoslavia, Turkey, Israel—that could reestablish the necessary deterrent to Soviet ambitions in that sector.

W. R. Davidson
Alamosa, Colorado

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To the Editor:

Prophecy in this fast-moving world is hazardous. When Norman Podhoretz wrote “The Abandonment of Israel” . . . he could not have foreseen Israel’s meteoric rise in popularity after her triumph over hijacking in Uganda. Nor does he say anything about the Lebanese tragedy, which King Hussein described as “disastrous,” . . . saying that the PLO had weakened, “perhaps irreparably, its argument that Jews, Muslims, and Christians could live in harmony side-by-side in a future greater Palestine.”

Mr. Podhoretz’s thesis is based on a dissection of the UN speeches on the anti-Zionist resolution, where even Israel’s friends spoke with muffled voices. He fears that the United States will surrender to the next oil embargo and in the conflict for influence with the Soviet Union. But Mr. Podhoretz ignores the steady improvement in U.S.-Israeli relations since 1948, when U.S. officials tried to abort Israel’s birth. Consider the following: In 1951 Israel won U.S. economic aid. In 1962 it finally won defensive military equipment—the anti-aircraft Hawk missile. During the Johnson years it gained deterrent military equipment—tanks, A-4 Skyhawks and Phantom jets; and more sophisticated equipment—much of it in grants—was rushed to Israel in 1973. In 23 years, total aid to Israel, most of it in loans, was approximately $4 billion. Since 1973, however, U.S. aid has exceeded $7.5 billion. Foreign aid has never received such majorities on Capitol Hill.

In addition it should be noted that after years of competing for Arab favor at the UN, our delegation cast its first veto of a pro-Arab resolution in 1972 and has vetoed often since; the United States has held up funding for agencies which adopt pro-Arab initiatives; the mild-mannered William Scranton praised Israel’s “blood and guts” at the Security Council on July 12, and Western, and even some African, countries rallied to Israel’s cause; Israel won accolades at the recent Democratic Convention. . . . Mr. Podhoretz rightly argues that the pressures on Israel to make concessions should be reversed and directed at the Arabs. Whether Israel should agree at all to negotiate interim agreements is debatable, for all too many liken it to a “slice-by-slice Munich.” But Israeli leaders like Dayan, Meir, and Rabin all favored it, hopeful that their own conciliatory spirit would be reciprocated. . . .

True, the United States has failed to conserve and develop oil resources and might be vulnerable to an oil embargo. But even though top oil-company executives in 1973 threatened to blame Israel for shortages, only a minuscule fraction did so. And Candidate Carter recently told Meet the Press that we would not yield to a second embargo. We would counterattack: “We would not ship them food, weapons, spare parts for weapons, no oil drilling rigs, no oil pipes, no nothing!”

In short, there is good reason to believe that America has turned its back on the 1938 appeasement of Munich, when so many believed that we were protected by two oceans. . . .

I. L. Kenen
Near East Research
Washington, D. C.

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To the Editor:

. . . I was both impressed and depressed by “The Abandonment of Israel,” but found even its depressing effect salutary. Just as there exist self-fulfilling prophecies, so do there exist also preventive prophecies. Norman Podhoretz’s article obviously belongs to the second group. . . .

But as one who shares Mr. Podhoretz’s fears and nightmares, I have to point out that a few days after the July issue of COMMENTARY reached its subscribers, the Democratic Convention took place, and with it the nomination of Jimmy Carter. How does this affect Mr. Podhoretz’s analysis? Though he carefully avoids attributing to the present President or his Secretary of State any specific roles in the abandonment of Israel . . . it is possible that “Washington” after 1976 may constitute a completely different ball game. . . . There may be a new President and a new Secretary of State . . . and even leaving aside electioneering promises, there is nothing in Mr. Carter’s past which would justify the assumption that he will make the abandonment of Israel a part of his foreign policy. . . .

Two other factors, both subsequent to the appearance of Mr. Podhoretz’s article, have perhaps diminished the impact which it deserves. . . . One is the beating Arafat’s organization has received in the past months . . . which has diminished—as I believe, prematurely—apprehensions about the gradual trend in the present administration to extend respectability and legitimacy to the PLO. The second factor is Israel’s unprecedented rescue operation in Uganda which put to shame a whole world that responded to Arab terrorism with a shrug. . . . and seems to have changed the climate of opinion somewhat.

But history is not a short-range proposition. Though Mr. Podhoretz’s warnings were followed by an upsurge in Israel’s popularity un-parallelled since the Six-Day War, most of the basic premises of his article remain intact. . . . Unpleasant truths may seem inopportune during an “up” period, but can be ignored only at Israel’s peril.

Benno Weiser Varon
Brookline, Massachusetts

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To the Editor:

Norman Podhoretz’s article grapples with the foremost problem to face the American Jewish community. . . . However, we would like to take issue with some of his arguments . . . [and his] one-sided approach of defending Israel as if it could do no wrong. . . . He has reiterated the standard Israeli line, which isn’t even accepted by some prominent Israelis.

Even more disturbing is Mr. Podhoretz’s extreme view that any criticism of Israel would result in “policies which were calculated to strengthen the hands of [its] enemies.” We cannot believe he would condemn constructive criticism of any country; after all, Israel, like the United States, is one of the few countries left in the world where there is still freedom of speech. Is any purpose being served by putting all the blame on the U.S. and the rest of the world? . . . Wouldn’t public opinion be even more open to Israel if people didn’t feel that the issues were being whitewashed?

Mr. Podhoretz could have better served the needs of Israel as well as the American Jewish community by being more realistic and less sensational. For example, his inflammatory analogies between Israel and Vietnam and Israel and Czechoslovakia seem to prey upon people’s insecurities and paranoia. The term “Vietnamization of Israel” sounds far-fetched, for Israel is not totally dependent upon the U.S.

The conclusion of the article left us with a feeling of despair and hopelessness since it completely rules out any present or future policy in bringing about a secure Jewish state. If all possibilities are discredited—Sadat’s statements recognizing Israel, a written guaranteed settlement, a joint Soviet-American guarantee, and even an American-mediated and guaranteed peace settlement—then what is left for Israel? Since Israel must be somewhat dependent upon a greater world power . . . isn’t it better for that power to be the United States rather than the Soviet Union? Isn’t it better for the United States to act as the mediator and call the shots? . . .

The statement that “the new American policy in the Middle East is not only immoral and ineffective but mortally dangerous as well” is quite rash, for no specific examples are given to back it up. Does it refer to Kissinger’s Middle East shuttle diplomacy, to Moynihan’s position in the UN, to American shipment of planes to Israel? All of these policies seem . . . to show definite support for Israel. . . .

It is disheartening that Mr. Podhoretz chose to write in terms of the worst to come, instead of what we can do to achieve peace.

Jean Oransky
Rachel Figa

Somerville, Massachusetts

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To the Editor:

I can think of no other way to express my appreciation of Norman Podhoretz’s magnificent, if frightening (read, accurate), analysis . . . than to say thank you for sounding the alarm publicly.

Herbert Tarr
Brooklyn, New York

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To the Editor:

. . . Norman Podhoretz discerns a serious decline in American support for Israel, . . . but he is mistaken. American support for Israel’s independence remains strong. In this respect, the Ford administration has not faltered, and Jimmy Carter believes Israel’s survival to be “a moral imperative.”

Still, something is happening. In and out of government American supporters of Israel, both Jewish and non-Jewish, increasingly distinguish between support of Israel’s independence and support of Israel’s retention of the occupied territories. More than two-thirds of the respondents to the Foreign Policy Association’s Great Decisions 76 program recognize the right of the Palestinian Arabs to an independent state.

Although the basic obstacle to peace is still the refusal of the Arab states and the Palestinian Arabs to accept Israel—within any borders—as a legitimate expression of the Jewish people’s right to self-determination, more and more Americans regard Israel as intransigent. Unfortunately, Israel’s twin policies of settling the occupied territories and of denying the Palestinian Arabs a right to self-determination alongside Israel, contribute to the illusion that Israel values the territories above peace.

Israeli policy has failed to dispel this illusion, just as it has failed to respond adequately to its friends’ distinction between independence and expansion, or to the fact that Americans are afraid of another Vietnam, troubled by large overseas expenditures, and under increasing economic and political pressure to achieve a settlement acceptable to the Arabs.

. . . Israel can still solidify American support and shift to the Arabs the burden of demonstrating their supposed willingness to make peace. Let Israel declare its willingness to withdraw from substantially all the occupied territories as part of a comprehensive peace settlement; let it declare its recognition of the Palestinian Arabs’ right to self-determination, including national sovereignty, compatible with Israel’s right to independence and security; and let it declare its readiness to negotiate with representatives of the Palestinian Arabs who will have recognized Israel and forsworn anti-Israel terrorism. In return, let Israel demand of the Arabs acceptance of Israel’s legitimate existence as a Jewish state; normalization of relations; demilitarization of the territories from which Israel withdraws; and antiterrorism measures.

Most Americans believe these are Israel’s legitimate rights. If the Arabs will not give Israel the basic components of peace in exchange for the territories, Arab intransigence will be revealed, and Israel’s American support will be strengthened. If the Arabs show a genuine interest in peace, an end to the conflict may be achieved. . . .

David A. Guberman
Newton, Massachusetts

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To the Editor:

. . . There is all too much truth in everything Norman Podhoretz says. What can be done to turn the tide and awaken the conscience of the world (if in fact it has not atrophied)? . . .

Gilbert J. Baker
Houston, Texas

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To the Editor:

I find Norman Podhoretz’s closing sentence—about blame adhering to those who have not made Israel’s survival “the primary aim of their policies and the primary wish of their hearts”—obsessive and excessively fearful. I recall similar words from General Grivas when he was fighting both British and Turkish troops in Cyprus. A British journalist . . . said at the time that it was likely that his fight would ruin NATO and bring Russian hegemony to that part of the world. The General replied that he didn’t care about the larger consequences, including World War III. All that he cared about was the removal of the British and Turks from Cyprus. I find no moral, humane, or strategic superiority in the aims and arguments of Mr. Podhoretz. I should add that it was the hysteria and stupidity of Greek generals and politicians that made the cause of the Greeks more hopeless than ever in Cyprus. So Mr. Podhoretz’s vision harms . . . Israel more than it helps.

I opposed the founding of the state of Israel because I predicted it would lead to many wars with a rising Arab nationalism. Israel’s coming into existence in 1948 was as foolish as our stepping into Asian empire-building at the moment when the British and French had the sense to step out. . . .

Israel will continue to exist, I think, as did those Christian enclaves in the Holy Land founded by the Crusaders. (The civil war in Lebanon is an attempt to dislodge the last one, after a thousand years.) And the U.S. will continue to support Israel in that long struggle for many reasons: there are few Arab voters here; we like brave underdogs; it is a healthy democracy; it appeals to our biblical values, among both Christians and Jews. . . . Small states are always in danger, but Israel has Uncle Sam’s safety net, woven of green and growing strands of money.

James C. White
College of Art and Design
Minneapolis, Minnesota

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To the Editor:

I haven’t read an article that moved me as deeply since the somber days of Munich, when my private world fell apart. I vividly recall the contempt I felt for the naive Neville Chamberlain and his ever-present umbrella.

. . . The Yom Kippur War brought out a woeful lack of unity in the West—its moral courage left something to be desired. We fervently pray that oil will not be the cause of America’s retreat from its traditional friendship with Israel.

Jules D’arncourt
Arlington, Virginia

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To the Editor:

Congratulations to Norman Podhoretz for “The Abandonment of Israel.” I would like to add two points to the argument.

First of all, the term “occupied territory” has been applied to the West Bank by the United Nations, the media, and friends and enemies of Israel only since 1967. The fact is that the West Bank, including Jerusalem, was allotted to the Arabs for an independent Arab state by the United Nations partition of 1947. The Israelis accepted, but the Arabs did not, and Jordan conquered the area in the war of 1948. In 1950, Jordan annexed the West Bank, and this annexation was only recognized de jure by Pakistan and Great Britain. However, although the West Bank was indeed occupied territory from 1948 to 1967, only Israel’s occupation seemed to arouse any international concern. The adjectives “expansionist” and “territorialist” were also reserved for Israel only. The fact that the Israelis have shown themselves to be rather humane conquerors—witness the improvement in health, industry, and commerce, as well as the elections in the West Bank—seems to elude the critics of Israel. . . . Well-intentioned organizations like Breira have emerged, which urge Israel to take risks that no other nation in the world would be asked to consider.

Secondly, if Kissinger considers negotiating over Israel’s survival an act of “extraordinary cynicism,” how would he define the outright doublecrossing of the Kurds? The Kurds were promised autonomy by Woodrow Wilson, the Treaty of Sevres, and, ironically, by the Iraqi constitution of 1958. Both America and Iran promoted their struggle for independence, but when Iran and Iraq temporarily settled their border problems, the Kurds were abandoned to possible genocide. To be sure, the Kurds have no lobby in Washington, so this was an act of rather ordinary cynicism.

Ruth King
New York City

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To the Editor:

Norman Podhoretz’s thorough analysis failed to mention that Israel is caught between two quite different foreign-policy approaches. The United States seeks to maintain relative peace at the cost of concessions so that business can be conducted at a profit. In contrast, the Soviet Union seeks to incite conflicts and confrontations which will force the United States to back down or withdraw and will spread the influence of the Soviet system.

The current attack against Israel centering on charges of Nazism, racism, and white imperialism is orchestrated beyond the abilities of the Arabs. For many years Soviet propagandists have been exploiting Arab hatred for Israel to advance Soviet interests among the Arabs. . . . Once war broke out in the Middle East it was Soviet prodding that first moved the Arabs to boycott oil shipments to the U.S., damaging the U.S. economy severely.

Only if the Israeli-Arab conflict is seen in the context of a Soviet/U.S. confrontation does the Soviet-orchestrated propaganda attack make any sense. James R. Schlesinger is quite right in calling the process the Vietnamization of Israel . . . but Israel is to be a sacrificial victim in this scenario, not a principal actor. It is between the Soviet Union and the U.S. that the real action is taking place, with the Soviets advancing and the U.S. being prepared for a withdrawal that will be reluctant but presented as necessary to protect the steady flow of Middle East oil that supports the U.S. economy. . . .

What can be done? The first act is to expose the Soviet hand. And not just in generalities, but in specifics. What is the Soviet Union actually doing in the Middle East, in Africa, in Western Europe? What is the U.S. doing to counter the Soviets? Which set of forces is rising and advancing and which is declining and withdrawing?

. . . Within twelve months we will see a shift in foreign-policy goals and management. As new goals are being formulated, the time will have come to plunge through the confusing surface turbulence of affairs in the Middle East and into the dark depths where the realities lie. . . .

Donald L. Miller
Alexandria, Virginia

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To the Editor:

In using the controversy surrounding the adoption by the United Nations, last November 10, of General Assembly Resolution 3379 (whose operative paragraph determined Zionism to be “a form of racism and racial discrimination”) to begin his article, Norman Podhoretz equated this invidious UN pronouncement with the anti-Zionism of the “Declaration of Mexico on the Equality of Women and Their Contribution to Development and Peace, 1975,” adopted at the World Conference of the International Women’s Year held at Mexico City, June 19 to July 2, 1975. The Declaration of Mexico was, however, rather more blunt than Resolution 3379. It did not include the assertion that Zionism was of the same cloth as racism and racial discrimination; instead, it called for the “elimination” of “zionism” [sic] as well as colonialism, neo-colonialism, imperialism, foreign occupation, apartheid, and all forms of racial discrimination.

At the United Nations last fall, Cuba, Democratic Yemen, Libya, Somalia, and Syria introduced in the Social, Humanitarian, and Cultural Committee amendments to a draft resolution relating to the “Decade for Action to Combat Racism and Racial Discrimination” that would have added the word “Zionism” to references to apartheid, colonialism, racial discrimination, etc., in the manner of the Declaration of Mexico. (On the same day Idi Amin, in his address to the General Assembly, called for the extinction of Israel—a call faithful to the Declaration of Mexico.) On October 15, Somalia announced, on behalf of the co-sponsors, that the anti-Zionist amendments introduced on October 1 were to be withdrawn in favor of a new draft resolution, and it is the text of this draft that became Resolution 3379.

Of course, Resolution 3379 seeks to—and does—echo the Declaration of Mexico’s call for the elimination of Zionism, and the fact that the sponsors of the October 1, 1975 anti-Zionist amendments were forced to settle for a step-by-step approach to the language of the Declaration of Mexico offers only small consolation to Israel. But what has been lost sight of in the 3379 controversy has been the aim of the sponsors of the text who, in all likelihood, were less interested in determining Zionism to be a form of racism and racial discrimination than in coming up with a “compromise” approach that, nevertheless, continued to put the United Nations on record as favoring the elimination of Zionism, that is to say, Israel.

Mr. Podhoretz is quite right to point out that Resolution 3379 . . . denounces “the state of Israel itself as an illegitimate entity” and it remains incredible that an international organization, charged with working for international peace and security, should have adopted this denunciation for its own. Last fall, however, the focus of concern was whether Israel would be suspended from the General Assembly as was South Africa in 1974. It is arguable that Israel would have done better to have been suspended than smeared with the 3379 formula; suspension would have attested less to Israel’s isolation than to her inability to get a fair hearing at the United Nations. . . .

Though Resolution 3379 . . . makes it quite clear that Israel has already been abandoned by the UN, it has not so been abandoned by the United States which has steadfastly refused to participate, since adoption of 3379, in the work of the Decade for Action to Combat Racism which, as of November 10, 1975, was transformed into an instrument to combat Zionism. . . .

Although voices have been heard in the United States—and have every right to be heard—which would subordinate Israel’s existence to commercial ties with Arab states, the refusal by the United States government to participate in the Decade for Action to Combat Racism seems a rather good indicator that Washington remains Israel’s staunch ally. . . .

David R. Zukerman
Bronx, New York

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To the Editor:

I read Norman Podhoretz’s monumental study with deep interest. . . . It will hurt to see his words go unnoticed by a world threatened with barbarism. . . .

[Rabbi] Dov Rapaport
Brooklyn, New York

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To the Editor:

. . . I feel sure that Mr. Podhoretz is correct in assuming that when (not if) Israel feels that its back is to the wall, it will use any weapons at its command, either in an attempt to dissuade the Arabs from genocide, or to make the effort as costly as possible. The example of Samson seems more in line with today’s Israeli temper than that of Masada—perhaps Bar Kokhba and Samson together would be more accurate.

It is therefore to the advantage of those who would abandon Israel to reflect on the results of what Israel might do in terms of their own self-interest. . . .

The West fears a cutoff of oil by the Arabs—they are blackmailing the industrial world quite successfully. What the West has thus far not appreciated, however, is that Israel too can resort to blackmail, and with the same weapon. . . .

When Israel has its back to the wall, and feels abandoned by the West, will it be loath to take any actions which would be inimical to the interests of the countries that it feels have betrayed it? Would it hesitate to destroy all of the Arab oil refineries and oil fields it can reach just because that would hurt Japan, Germany, Austria, France, Italy, and Spain? If Israel destroyed the refineries, it would take years to rebuild the infrastructure of the petroleum industry. The economic and social costs would be incalculable. Israel would already have paid its share of the price for the betrayal and the West would then begin to pay its share, just as it paid with World War II for the Czech betrayal at Munich. The big winners would be the Russians, since they would not only control the Middle East, but a bankrupt Western Europe as well. . . .

Myopic politicians and businessmen should consider the potential consequences of cornering Israel—not for Israel alone, but in their own best interests. If morality doesn’t suffice, think of the money.

[Dr.] Lawrence W. Friedmann
Woodside, New York

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To the Editor:

Is Israel, as Norman Podhoretz contends, being “Vietnamized,” and, little by little, abandoned by the U.S.?

If Israel is lost, it was lost in Vietnam. And Vietnam was lost in the ivory towers of academe, in the newsrooms of NBC, CBS, and ABC, in the New York Times, the Washington Post, and their fellow-traveling journals, and in the liberal halls of Congress.

The arguments used by these public-opinion molders, who have dominated American political thought for some decades, convinced the American people to fight a no-win war in Vietnam, to withdraw because a no-win war could not be won, and, finally, to abandon our South Vietnamese allies.

The American people, having learned the “lessons of Vietnam” from these mentors, are now applying them to Israel.

Lesson: The U.S. had no “vital interest” to defend in Vietnam. North Vietnam presented no military, economic, or political threat to America. The U.S. had nothing material to gain by its intervention, and nothing material to lose if North Vietnam won.

Application: We have no vital interest in Israel. The only threat that Israel’s enemies, the Arabs, present to us is another oil embargo. This threat would not exist if we did not persist in supporting Israel. We have nothing material to gain by supporting Israel—and much to lose.

Lesson: Responsible and moral American leadership cannot ignore world opinion. Our unilateral military support of South Vietnam defied world opinion. It was not supported by our NATO allies, it weakened the Western alliance, and it turned the Third World nations against us.

Application: The U.S. is the only government in the entire world supporting the Israeli cause against the Arabs. Our unilateral support brought on the oil embargo and was a shattering blow to the economies of the West and, consequently, to the Western alliance. It is costing us the friendship of the Third World.

Lesson: Vietnam was split in two by the Western powers in the post-World War II period. The Vietcong and North Vietnamese were patriots who had been struggling ever since to reunify their country. The U.S. lost moral credibility by ignoring the justice of their cause.

Application: Israel was carved out of Arab lands by a Western-dominated UN in the post-World War II period. The Palestinians, Syrians, and Egyptians are patriots who have been struggling ever since to get back some of their lost lands. We cannot, as a moral people, ignore the justice of their cause.

Lesson: Peace was South Vietnam’s greatest need. “The killing had to stop.” A U.S.-engineered truce (compromises, of course, had to be made by the South Vietnamese) would set the stage for U.S. withdrawal, and the peace so sorely needed by South Vietnam. Afterward, the U.S. would supply South Vietnam with the means to defend itself. But if North Vietnam broke the truce, and if South Vietnam subsequently collapsed, this would prove that South Vietnam had been an “unviable nation” from the beginning.

Application: Peace is Israel’s greatest need. After four Arab-Israeli wars, it is time for the killing to stop. The October-war truce, engineered by the U.S. (some compromises by Israel were necessary, of course), can lead, step-by-step (and compromise-by-compromise), to a permanent peace. The Israelis will continue to receive economic and military aid. But if war comes again, and they cannot survive on their own, this would mean that from the beginning Israel has not been a “viable nation.”

The Big Lesson: The No. 1 American moral commitment to all mankind is to avoid, at all costs, the nuclear holocaust.

Our military involvement in Vietnam carried a constant risk of confrontation with Hanoi’s supporters, the USSR and the People’s Republic of China. Such a confrontation could lead to World War III, which would “inevitably” lead to the nuclear holocaust.

Our commitment to prevent the nuclear holocaust not only transcended the U.S. moral commitment to South Vietnamese independence, it made that commitment immoral, and even criminal.

Application: The U.S. moral commitment to Israeli independence is transcended by our paramount moral commitment—to avoid the nuclear holocaust. Our military intervention on Israel’s side would result in a U.S.-USSR confrontation, World War III, and the nuclear holocaust. Consequently, to honor our commitment to Israeli independence by intervention would be the height of immorality.

The Israelis are 3 million people in a world of 4 billion people, 95 per cent of whom are either opposed to Israel’s cause, or quite indifferent to it.

All that the Israelis now have going for them, besides their own courage and will to survive, is whatever influence a few million Jewish-American voters have on American politicians and public opinion. But now that Americans have learned—the hard way—the “lessons of Vietnam,” what arguments can they use to save Israel?

There is only one: The betrayal of our moral commitments is not the only alternative to the nuclear holocaust. The alternative is an America militarily strong enough, and morally resolute enough, to make the risk of war (nuclear or conventional) too great for the Soviet Union.

Unfortunately, this argument will be hard to sell to the liberals, who have spent a lifetime—from Teheran and Yalta to Helsinki—insisting that all morality in American foreign policy consists in our getting into bed with Soviet Russia. Their desire to have America politically and morally raped by the Iron Curtain masters of the knout and the pogrom has to be viewed as pathological, and probably incurable.

So all one can hope, if our Israeli policy ends in the second Diaspora, is that a million or so valiant Israelis will make it safely to our shores in time to help save America.

[Hon.] Clare Boothe Luce
Honolulu, Hawaii

_____________

 

Norman Podhoretz writes:

My argument in “The Abandonment of Israel” was that the United States has moved in the past eight years—the years, that is, of Nixon, Ford, and Kissinger—from a Middle East policy based on the “balanced whole” of Resolution 242 to a policy of one-sided pressures on Israel; I went on to argue that the new American course would lead not to peace but to disaster and even, in the final extremity, to a nuclear war (Edward S. Boylan’s letter to the contrary notwithstanding); and I suggested that the United States could best contribute to a peaceful resolution of the Middle East conflict by basing its policy once again on the “position that the occupied territories were to be returned—and only to be returned—as part of a settlement which would entail recognition of Israel’s existence by the Arab countries and direct negotiations among the parties to fix the precise boundaries of the now-recognized state in such a way as to insure its future security.” The question now, as I understand what several of my correspondents are saying, is whether Entebbe and Lebanon have made such a change in American policy more likely than it seemed a few months ago.

My own answer to this question is a hesitant and reluctant No. Obviously, thanks to Entebbe, Israel is very popular in this country again, and just as obviously Lebanon has damaged the PLO and has done the Arabs no good in American eyes. But as against these developments, there is the fact that the United States is much more dependent on Arab oil today than we were in 1973—a fact which is likely to weigh more heavily in the making of foreign policy than the relative popularity of Israelis and Arabs.

Important as oil may be, however, there is an even more important factor to consider, and that is the degree to which the new isolationism is likely to prevail in the years ahead. If the main imperative of American policy is to be the avoidance of serious conflict with the Soviet Union, the inexorable consequence, as I tried to show, is one-sided pressures on Israel similar to those that were placed on South Vietnam in the negotiations over the Paris Accords. To that extent I agree with Clare Boothe Luce.

But I differ with Mrs. Luce on two important points. First, I would insist much more strongly than she does on the crucial distinctions between Israel and Vietnam: unlike South Vietnam, Israel is a democratic country and, moreover, it asks not for American soldiers to defend it but only for help from the United States to defend itself; and if the will and the capacity to defend oneself are the criteria of a state’s “viability,” then surely even Israel’s bitterest enemies would have to admit that the question of viability has been settled.

Secondly, I would remind Mrs. Luce that it is the Republicans who have been trying to “Vietnamize” Israel, not the Democrats, and that this effort is consistent with the general Nixon-Ford-Kissinger policy of strategic withdrawal from the anti-Communist interventionism of the Kennedy-Johnson years. (I went into all this at length in my piece “Making the World Safe for Communism” in the April COMMENTARY.)

If Ford should be reelected, we have little reason to expect anything but a continuation of the foreign policies of the past eight years, including those which have been pursued in the Middle East. If Carter should win, there is a possibility of change. So far as Israel in particular is concerned, at any rate, Carter’s statements, as both Benno Weiser Varon and I. L. Kenen say, have been very reassuring. On the other hand, as Congressman Koch reminds us, the new isolationism is also rampant within the congressional ranks of his own party, and Carter is surrounded by advisers in the field of foreign policy whose views are very difficult to distinguish from Henry Kissinger’s, especially on the Middle East. Like several of my correspondents, for example, they believe that it is Israeli “intransigence,” rather than the refusal of the Arabs to make their peace with a sovereign Jewish state in the Middle East, which is the major obstacle to a settlement, and that putting pressure on Israel (sometimes euphemistically known as “criticism”) is accordingly in Israel’s own best interests.

It is, in short, too early to tell whether Mr. Kenen’s complacency is more solidly grounded than my apprehensiveness. I can only say that in this instance nothing would make me happier than to be proved wrong.

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