Israel’s left-wing critics had a field day this week when, during a tour of Israel’s border with Jordan, Prime Minister Netanyahu announced his plans “to surround the entire state of Israel with a fence.” The project would extend fencing that already exists along the country’s borders with Gaza and Lebanon that are run by hostile powers and is also intended to include features that would prevent the building of tunnels underneath any obstacles such as those used by Hamas in 2014 to facilitate kidnapping and murder raids inside the country. Given the increasingly chaotic situation in the region with ISIS terrorists on the loose in the Egyptian Sinai as well as the threat of the Islamic State in a Syria where central authority has collapsed, the measure is nothing more than common sense. But that isn’t how Israel’s detractors are viewing it.
Netanyahu’s comments in which he said that the Jewish state needed to act to protect its citizens against “predators” in the region — a line that was widely mistranslated as “wild beasts” — were interpreted in some quarters as more evidence of his alleged racism against Arabs. Others on the left not only disparaged the prime minister’s concern about terrorism but also made comparisons with presidential candidate Donald Trump’s vow to build a wall along the U.S. southern border and have Mexico pay for it. That was a position that some of Trump’s supporters, such as the conservative Breitbart.com website, echoed, as it proclaimed that, “Netanyahu Goes Full Trump.”
While pro-Israel backers of Trump are happy with the comparison, their effort to link the two issues are as misguided as those of the Jewish state’s foes. Israel’s border dilemma and the one faced by American leaders are as different as the terrorists that cross Israel’s borders are from the economic migrants that illegally come into the U.S.
It’s true that the principle behind U.S. border security is the same as the one that motivated Israel’s efforts to protect its territory. Both countries have not only the right but also an obligation to defend their borders. Thus, while it’s possible to mock Trump’s blithe assertions about building an equivalent to China’s Great Wall along the Rio Grande and having another nation foot the bill, there is nothing absurd about Americans wanting to secure a border that is notably porous. That there are national security implications of an unprotected border is also undeniable as the routine use of illegal crossings by drug gangs and the potential threat of terrorists behaving in the same manner is a real and present danger. To the extent that they can, Israel’s leaders also wish to curtail the flow of economic immigrants coming from Africa in the same way that Latin Americans want to come to the U.S.
But that’s where the comparisons begin and end.
As much as illegal immigration is a serious problem that needs to be addressed, Mexico is a friendly nation, and the reason why so many of its people want to come to the U.S. without permission is that they seek to take advantage of economic opportunities here, not to slaughter Americans. Trump’s assertions that the Mexicans coming over the border were largely drug dealers and rapists were as inaccurate as they were offensive.
But when Netanyahu spoke of predators lurking beyond Israel’s borders he wasn’t making a value judgment about Arabs and Muslims. He was merely noting the undeniable fact that large-scale terrorist forces seek to cross into Israel, kill its people and to dismantle their state and replace it with yet another Islamic state such as the one that currently operates in Gaza.
A point that anti-Israel left-wingers in the U.S. miss about Netanyahu is that lately he has been bitterly criticized by his country’s left-wing opposition for being passive in the face of mounting terrorist threats. Residents along Israel’s southern border say they can hear Hamas digging tunnels underneath the fence with Gaza, and the left-of-center Zionist Union has complained that Netanyahu is doing nothing about it. Though subsequent reports point to the possibility of Israel having a role in the recent collapse of several tunnels in Gaza, the criticism hit home, and Netanyahu’s statements are geared toward convincing Israelis that they shouldn’t fear that their government is simply sitting back and waiting for them to be attacked again.
Israel’s security fence in the West Bank is blasted by the left as an “apartheid wall,” but in doing so they fail to understand that it was built not out of a desire to separate the Jewish state from the world but to make it more difficult for Palestinian suicide bombers to carry out mayhem on the country’s streets, buses and restaurants. The same is true for Netanyahu’s idea for surrounding the country with fences.
Netanyahu continues to be blasted by liberal pundits, such as the New York Times’ Thomas Friedman, for helping to kill the two-state solution, but hopes for any such outcome were never realistic. So long as even Palestinian moderates can’t bring themselves to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders would be drawn, Friedman’s tired rants about two states are pointless. But the fences that Israelis have always sought to build around their state are intended to create the foundation for peace, not to avoid it.
As Zionist thinker and leader Ze’ev Jabotinsky wrote in the 1920s, what the Jews needed was an “iron wall” around the Jewish homeland they were rebuilding. It was necessary because it would only be after the Arab and Muslim worlds were finally convinced that the Zionists could not be destroyed, would they embrace the chance for peace. That vision has been partially vindicated as Arab nations, like Egypt and Jordan, have dropped out of the war against the Jews because they realized such efforts were futile. There will be no need for more walls when the Palestinians come to a similar conclusion and are willing to accept the peace offers that Israel’s leaders have made in the last 15 years that would have given them the independence they say they desire.
But as much as Israelis cherish that vision, only a fool would believe that the Islamist fanatics of Hamas and Hezbollah or their Iranian patrons are ready to give up their quest for the destruction of the Jewish state. The same is true of the killers of ISIS. So long as these forces are at large and are even accepted as partners by the U.S., Israel will need fences and a strong army behind them.
The U.S. has its own security dilemmas, though, thanks to the blessings of geography, vast oceans have facilitated America’s defense along with friendly undefended borders with Mexico and Canada. The U.S. homeland is best defended abroad by not letting the terrorists get any closer. That is not to say that the border shouldn’t be policed and that dismay at the breakdown of the rule of law — as epitomized by President Obama’s efforts to give amnesty to illegals — should not be decried.
But any attempt to compare Trump and Netanyahu falls apart when you look at what they want and the problems they are seeking to address. Both countries may need fences but the purposes and the point of such efforts are very different, and Americans should thank heaven that, however justified their worries about the border might be, they are nothing like the fears that Israelis must confront.