The current turmoil in the Middle East is, as usual, a Goddamn shame, and some Americans, including Leftist Jews such as Bernie Sanders (not a practicing Jew) are urging the U.S. to take an “evenhanded approach” to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
To which I reply — why?
Create an equivalency between those firing thousands of rockets into their neighbor, and the neighbor defending herself? Hamas started this insanity.
I have been answering such thinking over the decades, often from anti-Semites, but also from people who are clueless — such as U.S. Rep Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez — about the history of the region.
They hear someone use the word “oppressed” and they snap to attention and salute, without bothering to examine the facts.
Why would you be evenhanded between your closest ally in the Mideast and those who danced in the streets on 9/11?
The current fighting is between Israel, a democracy, and Hamas, the terrorist group that controls Gaza. Why would we be evenhanded?
Before we were drawn into World War II, was the U.S. evenhanded between democratic England and fascist Nazi Germany? We were not, for good reason.
I could write a lot more, but at this point I will turn it over to excerpts of a letter from David Harris, CEO of the American Jewish Committee, who says it better than I can:
To become evenhanded between the aggressor and the victim?
Between the arsonist and the firefighter?
Between the tyranny and the democracy?
Between Iran’s proxy and the country Iran seeks to annihilate?
Between the group initially designated as a terrorist organization by the Clinton Administration and the staunch American ally?
Between the group that calls for “Death to America” and the country that built a memorial to the 9/11 victims?
Between one of the most regressive groups on earth and one of the world’s most progressive countries?
Between the group that denies rights to women, LGBTQ, and minorities and the country that protects those rights?
Between the group that openly seeks Israel’s annihilation and the country that won’t let it happen?
Between the group that uses civilians as human shields and the country that seeks to shield civilians?
Between the group that squanders precious funds to build cross-border tunnels and deadly missiles and the country that allocates precious funds to build tunnel-defense and missile-defense systems?
No, this shouldn’t be about “evenhandedness.” When it comes to American values and interests, it’s abundantly clear where they lie.
American evenhandedness has long been a goal of Israel’s relentless foes.
Their view is straightforward: Drive a wedge between Washington and Jerusalem. Undermine Israel’s key pillar of international support. End the special U.S.-Israel relationship.
That will significantly weaken Israel, the thinking goes, since there’s no other obvious candidate on the global stage — nor in the all-important UN Security Council — to fill any American-created vacuum.
Of course, such a move would have calamitous implications.
It would be an affront to who we are as a nation and what our core interests are. As I suggested, the fundamental dichotomy, for instance, between Hamas and Israel couldn’t be starker from an American perspective.
It turns a blind eye to history and reality. Gaza had a chance, the first in its history, to rule itself in 2005. Israel, which has a profound stake in Gaza’s moderate path, cannot be held responsible for the violent takeover by Hamas in 2007 and the tragic course it’s charted in the ensuing 14 years.
And it would set back the larger quest for peace.
Roughly the size of Sanders’ Vermont, but without gentle neighbors, Israel has achieved peace accords in the region because it felt it had the full backing of the U.S. It could, therefore, afford to take unprecedented territorial risks, as in the 1979 treaty with Egypt, as well as enjoy other tangible outcomes, such as the four normalization deals last year, in which, again, Washington was key.
Let’s be clear: The primary beneficiaries of “evenhandedness” would be Iran and other extremist forces in the region, which ought to be the last thing Washington wants.
At the end of the day, though, the name of the game is the unquenchable search for peace — real, enduring peace.
Israel’s early leaders, who were inspired by a vision of enlightened socialism, Camembert to an inescapable conclusion in the months leading up to the nation’s rebirth in 1948.
Just three years after the trauma of the Holocaust, peace, alas, was not going to be quick and easy, in spite of Israel’s outstretched hand on day one.
If peace were ever to come, Israel would first have to survive the military campaign to eliminate it — five Arab armies attacked on May, 15, 1948, Israel’s first full day of independence —and then prove again and again that it was there to stay.
Only when its neighbors came to the realization that it was permanent — and, I might add, that Jews were indeed indigenous, not interlopers, in the Middle East — could the seeds of possible peace be planted.
And that’s meant, alas, the projection of power when needed, and exercised as responsibly as humanly possible.
In a perfect world, it wouldn’t be needed. Indeed, the Hebrew prophet Isaiah was among the first to articulate a vision of that ideal world — “And nation shall not lift up sword against nation, nor shall they learn war any more.”
Similarly, the revolutionary notion of “B’tselem Elohim” — all human beings are created in the image of God — is equally part of that genetic code. It means we mourn, not celebrate, the loss of innocent lives, whether in Gaza or elsewhere.
But the Middle East, regrettably, is not Sanders’ New England. The weak don’t survive. The naive don’t prosper. The powerless don’t make peace. The songs, prayers, and campfires too often fall on deaf ears.
Unlike Egypt, Hamas has not made a fundamental shift in its thinking from warmonger to peacemaker. Rather, it’s a ruthless, theocratic regime that seeks to expand its power and has as its goal the removal of Israel and its replacement by a caliphate.
So what’s the basis for any dialogue? The terms of Israel’s disappearance?
To be sure, one makes peace with one’s enemies, not friends. But either one side surrenders and raises the white flag, or a radical shift in thinking takes place, as was the case with the late Egyptian President Anwar Sadat.
Neither has occurred to date.
So, Israel has little choice but to live uneasily with Hamas on its border, seek as best it can to deter it from missile barrages and terrorist attacks, make clear its battle is not with the people of Gaza but their leaders, and hope that one day the current regime will be replaced by something more forward-looking. If so, the region might actually then move a step closer to peace.