In the latest New Republic, Israeli scholar Benny Morris is given many pages to expound his view that “the West” is now engaged in a battle with Islamists on three fronts: “Iraq, Afghanistan and Palestine.” He goes on, “For many or most Islamists, Iraq, Afghanistan and Palestine are merely Stage 1.”
This is the blanket identification of U.S. and Israeli interests that The New Republic and other salients of the Israel lobby have insisted upon since 9/11. No one is helped by this sort of imprecision.
9/11 was a gift to the Israel lobby: it could say, the U.S. and Israel are in the same boat. They said, Now you know how we feel. Indeed, I felt that way myself after 9/11; I thought, Now I know how the Israelis feel.
But the lobby took that same-boatism too far. It then said, These Arabs who attacked you are the same people who are angry at us; they are from diminished failed states with no hope. They have no freedom or economic growth and are jealous of ours; that is why they attacked you, and why they attack us. And as for the U.S. support of Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Israel’s denial of basic human rights to Palestinians, well that is a distraction and has nothing to do with the real issue, which is that Islamists hate everything we stand for, even though Osama Bin Laden repeatedly said the Palestinian situation was a motivator. (And I believe it was this lie about the causes of 9/11 that as much as anything led both Juan Cole and John Mearsheimer to become public intellectuals).
Bush and Cheney and the neoconservatives then got us to climb all the way into the Israeli boat by deciding, with the help of Joe Lieberman, Hillary Clinton, Chuck Schumer, Howard Waxman, Kenneth Pollack, David Brooks, and Thomas Friedman, to invade an Arab country, occupy it, and initiate a cycle of escalating violence that has reduced cities to charnel houses and sent the educated and affluent fleeing from Baghdad (and thoroughly Islamicized Iraq). (Indeed Friedman made Morris’s same conflation when he said on Slate that the real reason for the war in Iraq was to “smash” the terrorism ideology that caused, among other things, suicide bombers in Israeli pizza parlors).
Though they have bad judgment, it is foolish to throw out everything Bernard Lewis and Tom Friedman said about failed Arab states. After 9/11, the U.S. woke up to the fact that the West is involved in a clash of cultures with Islam. But we must figure out our American answers to these difficult questions, answers that honor our traditions of multiculturalism and of not occupying the lands of an Arab country that didn’t attack us and turning its cities into charnel houses.
(Yesterday’s New York Sun, the Juilliard Chairman’s newspaper, included an article by Hillel Halkin, an Israeli, arguing that Israel’s recently-adopted sexual harassment legislation has no place in a sunloving Mediterranean society like Israel. Good for him—it reminds me of the very same arguments I made 15 years ago, that I was wrong about, when we had a national struggle over that issue—and are we supposed to emulate Israel’s definitions of human rights?)
Iraq, Afghanistan and Palestine are not the same. Afghanistan harbored the bad guys who attacked our country. Iraq was run by an evil, contained secularist dictator who had attacked Israel. As for Palestine, Israel is there to stay, within an area that has been battled over now for 60 years. Both sides are bloodied and brutalized. Every time the U.S. makes an effort to bring an equitable solution to these troubles or suggests that the settlements in the West Bank are not such a great idea—the actions that the neoconservatives deplore—our stock soars in the Arab world. Israel seems not to care about its image among its Arab neighbors. Should we?