For supporters of Israel, the sense of cognitive dissonance about
current events is by now commonplace.
This month, Israel is leaving the Gaza Strip 38 years after it
conquered the small territory in a defensive war.
Jewish residents of the area have been forcibly removed. Farms, towns,
homes, synagogues and even cemeteries are either being destroyed or
carted back inside the 1949 armistice lines.
In order to do this, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has divided his Likud
Party, forced out some of the most talented members of his Cabinet and
set in motion a series of events that threatens at times to tear
Israeli society to pieces.
In exchange for this angst, Israel is getting from the Palestinians
nothing but the knowledge that the retreat will most likely strengthen
the hands of those who believe terror is the best way to deal with the
Sharon has powerful reasons for the Gaza move, including the need to
keep the area's millionplus Arabs outside of Israel's borders, and
create a more defensible position than the current deployment of troops
who defended the settlements.
But disengagement also has led many American Jews to piously hope that
this sacrifice will win Israel the plaudits of the world or at least
lessen the drumbeat of criticism that can be found every day in the
pages of major daily newspapers and on television news.
By giving up Gaza, they reason, Israel has confirmed its status as the
certified good guy of the conflict.
But those who think that giving up Gaza will make Israel more popular
are deluded themselves. It's enemies aren't impressed by its desire for
peace or its willingness to give up part of its historic territory
after winning wars, something no other sovereign state has ever done.
Shimon Peres, currently a member of Sharon's coalition, once famously
said that Israel didn't need a smart publicrelations effort to tell
its story. It just needs smart policies.
By that, he meant that all it had to do was to give the Palestinians
what they wanted: a state in Gaza and the West Bank. After he concluded
the Oslo accords with former Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and made
such a state inevitable, Peres was convinced that he'd done exactly
that. We all know now just how wrong he was to believe Arafat wanted
peace. But what has not yet been fully discussed was just how flawed
his information policy turned out to be.
Once Arafat was installed as head of a Palestinian territory, his
"police" armed and terrorists released from Israeli prisons, the false
idea that Israel was a murderous occupier that killed babies became far
more prevalent throughout the world, not less.
Even more recently, former Prime Minister Ehud Barak whose bold bid
for peace at the 2000 Camp David summit put almost all of the
territories (including Gaza) on a silver platter for Arafat was
burned as well. Not only did Arafat say no to Barak's peace offer,
within months he launched a bloody terror war.
But Israel gained no credit for its peace offer, and sympathy for the
Palestinian cause did not decrease because of the decision to pursue
the murder of innocents on the streets of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.
Instead, for the first time in decades, Israel's existence and the very
legitimacy of Zionism become a matter of debate in respectable circles.
Ironically, Israel's image in the West was probably stronger when it
was led by Yitzhak Shamir, a poor communicator who made no secret of
his opposition to all concessions to the Palestinians.
And now, even after weathering four years of heightened terrorism that
took more than a thousand Jewish lives and having handed Arafat's
successor and his Islamist allies all of Gaza without even so much
as requiring them to sign another piece of paper, just where does
The Poison Spreads
In Europe, antiJewish and antiZionist agitation continues to grow.
Here in America, liberal Protestant denominations that Jews have always
considered allies now line up to denounce even passive Israeli measures
of selfdefense, such as its security fence, while some also endorse an
economic boycott of the Jewish state via divestment.
The poison of anti-Zionism has even leeched into some anti-Iraqi war
protests, which are then treated sympathetically in the mainstream
press. Cindy Sheehan, the mother of a soldier who fell in Iraq, has
become a popular focus of hostility to the Bush administration through
her sit-in outside the president's ranch in Crawford, Texas. But some
of her views seem to have gone virtually unmentioned by the mainstream
press: one of them being hostility to Israel.
Sheehan has written that her son was killed for a "neo-con agenda to
benefit Israel. My son joined the Army to protect America, not Israel."
She also reportedly said, "Get America out of Iraq and Israel out of
Palestine, and you'll stop the terrorism."
The fact that she would say such things, and otherwise respectable
churches would denounce Israel just as it is giving the Palestinians
yet another chance for peace, has to tell us something about this
What's the root of this madness? Historians will debate this question
in the future, but the most plausible theory is that the moment that
Israel's spokespeople and friends abroad began talking about balancing
Palestinian rights to statehood and Israel's need for security, it
started to lose the media war.
Rights can only be balanced in the public eye with other rights, not
pleas for safety. If the Palestinians portray themselves as the only
ones with legitimate rights to disputed territories, and Israel
repeatedly fails to offer an effective rejoinder, then why won't more
people consider the Palestinians in the right?
And once they've gotten editors and church leaders to think of Israel
as an "occupier" and inherently in the wrong, then all Palestinian
tactics even murder become legitimate, and all Israeli
countermeasures become illegitimate. That is the challenge as we await
the launch of a third Palestinian "intifada," as the head of Israeli
army intelligence predicted before a Knesset committee last week.
Israelis had their own good reasons to say good riddance to Gaza, but
they should expect no credit for it on the pages of The New York Times,
or on CNN or NPR. Years and years of concessions have only served to
reinforce the idea that Israel was always in the wrong. And nothing
not giving up Gaza, or even the whole of the West Bank and Jerusalem
will change that.
Until the day when Israel and its friends begin speaking once again of
inalienable Jewish rights to this land, the most we can expect is still
more of the same.