Column

07.31.12

Israel Under Siege

Here’s a cliché: The Jewish state, founded to provide a safe haven for the world’s persecuted Jews, has become the most dangerous place in the world for Jews.

But, unfortunately, this is true, and growing truer by the minute.

Before 1948, Jewish immigrants, escaping from murderous pogromchiks (as late as 1946 gentiles were busy slaughtering Jews in Poland) or from even more murderous Nazis, reached Palestine—only to come up against the unempathetic murderousness of the local Arabs. In 1948 and since, the surrounding Arab states attacked and besieged the Jewish state, ultimately aiming at its destruction; they couldn’t abide such a non-Arab, non-Muslim state in their midst. And since the 1950s or 1960s (it depends how and what you count), the Palestinians, later joined by Hizbullah, have harried Israel with waves of terrorism, deploying lightly-armed killer squads, bombs, suicide bombers and, most recently, rocketeers.

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Thousands of Egyptians pray in Cairo's Tahrir Square before participating in a rally in support of newly-elected Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi. (AFP / GettyImages)

There have been some moments of respite—basically when the Arab belligerents have been on the ropes (a few weeks in June 1967; a few more after the IDF expelled the PLO from Lebanon in 1982)—and even some intermezzos swathed in optimism when Egypt and Jordan signed peace treaties with Israel in 1979 and 1994.

But, over the long haul, historically speaking, it has been one long, bloody siege. Even the states that signed the peace treaties in effect kept up the siege: There was no commercial or cultural trade, and Egyptians and Jordanians—to an extent—were never free to visit Israel. The media, private and state, and the school and university systems hammered one message into the minds of their populations—that Israelis (and Jews) are evil.

And the siege is now growing palpably tighter, with what deluded Western journalists like to call the Arab Spring. Certainly, dictators have been overthrown and are still being overthrown, and the people, at least for a moment, are being granted openings for voices long suppressed. But the ultimate issue of the year and a half of tumult in Middle Eastern and North African streets has been the assumption of power by Muslim fundamentalists. It appears that this was and is the will of the Arab masses, nurtured for centuries in illiteracy and poverty, sexual repression and political impotence.

But for Israel the “Arab Spring” represents  a dramatic, abrupt tightening of the noose. The takeover of the Gaza Strip by Hamas; the ongoing takeover of Egypt by the Brotherhood, traditionally an advocate of Israel’s destruction; the gradual subversion by Islamists of Hashemite control in Jordan; the Hizbullah dominance of Lebanon; and the current overthrow of the Assad regime in Syria all represent a tightening of the siege. (Syria, in this sense, represents something of a paradox—the Assad regime supplied and protected Hizbullah and was a strong ally of Iran’s; but Assad’s overthrow will most likely bring to power Sunni fundamentalists who will be belligerent toward Israel).

The lynchpin of the siege, offering the most palpable and immediate threat to Israel, is of course Iran, with its nuclear weapons program hurriedly reaching fruition. In this sense and context, the prospective Israeli assault on the Iranian nuclear program, which may result in a wider Middle Eastern conflagration, will represent an historic Israeli effort to break the siege and, as it were, turn back the tide of Middle Eastern history. But if there is no Israeli (or American) attack on Iran, and it attains nuclear weapons capabilities, then the siege will tighten still further, with Iran leading the region’s Islamist coalition.

Sure, Sunni and Shi’a states and societies will continue to bicker and threaten each other, and even plant bombs in each other’s funeral processions (a favorite Sunni pastime against Shi’ites in Iraq, for example). But when it comes to Israel, the fundamentalists of the various Islamic persuasions will coalesce and back one another up. An Israeli-Shi’ite clash with Hizbullah or Iran will quickly suck in the Sunni streets and regimes to threaten, if not attack, Israel’s south; an Israeli-Sunni clash with Hamas will bring in Hizbullah and its Iranian backers.

So, one way or another, if Iran gets the bomb, a nuclear war will be triggered in the Middle East.

So they are right, the cliché-peddlers—Israel has become the most dangerous place in the world for Jews. In yesterday’s Ha’aretz, two of the opinion pieces, one by long-time political analyst Akiva Eldar, the other by novelist Yoram Kaniuk, make this point explicitly and argue that Israeli Jews would do well to emigrate.

And, what is more, both Eldar and Kaniuk blame Israel—Netanyahu and Barak—for the situation; these two leaders have brought Israel to this sorry pass. In this, Eldar and Kaniuk replicate many, perhaps most, commentators currently active in the West. They ignore history.

Sure, Israelis have not always been angels. Sure, Netanyahu seems to be mistakenly clinging to the  settlement enterprise, and it could be that Barak is now in a warlike mode, focused on an assault on Iran that may trigger grim days for Israel.

But the Palestinians’ rejection of Israel and the notion of a two-state compromise that includes a Jewish state is of far longer and more consistent duration. It was first announced by the Palestinian leadership as it emerged from the political cradle in the 1920s, and has been reiterated by every Palestinian leader since (Haj Amin al-Husseini, who rejected two-state compromises in 1937 and 1947; Yasser Arafat, who rejected compromises in 1978 and 2000; and Abbas, who rejected a two- state compromise in 2008). Political Islam’s rejection of a Jewish state and its calls for the destruction of the Zionist enterprise are also of historic vintage. They are embedded deep in the psyche of Islamists, since Hassan al Bannah’s rejectionism (and anti-Semitism) in the 1920s and 1930s and Said Qutb’s rejectionism (and anti-Semitism) in the 1950s and 1960s and Khomeini’s rejectionism (and anti-Semitism) in the 1960s and 1970s.

This rejectionism had nothing to do with, and never had anything to do with, what Zionists and Israelis did at any point in time; it was all about what Zionism and Israel were, an alien implant in the Muslim-Arab desert. That desert is intolerant and cannot abide the stranger, unless he is prostrate and subordinate, and even then it treats him with intolerance and contempt (see the centuries-long elimination of Christian and Jewish communities, once abundant, from the Middle East and North Africa; see the current, rapid flight of Christians from Iraq, the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, and Egypt).

That is why Israel is the most dangerous place for Jews in the world.