Monday, November 28, 2011
Wednesday, November 23, 2011
The Israeli government has also internalized these fears. However, rather than looking for solutions to the problem, leaders in the country are using populist rhetoric to generate partisan support. Today, Prime Minister Netanyahu claimed the Arab world was moving backward, not forward, and claimed that those who pushed Egyptian President Mubarak to resign from power were "naive."
Such claims serve only to bolster the fears of Israelis rather than to orient the country towards a secure future. They also indicate that Israel's leadership is thinking in the short-term about a long-term problem. That the Arab Spring has proven a sea change is incontrovertible. Given its far-reaching impacts, looking to the long term is a vital first step in crafting a strategy to maintain, or even improve, Israel's regional security posture.
In this light, PM Netanyahu's open cynicism towards the Arab Spring harm's Israel's security posture for three reasons.
First, it promotes a mindset which looks for problems rather than solutions. Contrary to PM Netanyahu's claims, the Arab Spring offers unprecedented opportunities for Israel to begin a process of deeper engagement with the Arab public. The effect of this deeper engagement would be to humanize Israel and create understanding, if not empathy, for those who inhabit the country. While the benefits will not accrue overnight, the low cost of methods such as social media outreach means that the investment risk is marginal as well. Furthermore, given Israel's close alignment with the United States and hegemonic status in the region, Arabs are unlikely to view a Youtube video as a sign of weakness.
Secondly, the Arab Spring is incredibly popular. Citizens and governments in every corner of the globe have been moved by the sight of protesters in downtown Tunis, Tahrir Square, and Pearl Roundabout. Standing against the Arab Spring is not a popular position in the international community in which Israel's isolation has become critical. At a time when settlements, Israel's presence in the West Bank, and stalling on the Peace Process have made Israel unpopular, standing for the basic principles of the Arab Spring is an easy win for a country desperately in need of some diplomatic capital.
Finally, by spurning the Arab Spring, PM Netanyahu is making a statement about Israel's values more broadly. His administration draws international concern when it limits freedom to petition the Supreme Court, limits free speech, and targets left-wing NGOs. Domestically, there are political benefits to be gained for taking such positions, but internationally, such measures incur political costs. By standing against the Arab Spring, PM Netanyahu is extending this "freedom when convenient" mentality to one of the purest expressions of democratic will our generation will ever experience. He alienates the international community by spurning those who fight for the values enshrined in Israel's own Declaration of Independence which calls for an Israel based on the values of "freedom, justice, and peace."
All the Hasbara in the world cannot compensate for an Israel which showcases its commitment to liberal democratic values by supporting the protesters in the Arab Spring. These men and women literally are risking their lives for the chance to live with the same freedoms upon which Israel was founded. Supporting them and their endeavor may incur short-term costs, but surely there is no cause more pro-Israel than the creation of a just and equitable society for those who seek to overcome a history of oppression.
Monday, November 14, 2011
Wednesday, November 9, 2011
Professor Walt is legitimate to broach the subject of the US-Israel relationship, and to make criticisms of the costs it incurs for the US. But in several places in the post his arguments contradict themselves, or claim two slightly different things at the same time. These missteps undermine the overall credibility of the piece.
For example, Walt contends that, "Today, Israel is the only country in the world that mainstream U.S. politicians (and most members of the foreign-policy establishment) cannot openly criticize. It is the only country in the world that U.S. presidents cannot pressure in any meaningful way."
These statements are dramatic, but they are also demonstrably false. Open criticism from such as Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN), Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH), Rep. Betty McCollum (D-MN), and former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, has been met with righteous indignation from the traditional pro-Israel community, but occurs nonetheless. Clearly, there is a difference between criticism being unpopular and being impossible. Walt admits this fact himself earlier in the piece but equivocates on which he believes to be the case.
While their absolute ability to pressure Israel indeed is limited, President Bush and President Obama (thus far) have both successfully pressured Israel to refrain from attacking Iran. Once again, Walt conflates his own argument, equating "difficult to pressure" with "cannot pressure." More importantly, to say Israel is the only country Presidents have trouble exerting pressure is just not the case. Analysts of Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, for example, would be very surprised to hear such a statement.
Perhaps the weakest of Professor Walt's arguments, however, is that the special relationship between the US and Israel is a lightning rod for terrorism, claming that there is an "enormous body of evidence suggesting that U.S. support for Israel was a key cause (though not the only one) of our terrorism problem."
The argument has some validity in that a shift in US policy towards a more neutral position would probably delegitimize the claims of some Islamic insurgent groups. If this were to facilitate an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, that would also defang these claims. But Walt also expresses support for a "normal" US-Israel relationship at the same time. So what exactly is motivating terrorism, the special relationship or US-Israel relations in general? Yet again, Walt's piece claims both at the same time.
And while there is evidence US-Israel policy raises the ire of Islamic insurgent groups, to say there is an "enormous" body of evidence that US support for Israel is a "key" cause of terrorism against the US is a stretch. US killing of Muslims, humiliation of prisoners in places like Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib, the occupation of Muslim lands in Iraq and Saudi Arabia, and support for "apostate" regimes are far more salient grievances for terrorists than US support for Israel.
While bloggers making exaggerations is nothing new, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is one rife with misinformation and misrepresentation. Professor Walt's attempt to expand the debate on US-Israel policy is likely earnest and well-intentioned. However, representing the truth as a larger-than-life set of talking points only delegitimizes the otherwise strong points he raises in response to the WINEP report. Challenging the dominance of one point of view on Israel is a worthy and legitimate task, but those who raise this challenge undermine themselves by devolving into half-truths and sound bytes. The pro-Israel left must come to terms with the fact that it will be most successful when it simply lets the truth speak for itself.