January 18, 2005
Friend of FLAME:
In the important article that follows, Josef Joffe demolishes the
argument now so often heard, mostly by left-wing "intellectuals,"
that the world would be better off without Israel, that the creation
of Israel was a mistake of historic proportions, and that Israel is
the cause and source of most what afflicts the world today. This theory
holds that if Israel were to disappear, "miraculously" or
by some more tangible means, peace and calm would descend on the Middle
East and on the entire world. Not too long ago, the French Ambassador
to Britain said, referring to Israel, that "this sh...y little
country is the cause of all the trouble in the world." (His government
didn't even discipline him for that egregious remark.) A poll of Europeans
last year showed that many regard Israel as one of the greatest threats
to world peace.
Mr. Joffe's article will make it clear that nothing could be further
from the truth and from reality. Josef Joffe (my namesake, but, I
regret, not my relative) is the publisher of "Die Zeit,"
Germany's foremost weekly newspaper. He is also a fellow of the Hoover
Institution and distinguished fellow at the Institute of International
Studies, both at Stanford University.
By Josef Joffe
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Imagine that Israel never existed. Would the economic
malaise and political repression that drive angry young men to become
suicide bombers vanish? Would the Palestinians have an independent
state? Would the United States, freed of its burdensome ally, suddenly
find itself beloved throughout the Muslim world? Wishful thinking.
Far from creating tensions, Israel actually contains more antagonisms
than it causes.
Since World War II, no state has suffered so cruel a reversal of fortunes
as Israel. Admired all the way into the 1970s as the state of those
plucky Jews who survived against all odds and made democracy
and the desert bloom in a climate hostile to both liberty and greenery,
Israel has become the target of creeping delegitimization. The denigration
comes in two guises. The first, the soft version, blames Israel first
and most for whatever ails the Middle East, and for having corrupted
U.S. foreign policy. It is the standard fare of editorials around
the world, not to mention the sheer venom oozing from the pages of
the Arab-Islamic press. The more recent hard version zeroes in on
Israels very existence. According to this dispensation, it is
Israel as such, and not its behavior, that lies at the root of troubles
in the Middle East. Hence the statocidal conclusion that
Israels birth, midwifed by both the United States and the Soviet
Union in 1948, was a grievous mistake, grandiose and worthy as it
may have been at the time.
The soft version is familiar enough. One motif is the wagging
the dog theory. Thus, in the United States, the Jewish
lobby and a cabal of neoconservatives have bamboozled the Bush
administration into a mindless pro-Israel policy inimical to the national
interest. This view attributes, as has happened so often in history,
too much clout to the Jews. And behind this charge lurks a more general
onethat it is somehow antidemocratic for subnational groups
to throw themselves into the hurly-burly of politics when it comes
to foreign policy. But let us count the ways in which subnational
entities battle over the national interest: unions and corporations
clamor for tariffs and tax loopholes; nongovernmental organizations
agitate for humanitarian intervention; and Cuban Americans keep us
from smoking cheroots from the Vuelta Abajo. In previous years, Poles
militated in favor of Solidarity, African Americans against Apartheid
South Africa, and Latvians against the Soviet Union. In other words,
the democratic melee has never stopped at the waters edge.
Another soft version is the root-cause theory in its many
variations. Because the obstinate and recalcitrant
Israelis are the main culprits, they must be punished and pushed back
for the sake of peace. Put pressure on Israel; cut
economic and military aid; serve them notice that we will
not condone their brutalitiesthese have been the boilerplate
homilies, indeed the obsessions, of the chattering classes and the
foreign-office establishment for decades. Yet, as Sigmund Freud reminded
us, obsessions tend to spread. And so there are ever more creative
addenda to the well-wrought root-cause theory. Anatol Lieven of the
Carnegie Endowment for International Peace argues that what is happening
between Israelis and Palestinians is a tremendous obstacle to
democratization because it inflames all the worst, most regressive
aspects of Arab nationalism and Arab culture. In other words,
the conflict drives the pathology, and not the other way aroundwhich
is like the streetfighter explaining to the police: It all started
when this guy hit back.
The problem with this root-cause argument is threefold: It blurs,
if not reverses, cause and effect. It ignores a myriad of conflicts
unrelated to Israel. And it absolves the Arabs of culpability, shifting
the blame to you know whom. If one believes former U.N. weapons inspector
Scott Ritter, the Arab-Islamic quest for weapons of mass destruction,
and by extension the war against Iraq, are also Made in Israel. [A]s
long as Israel has nuclear weapons, Ritter opines, it
has chosen to take a path that is inherently confrontational.
the Arab countries, the Muslim world, is not about to sit back and
let this happen, so they will seek their own deterrent. We saw this
in Iraq, not only with a nuclear deterrent but also with a biological
that the Iraqis were developing to offset the
Israeli nuclear superiority.
This theory would be engaging if it did not collide with some inconvenient
facts. Iraqis didnt use their weapons of mass destruction against
the Israeli usurper but against fellow Muslims during the Iran-Iraq
War, and against fellow Iraqis in the poison-gas attack against Kurds
in Halabja in 1988neither of whom were brandishing any nuclear
weapons. As for the Iraqi nuclear program, we now have the Duelfer
Report, based on the debriefing of Iraqi regime loyalists, which
concluded: Iran was the pre-eminent motivator of this policy.
All senior-level Iraqi officials considered Iran to be Iraqs
principal enemy in the region. The wish to balance Israel and acquire
status and influence in the Arab world were also considerations, but
Now to the hard version. Ever so subtly, a more baleful tone slips
into this narrative: Israel is not merely an unruly neighbor but an
unwelcome intruder. Still timidly uttered outside the Arab world,
this versions proponents in the West bestride the stage as truth-sayers
who dare to defy taboo. Thus, the British writer A.N. Wilson declares
that he has reluctantly come to the conclusion that Israel, through
its own actions, has proven it does not have the right to exist. And,
following Sept. 11, 2001, Brazilian scholar Jose Arthur Giannotti
said: Let us agree that the history of the Middle East would
be entirely different without the State of Israel, which opened a
wound between Islam and the West. Can you get rid of Muslim terrorism
without getting rid of this wound which is the source of the frustration
of potential terrorists?
The very idea of a Jewish state is an anachronism, argues
Tony Judt, a professor and director of the Remarque Institute at New
York University. It resembles a late-nineteenth-century separatist
project that has no place in this wondrous new world
moving toward the teleological perfection of multiethnic and multicultural
togetherness bound together by international law. The time has come
to think the unthinkable, hence, to ditch this Jewish
state for a binational one, guaranteed, of course, by international
So let us assume that Israel is an anachronism and a historical mistake
without which the Arab-Islamic world stretching from Algeria to Egypt,
from Syria to Pakistan, would be a far happier place, above all because
the original sin, the establishment of Israel, never would have been
committed. Then lets move from the past to the present, pretending
that we could wave a mighty magic wand, and poof, Israel
disappears from the map.
Civilization of Clashes
Let us start the what-if procession in 1948, when Israel was born
in war. Would stillbirth have nipped the Palestinian problem in the
bud? Not quite. Egypt, Transjordan (now Jordan), Syria, Iraq, and
Lebanon marched on Haifa and Tel Aviv not to liberate Palestine, but
to grab it. The invasion was a textbook competitive power play by
neighboring states intent on acquiring territory for themselves. If
they had been victorious, a Palestinian state would not have emerged,
and there still would have been plenty of refugees. (Recall that half
the population of Kuwait fled Iraqi dictator Saddam Husseins
liberation of that country in 1990.) Indeed, assuming
that Palestinian nationalism had awakened when it did in the late
1960s and 1970s, the Palestinians might now be dispatching suicide
bombers to Egypt, Syria, and elsewhere.
Let us imagine Israel had disappeared in 1967, instead of occupying
the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, which were held, respectively, by
Jordans King Hussein and Egypts President Gamal Abdel
Nasser. Would they have relinquished their possessions to Palestinian
leader Yasir Arafat and thrown in Haifa and Tel Aviv for good measure?
Not likely. The two potentates, enemies in all but name, were united
only by their common hatred and fear of Arafat, the founder of Fatah
(the Palestine National Liberation Movement) and rightly suspected
of plotting against Arab regimes. In short, the root cause
of Palestinian statelessness would have persisted, even in Israels
Let us finally assume, through a thought experiment, that Israel goes
poof today. How would this development affect the political
pathologies of the Middle East? Only those who think the Palestinian
issue is at the core of the Middle East conflict would lightly predict
a happy career for this most dysfunctional region once Israel vanishes.
For there is no such thing as the conflict. A quick count
reveals five ways in which the regions fortunes would remain
States vs. States: Israels elimination from the regional
balance would hardly bolster intra-Arab amity. The retraction of the
colonial powers, Britain and France, in the mid-20th century left
behind a bunch of young Arab states seeking to redraw the map of the
region. From the very beginning, Syria laid claim to Lebanon. In 1970,
only the Israeli military deterred Damascus from invading Jordan under
the pretext of supporting a Palestinian uprising. Throughout the 1950s
and 1960s, Nassers Egypt proclaimed itself the avatar of pan-Arabism,
intervening in Yemen during the 1960s. Nassers successor, President
Anwar Sadat, was embroiled in on-and-off clashes with Libya throughout
the late 1970s. Syria marched into Lebanon in 1976 and then effectively
annexed the country 15 years later, and Iraq launched two wars against
fellow Muslim states: Iran in 1980, Kuwait in 1990. The war against
Iran was the longest conventional war of the 20th century. None of
these conflicts is related to the Israeli-Palestinian one. Indeed,
Israels disappearance would only liberate military assets for
use in such internal rivalries.
Believers vs. Believers: Those who think that the Middle
East conflict is a Muslim-Jewish thing had better take
a closer look at the score card: 14 years of sectarian bloodshed in
Lebanon; Saddams campaign of extinction against the Shia in
the aftermath of the first Gulf War; Syrias massacre of 20,000
people in the Muslim Brotherhood stronghold of Hama in 1982; and terrorist
violence against Egyptian Christians in the 1990s. Add to this tally
intraconfessional oppression, such as in Saudi Arabia, where the fundamentalist
Wahhabi sect wields the truncheon of state power to inflict its dour
lifestyle on the less devout.
Ideologies vs. Ideologies: Zionism is not the only ism
in the region, which is rife with competing ideologies. Even though
the Baathist parties in Syria and Iraq sprang from the same fascist
European roots, both have vied for precedence in the Middle East.
Nasser wielded pan-Arabism-cum-socialism against the Arab nation-state.
And both Baathists and Nasserites have opposed the monarchies, such
as in Jordan. Khomeinist Iran and Wahhabite Saudi Arabia remain mortal
enemies. What is the connection to the Arab-Israeli conflict? Nil,
with the exception of Hamas, a terror army of the faithful once supported
by Israel as a rival to the Palestine Liberation Organization and
now responsible for many suicide bombings in Israel. But will Hamas
disband once Israel is gone? Hardly. Hamas has bigger ambitions than
eliminating the Zionist entity. The organization seeks
nothing less than a unified Arab state under a regime of God.
Reactionary Utopia vs. Modernity: A common enmity toward
Israel is the only thing that prevents Arab modernizers and traditionalists
from tearing their societies apart. Fundamentalists vie against secularists
and reformist Muslims for the fusion of mosque and state under the
green flag of the Prophet. And a barely concealed class struggle pits
a minuscule bourgeoisie and millions of unemployed young men against
the power structure, usually a form of statist cronyism that controls
the means of production. Far from creating tensions, Israel actually
contains the antagonisms in the world around it.
Regimes vs. Peoples: The existence of Israel cannot
explain the breadth and depth of the Mukhabarat states (secret police
states) throughout the Middle East. With the exceptions of Jordan,
Morocco, and the Gulf sheikdoms, which gingerly practice an enlightened
monarchism, all Arab countries (plus Iran and Pakistan) are but variations
of despotismfrom the dynastic dictatorship of Syria to the authoritarianism
of Egypt. Intranational strife in Algeria has killed nearly 100,000,
with no letup in sight. Saddams victims are said to number 300,000.
After the Khomeinists took power in 1979, Iran was embroiled not only
in the Iran-Iraq War but also in barely contained civil unrest into
the 1980s. Pakistan is an explosion waiting to happen. Ruthless suppression
is the price of stability in this region.
Again, it would take a florid imagination to surmise that factoring
Israel out of the Middle East equation would produce liberal democracy
in the region. It might be plausible to argue that the dialectic of
enmity somehow favors dictatorship in frontline states
such as Egypt and Syriagovernments that invoke the proximity
of the Zionist threat as a pretext to suppress dissent.
But how then to explain the mayhem in faraway Algeria, the bizarre
cult-of-personality regime in Libya, the pious kleptocracy of Saudi
Arabia, the clerical despotism of Iran, or democracys enduring
failure to take root in Pakistan? Did Israel somehow cause the various
putsches that produced the republic of fear in Iraq? If Jordan, the
state sharing the longest border with Israel, can experiment with
constitutional monarchy, why not Syria?
It wont do to lay the democracy and development deficits of
the Arab world on the doorstep of the Jewish state. Israel is a pretext,
not a cause, and therefore its dispatch will not heal the self-inflicted
wounds of the Arab-Islamic world. Nor will the mild version of statocide,
a binational state, do the tricknot in view of the civilization
of clashes (to borrow a term from British historian Niall Ferguson)
that is the hallmark of Arab political culture. The mortal struggle
between Israelis and Palestinians would simply shift from the outside
to the inside.
My Enemy, Myself
Can anybody proclaim in good conscience that these dysfunctionalities
of the Arab world would vanish along with Israel? Two U.N. Arab
Human Development Reports, written by Arab authors, say no.
The calamities are homemade. Stagnation and hopelessness have three
root causes. The first is lack of freedom. The United Nations cites
the persistence of absolute autocracies, bogus elections, judiciaries
beholden to executives, and constraints on civil society. Freedom
of expression and association are also sharply limited. The second
root cause is lack of knowledge: Sixty-five million adults are illiterate,
and some 10 million children have no schooling at all. As such, the
Arab world is dropping ever further behind in scientific research
and the development of information technology. Third, female participation
in political and economic life is the lowest in the world. Economic
growth will continue to lag as long as the potential of half the population
remains largely untapped.
Will all of this right itself when that Judeo-Western insult to Arab
pride finally vanishes? Will the millions of unemployed and bored
young men, cannon fodder for the terrorists, vanish as wellalong
with one-party rule, corruption, and closed economies? This notion
makes sense only if one cherishes single-cause explanations or, worse,
harbors a particular animus against the Jewish state and its refusal
to behave like Sweden. (Come to think of it, Sweden would not be Sweden
either if it lived in the Hobbesian world of the Middle East.)
Finally, the most popular what-if issue of them all: Would the Islamic
world hate the United States less if Israel vanished? Like all what-if
queries, this one, too, admits only suggestive evidence. To begin,
the notion that 5 million Jews are solely responsible for the rage
of 1 billion or so Muslims cannot carry the weight assigned to it.
Second, Arab-Islamic hatreds of the United States preceded the conquest
of the West Bank and Gaza. Recall the loathing left behind by the
U.S.-managed coup that restored the shahs rule in Tehran in
1953, or the U.S. intervention in Lebanon in 1958. As soon as Britain
and France left the Middle East, the United States became the dominant
power and the No. 1 target. Another bit of suggestive evidence is
that the fiercest (unofficial) anti-Americanism emanates from Washingtons
self-styled allies in the Arab Middle East, Egypt and Saudi Arabia.
Is this situation because of Israelor because it is so convenient
for these regimes to busy giddy minds with foreign quarrels
(as Shakespeares Henry IV put it) to distract their populations
from their dependence on the Great Satan?
Take the Cairo Declaration against U.S. hegemony, endorsed
by 400 delegates from across the Middle East and the West in December
2002. The lengthy indictment mentions Palestine only peripherally.
The central condemnation, uttered in profuse variation, targets the
United States for monopolizing power within the framework of
capitalist globalization, for reinstating colonialism,
and for blocking the emergence of forces that would shift the
balance of power toward multi-polarity. In short, Global America
is responsible for all the afflictions of the Arab world, with Israel
coming in a distant second.
This familiar tale has an ironic twist: One of the key signers is
Nader Fergany, lead author of the 2002 U.N. Arab Human Development
Report. So even those who confess to the internal failures of the
Arab world end up blaming the Other. Given the enormity
of the indictment, ditching Israel will not absolve the United States.
Irans Khomeinists have it right, so to speak, when they denounce
America as the Great Satan and Israel only as the Little
Satan, a handmaiden of U.S. power. What really riles America-haters
in the Middle East is Washingtons intrusion into their affairs,
be it for reasons of oil, terrorism, or weapons of mass destruction.
This fact is why Osama bin Laden, having attached himself to the Palestinian
cause only as an afterthought, calls the Americans the new crusaders,
and the Jews their imperialist stand-ins.
As this analysis suggests, the real source of Arab angst is the West
as a palpable symbol of misery and an irresistible target of what
noted Middle East scholar Fouad Ajami has called Arab rage.
The puzzle is why so many Westerners, like those who signed the Cairo
Declaration, believe otherwise.
Is this anti-Semitism, as so many Jews are quick to suspect? No, but
denying Israels legitimacy bears an uncanny resemblance to some
central features of this darkest of creeds. Accordingly, the Jews
are omnipotent, ubiquitous, and thus responsible for the evils of
the world. Today, Israel finds itself in an analogous position, either
as handmaiden or manipulator of U.S. might. The soft version sighs:
If only Israel were more reasonable
version demands that the United States pull the rug out from
under Israel to impose the pliancy that comes from impotence.
And the hard-hard version dreams about salvation springing from Israels
Why, sureif it werent for that old joke from Israels
War of Independence: While the bullets were whistling overhead and
the two Jews in their foxhole were running out of rounds, one griped,
If the Brits had to give us a country not their own, why couldnt
they have given us Switzerland? Alas, Israel is just a strip
of land in the worlds most noxious neighborhood, and the cleanup
hasnt even begun.