Appeasement: Our Western Illness

I suspect when asked if they know what the word appeasement means most educated people will say, “Yes. It has to do with British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain giving part of Czechoslovakia to Adolph Hitler in 1938, claiming he had achieved “peace in our time.”

In fact, however, the lesson of appeasement was not learned. It is alive and well, causing myriad problems in our Western political universe. I’ll relate examples offered by Natan Sharansky in his extended essay “Defending Identity” and then point out how the appeasement disease still survives in the West in the 21st century.

Natan Sharansky is one of the most well-known of a group that came to be known as the “refuseniks.” He was exiled to Siberia by the Soviet Union because of his refusal to confess his crimes and name his co-conspirators. His crimes were these: He was active in publicizing human rights violations by the Soviet Union and he sought to move to Israel.

Eventually, Sharansky and the other refuseniks won. They delivered a deathblow to the Soviet Union as a result of their courageous refusal to cooperate even when faced with death. His case gained widespread support from ordinary citizens throughout the West. Ronald Reagan helped push the Soviet regime into the dust bin of history, but his voice alone without Sharansky’s moral stand, would have run up against a brick wall.

After moving to Israel, Sharansky was invited to serve as a minister in two administrations. He very publicly resigned from both because the prime ministers were engaged in appeasing Israel’s enemies in ways Sharansky believed would be devastating for the young nation.

In 2000, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak entered into negotiations at Camp David with Yasser Arafat. Sharansky objected when Barak offered Arafat more than any other Israeli leader had offered the Palestinians, including a pledge to divide Jerusalem. Why? He believed Barak was foolishly appeasing Arafat who was responsible for the deaths of hundreds of innocent Israelis. In return for peace, Barak was willing to give up important locations essential to the Jewish people’s historical identity­­.

The second time Sharansky resigned from an Israeli government was in 2005 when Ariel Sharon decided to evacuate Gaza––a strip of land along the Mediterranean that was home to twenty-one Jewish communities. He argued that doing so unilaterally would not bring peace to Israel, nor would it improve life for the Palestinians. Unfortunately, his prediction came true. Gaza has turned out to be an open sore on Israel’s southern flank with no clear resolution in sight.

The common thread of the two situations was the leaders were willing to appease their enemies––giving up a lot in return for little or nothing. Despite the common narrative that Israel is responsible for the lack of peace in the Middle East, the truth, the reality of the situation is that Israel has consistently offered concessions while consistently losing opportunities to stand firm on principle.

Another example cited by Sharansky is Oslo––the 1993 Agreement that was supposed to bring about a resolution of the conflict that began with the formation of a Jewish state in 1948. Sharansky argues Oslo was flawed for two reasons. First, it failed to deal with the fact that Yasser Arafat was a dictator. Strengthening him was the worst thing that could have happened to the Palestinian people as can be seen today given that nothing close to democratic rights exists in the PLO-dominated territory. If we in the West believe our rhetoric––that all human beings are entitled to certain basic rights, why do we keep ignoring the fact that the Palestinians lack the right of free speech, free assembly, freedom of religion and the right to choose their own leaders?

The second evil perpetuated by Oslo was Israel’s failure to insist that the PLO recognize the Jewish people’s right to a Jewish state in its current location. Failing to demand that concession has meant the PLO could continue to foster hatred of Jews, pay the families of deceased or imprisoned terrorists, and claim their right to the entire region. The consequence was that Israel has had to devote a major portion of its population and resources on security.

Western International Appeasement

America and Europe have consistently tried appeasement in dealing with China and Iran resulting in greater problems amplified today by the economic and military agreement between the two nations. The entire world is endangered by the aggressive policies these nations display today in large part because they do not believe the West will go beyond rhetoric to stop them.

The case of Iran is the clearer of the two. Iran’s aggression in its region has led to wars in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen, with resulting tens of thousands killed and hundreds of thousands of refugees. How has the West responded? President Obama tried to buy off Iran with a foolish deal that asked them to postpone becoming a nuclear power in return for a huge financial payment. Fortunately, President Trump revoked America’s part of the agreement, but Europe has demurred, emboldening Iran to continue to be aggressive on several fronts.

Many advanced the theory that by playing nice with China they would reform their totalitarian practices. Instead China today is an aggressive dictatorship, repressing ethnic minorities, attempting to take over Taiwan and Hong Kong and dominate the South China Sea region, while pushing on its border with India. China’s economy has grown thanks to the West’s willingness to ignore China’s predatory policies in return for access to its market. In response, China engaged in the theft of Western technology and limited its market in multiple ways while undercutting Western economies with its state-owned enterprises.

The West’s failure to demand Iran and China conform to Western human rights practices in order to receive the benefits of our technology was and remains a huge mistake. President Trump is correct in placing demands on both countries, although I worry that U.S. pressure can only achieve limited results without Europe’s support.

Domestic Appeasement

Appeasement is a popular ploy in the U.S. to tamper down demands by domestic populations. I’m not arguing that minority communities don’t deserve a share of our nation’s riches, but instead of policies that expand equal opportunity, our political class has favored hand-outs to selected representatives, enriching a few at the expense of the many.

The failures of hand-out programs such as welfare, public housing and affirmative action is evidenced by the fact that 60 years after this policy was started as Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society, the same groups are legitimately pointing out that they have greater poverty, greater unemployment and greater numbers in prison that the majority population.

The Great Society created a political class that each year comes to Washington claiming to represent their people while asking for more money and more programs. Sadly, the poverty program cheerleaders refuse to recognize that enormous progress has been made outside these poverty programs simply by people taking advantage of opportunities to get an education and obtain skills that could be translated into economic advanced.

The Trump presidency demonstrated that more could be accomplished for minorities by means of an expanding economy than all the handout programs combined.

The Alternative to Appeasement

Appeasement is the tendency to believe giving in to the demands of others can put an end to the problem. Even when the demands are legitimate, there has to be a price paid before an exchange can be effective. As Natan Sharansky demonstrated giving in to Israel’s enemies without getting sufficient concessions in return was disastrous.

We have learned that in the case of demands made in foreign relations, the dominant side has to view those making the demand as enemies with regard to that specific negotiation. Mexico and Canada were America’s enemies when trying to replace NAFTA. Thinking in that mode resulted in an one hundred percent better agreement. Iran and China are our enemies, not our friends. As a result, a quid pro quo should be required of any agreement.

In domestic conflicts, financial aid should only be given when the receiving community has agreed to honest and thorough record-keeping demonstrating that the aid went to the intended audience. If that had been done in the past, the record of fraud and abuse in these programs would have been cut in half and needy people would have gotten help. But even beyond accounting, receiving communities must agree to engage in additional steps on their own behalf, such as requiring recipients to participate in programs designed to elevate them out of poverty. An example would be schooling for those who are not proficient in English; another would be schooling for adults who dropped out of school without completing high school.

Appeasement is giving in to demands without asking anything in return. It is often agreed to out of guilt. Its time to recognize appeasement didn’t end with Nevile Chamberlain. Its continuing record of failure in international and domestic relations should teach us a lesson. Leaders must display backbone. Giving in may gain short-term peace, but rarely solves the problem and typically results in worse problems down the road.

One Israeli’s views on Zionism and the path to Peace

Einat Wilf, Telling Our Story: Recent Essays on Zionism, the Middle East, and the Path to Peace (self-published, 2018)

Einat Wilf is a former Israeli politician who served as a member of the Knesset for Independence and Labor Parties. She served as a foreign policy advisor to Shimon Peres and has written frequently for “left-wing” media include Haaretz, but her essays have also appeared in “right-wing” media such as The Tower Magazine.

Most of the essays in Telling Our Story appeared in 2016 and 2017. One observation reading these essays three and four years after they appeared in print is how much has changed . . . and how little has changed.

The big change since these essays has been the impact of the presidency of Donald Trump on Israeli politics. By moving the American embassy to Jerusalem, by recognizing the Golan Heights as a legitimate part of Israel, and by submitting a peace proposal early in 2020, Trump has re-defined some of the issues Wilf discusses. Additional factors Wilf could not have foreseen were the three inconclusive elections held in 2019 and 2020 and the impact of the corona virus pandemic.

Yet there is been almost no movement on underlying problems that have prevented a peace agreement from being forged between the leaders of the organizations that claim to represent the Palestinian people and the Jewish state of Israel. The primary issues where little or no movement has occurred are setting permanent boundaries between the two sides and the “right of return” issue.

On the question of boundaries, Trump’s peace proposal calls for inclusion within the boundaries of Israel virtually all of the West Bank settlement communities. Wilf on the other hand only proposed 75% of the population should be included.

On the ‘right of return’ issue, Trump and Wilf both recognize the Arabs’ demand for a ‘right of return’ for any and all Arabs who claim ancestry in land now occupied by Israel is incompatible with a two-state solution.

Wilf’s essays were directed mainly at the Israeli Left, believing the Left’s positions on the Palestinian question were a roadblock to a solution. Whether she still holds that position today is an open question. However, it is clear the Left no longer holds a strong enough political position in Israel to have much of an influence on the outcome of negotiations. A large majority of the Jewish Israeli public side with Likud on the topic. Even a majority of supporters of the centrist Blue and White Party that entered into a coalition government with Likud in the spring of 2020 hold strong defense-first views on the issues.

Wilf is probably the hundred and first person to try to define in writing the details of a territorial-specific peace agreement. None though written in good faith, seeking to be fair to the Palestinians, have yielded the desired results. Such is the problem when one side wants peace and the other side wants all or nothing.

The Trump proposal struck a new direction in permitting Israel to take steps to apply sovereignty to specific communities that would be part of Israel under any agreement on the theory that this would pressure the Palestinian’s leaders to get off their behinds and agree to negotiate.

I have little hope that this tactic will succeed. The reason? Any Palestinian official who accepts the premise has just consigned himself and his entire family to the nearest cemetery. That is why the majority of Israelis have reached the only rational point of view. They favor those policies that maintain maximum security and reject any that jeopardize security. Who can blame them?

 

The Media’s War Against Israel: A Review

Stephen Karetzky and Peter E. Goldman, eds., The Media’s War Against Israel (Steimatzky, 1986)

It can be hard in the midst of an international political crisis to evaluate the media’s coverage. Events are happening haphazardly. Reporters are playing catch-up. Opinions may reflect partial information . . . which is why when time goes by it’s desirable to reflect on the media’s job, and to give it a score.

The authors of The Media’s War Against Israel published in 1986 had the benefit of four years after the events being discussed––i.e., Israel’s conflict with the PLO as it impacted neighboring countries. Stephen Karetzky and Peter Goldman took advantage of the time to assemble opinion pieces from several sources to complement Karetzky’s focused analysis of the New York Times and Peter Goodman’s “lessons learned” piece. Their conclusion is an indictment, as the title clearly states. The media didn’t just do a poor job; it engaged in a biased attack on Israel’s role in the events.

What events are we talking about? The primary issue was Israel’s foray in the summer of 1982 into Lebanon to root out the PLO, which had, with the help of the Soviet Union, amassed a huge arsenal of weapons with the intent of stepping up the guerilla war it had been waging against Israel. Complicating the events of that summer was the morass that was Lebanon at that time.

Created in 1943, Lebanon was weakened from the start by being divided almost equally between Christian Maronite and Muslim populations. Adding to that division was the conflict between Shia and Sunni Muslims, but the primary disruptor of peace and tranquility was incursion in 1975 into southern Lebanon of the Palestinian Liberation Organization.

That mixture erupted in a 7-year civil war, which among other consequences allowed Syria to insert its forces into Lebanon. The result was anarchy, lawlessness and thousands of casualties, a story largely unreported in the Western media. What got Israel involved?

Tired of incursions into Israel by the PLO, the Israeli government allied itself with the Phalangists––a Christian Maronite group––and invaded southern Lebanon in June 1982 with the goal of driving the PLO out of the country.

Israel’s goal was accomplished in four months. The PLO was dispersed after suffering heavy casualties. The PLO, however, won the public relations war by exploiting the Western media’s lack of understanding of the conflicts in the region. The coup de grace was the PLO’s blaming Israel for the massacre of residents of the Sabra and Shatila Palestinian refugee communities by the Phalangists. (The media called these locations “camps,” but they were not tent cities. They were large communities replete with permanent housing and other structures.)

Let’s look at how the media covered these events. In the first paragraph of the foreword to The Media’s War Against Israel, Rael Jean Isaac writes “In reporting the war in Lebanon, the media behaved like a lynch mob, with print and TV reporters, columnists and cartoonists vying with each other in misstatement and calumny.”

Each piece in the book backs up Isaac’s assertion. Stephen Karetzky­––one of the editors––focused his analysis on three months of reporting by the New York Times prior to the war, detailing an anti-Israel bias even before the events of the summer took place. The book also reprints pieces published elsewhere:

  • Norman Podhoretz analyzes the media’s response in general to Israel’s foray into Lebanon.
  • Frank Gervasi adds insights from his first-hand visit to the region.
  • Ze’ev Chaftets examines the problems the Beirut press corps faced trying to provide unbiased reportage.
  • Rael Isaacs singles out Time Magazine’s adversarial approach to Israel, and
  • Edward Alexander dissects NBC’s antagonistic coverage.

A few of the most flagrant examples of bias are worth repeating

  • After his election as prime minister Time Magazine informed its readers that Menachen Begin’s last name “rhymes with Fagin”––the name of the villain of Dickens’ novel Oliver Twist.
  • Time Magazine totally made up a story claiming Ariel Sharon urged the Phalangists to attack Sabra and Shatila, and then refused to disavow the story when the author was proven to have lied.
  • President Reagan berated Prime Minister Begin personally when the caption to a UPI photo claimed a seven-month old child had been severely burned and lost both arms as a result of an Israeli bomb dropped on civilian housing. It turned out the child had not lost either arm nor had she suffered any burns, and her slight injuries were the result of a PLO shell.
  • NBC accepted the Red Crescent’s claim of 10,000 people slaughtered by Israel and 600,000 made homeless. The Red Crescent was hardly an objective organization, however, as it was run by Yasser Arafat’s brother. By the way, the Red Crescent’s homeless number exceeded the region’s total population.
  • Before investigating the cause, CBS accused Israel of intentionally killing two of its cameramen. After investigating it turned out the men were in a combat area and the tank that fired the missile was over a mile away.

Perhaps the most telling aspect of this entire affair, however, is the PLO’s success at neutering the foreign press corps that was stationed in Beirut. The PLO had asserted the authority to determine who would be allowed to report from Beirut and evidence suggests they were responsible for the deaths of eight journalists and explosions that put two independent Lebanese newspapers out of business. Worse, however, was the fact that some of the foreign press corps was decidedly pro-Palestinian and didn’t have to be persuaded to present the PLO as the victims of Israel’s aggression.

Several of the authors in this compendium touch on the subject of why the press corps was hostile to Israel. They point to the impact of the war in Vietnam on the Western media, after which the general narrative of international affairs presented the view that the U.S. and its allies were the oppressors and third world countries its victims. They also point out the practice of the TV networks showing selective footage that backed a biased interpretation of events.

Israel became the “fall guy” for the Western media’s new worldview. It had been viewed positively from 1948 until 1967 when it defeated Soviet backed Egypt and Syria as well as Jordan, which was fooled into joining the battle. After ’67, the media started labeling the PLO as protesters and demonstrators rather than terrorists despite the fact that they were engaged in acts of war against Israel.

The media also bought the PLO’s lie that they represented the oppressed residents the West Bank despite the fact the organization had been formed in 1964 when the West Bank was under Jordan’s control. As The Media’s War Against Israel conclusively documents, the media’s distorted coverage of the Lebanese war was just another sordid chapter in their failure to understand when they were being used and when the information they were being given was propaganda.

A feature of the media’s coverage during this period that deserves attention is the use of Holocaust imagery and terminology to criticize Israel’s role in these events. Both “genocide” and “holocaust” accompanied inflated casualty reports along with quotes from willing European critics such as Mitterrand, Papandreou and Kreisky. China and the Soviet Union both resorted to comparing Israel’s actions to Nazi Germany with regard to Shatila and Sabra, helping to cover up the fact that the USSR had been the primary source of weaponizing the PLO.

The use of Holocaust imagery against Israel is a particularly vile practice. It’s a low blow, akin using the word savage when describing the actions of a Native American or excusing a woman’s behavior due to her menstrual cycle.

Exposure of the media’s biased coverage of Zionism and Israel has been thoroughly documented in other studies. (See my review of Jerold Auerbach’s Print to Fit.) The excuse that coverage of the Holocaust was weak due to the media’s inability to confirm accusations or that a hesitancy to support the formation of a Jewish state by the New York Times was understandable as it threatened the assimilationist aims of some members of the American Jewish community fails to stand up when the record of The Times and other media falls short of their claims of objectivity and impartiality decade after decade. Sadly, biased reporting when contrary views are confined to small opinion journals sways public opinion.

One might ask why should we care about the media’s failures from more than thirty years ago. As one media critic points out in the book, the American people of the 1980s placed a lot of trust in the media. After the deluge of anti-Israeli stories and commentary by The Times, Time, Newsweek, the Networks, polls showed a marked decline in support for Israel. That might explain why some people in the 21st century are prone accept such lies as Israel is an apartheid state and intentionally kills civilians.

 

 

 

 

 

 

More Thoughts on the Two-State Solution

Intro

Although I’ve touched on this subject before––See: https://pollakspolitics.com/2019/01/12/peace-should-not-be-the-goal-it-can-only-be-the-result/  I want to clarify the difference between what Israelis and Americans mean by the term “two-state solution.”

The Two-State Difference

At a recent presentation on the upcoming Israeli election (April 9, 2019), the speaker identified which Israeli political parties support a “two-state solution.” When you break it down, however, not all the parties mean the same thing by this term. Some include giving East Jerusalem to the Arabs who call themselves Palestinians; some do not. The parties’ views on how to handle the so-called settlements in the Arab areas also differ. That said, I am confident that most Americans––Jews and non-Jews alike––feel encouraged by this consensus, as the vast majority of people polled on this issue favor that path to peace.

The problem, which was not fully elucidated by the speaker, however, is that what most Americans mean by a “two-state solution” and what most Israelis mean is not identical.

Most Americans believe peace can only come to the Middle East if and when Israel gives up more territory to the Arabs. (They ignore how it turned out when Israel gave them Gaza, but that’s a story for another day.) Americans would shut down all of the “settlements,” give up East Jerusalem, and probably provide a direct road connecting Gaza and the West Bank territories. Most Israelis would reject all three of those “concessions.”

What Israelis Want

Peace to most Israelis can only arrive if the Arabs give up their desire to put an end to the state of Israel. How do Hamas and the PLO––the party that controls the Palestinian Authority––the organization that controls part of the West Bank differ in this regard?

Hamas is primarily a jihadist organization. Their motivation is religious. They would establish a califate along the lines of ISIS, which would rule out the presence of anyone who is not a Moslem.

Ilhan Omar, Rhasida Tlaib and other members of Congress who support the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) movement claim Israel is an “apartheid” state. That is not true, but what would be true is that a state ruled by Hamas would be an apartheid state. Anyone who is not a Moslem would be required to convert or leave.

The PLO is an Arab nationalist organization primarily. There are Christian, Druze and other non-Moslem Arabs who live in the territory they control. These groups are not included in the governance or setting policy, but they are allowed to live there. The PLO might allow Jews to remain in a Palestinian state the encompassed the current land of Israel, but certainly not with any political power.

What Do Israelis Want?

Not only would most Israelis require the Arab residents of the Gaza and the West Bank to give up their goal of pushing them into the Mediterranean, they also want them to be disarmed. As long as the territory that would be included in an Arab state borders Israel, allowing the Arabs to have the ability to kill thousands with rockets and other weapons is a non-starter.

Why don’t most Americans understand the difference between their views and the views of the Israeli people? The answer is how the American media covers the Middle East. Take the recent “protests” of residents of Gaza. The protests consist of thousands approaching the barrier separating Israel and Gaza and trying to launch incendiary devises, such as burning tires and balloons containing inflammatory fluids, into Israel to cause death and destruction. The goal of the protests is to weaken the moral of the Israelis who live on the Eastern side of the barrier and eventually break down the barrier.

The West’s coverage focuses on the injuries and deaths of Palestinians who participate in these “protests.” They don’t discuss the injuries of Israelis or the damage caused by the protests, or the cost of having to deploy thousands of young Israeli soldiers on the border to prevent the barrier from being overcome. A perfect example was the article in the Washington Post that I commented on recently. Search my Facebook page to see the post.

The Trump Admin Proposal

Whoever becomes Israel’s prime minister after next week’s election is going to have to deal with a proposal from the Trump administration that attempts to solve the conflict. I am highly skeptical that it will get anywhere. The PLO will reject it saving Israel from having to do so.

As I stated in my earlier article, peace comes through strength. Israel must hold firm against concessions until the Arabs accept the fact that Israel is there to stay. It would be nice of Americans supported that solution.

Peace should not be the Goal. It can only be the Result.

We all pray for peace, but beyond our prayers, there is the practical truth that when peace is the goal, the result is often war, suffering, and death. The most obvious example is Neville Chamberlain’s giving away part of Czechoslovakia to Hitler, proclaiming he had achieved “peace in our time.” Chamberlain’s trading lives for peace emboldened Hitler, and before it was all over sixty million were dead. The Oslo Agreement between Israel and the PLO is another example of a disastrous deal made for peace.

The Oslo Agreement is Israel’s nakba––the name the Palestinian militants give to the formation of the state of Israel. It means day of catastrophe.

In return for “peace,” Israel gave Yasser Arafat control over millions of Muslim Arabs, converting them overnight into Palestinians. Israel’s leaders naively thought Arafat would settle for the ability to rule over the so-called West Bank, but he did not. He accepted Israel’s giving him an arm and a leg, but getting those parts only motivated him continue his quest for the entire body, a goal that continues to drive his successors.

Why Peace Deals Fail

The reason seeking peace often results in the opposite is that people naively believe peace is the means to an end. As a result, they give up too much to achieve the appearance of peace, often sacrificing the substance. To claim one has achieved peace without providing for the security and well-being of your people is an invitation to nakba.

The goal of any negotiation between opposing parties must be security, not peace. Giving the PLO the ability to rule Territory A was a security disaster. It has led to the death and injury of hundreds of Arabs and Jews because it made it easy for the PLO to promote lone-wolf acts of terrorism while taking in millions of dollars of aid from the West. Giving financial aid to terrorists is just plain stupid. It has allowed the PLO to establish absolute control over its own population denying them freedom of thought in part by disseminating school books that teach hateful untruths about Jews and lies about the history of the region.

What the world needs now . . . is Identity and Freedom

No less person than the refusnik, Natan Sharansky, the only non-American to be honored with both the Congressional Gold Medal and the Presidential Medal of Freedom, opposed the Oslo Agreement. Why? Sharansky was shocked to learn after being released from a Soviet prison that the West was abandoning “identity and freedom”––the values that brought down the Soviet Regime. “The liberal world . . . decided that the highest liberal value is peace,” Sharansky said at a recent event, “but that’s exactly what the communists were saying.”

Speaking of the downfall of the Soviet Union, Sharansky said “ . . . our victory showed the world how freedom and identity go together.” He believes people can only wage a successful fight against dictatorships when there is something more important to them than their physical survival. “It’s people’s identity, national identity, religious identity” that motivates them to rebel.

No matter what terms President Trump’s team proposes when they finally get around to presenting them, Israel must focus on long-term security, not peace. Its leaders must assume the Palestinian Authority will take any concession as permission to violate the terms of the agreement and to pursue its ultimate goal the destruction of a Jewish state.

Israel’s Unique Role

Natan Sharansky believes “Israel has an absolutely unique role [to play] in today’s world . . . to connect two basic desires of people and to keep them together. National identity and freedom.” To abandon that role would be a disaster not just for Israel and the Jewish people, but for the world.

 

When Jews Betray Jews

Imagine a contingent of German Jews sometime in the late 1930s visiting Adolph Hitler to tell him they understand why he hates Jews so much. It must be those Eastern European Jews that bother you so much––the ones who speak that pseudo-German language called Yiddish, who wear those odd black hats and black coats and who conspire against German greatness. It’s not us good Jews you hate, Adolph, they tell him. It’s those other Jews.

Now consider the recent visit of Jeremy Ben-Ami, the leader of J-Street, to Ramallah to meet Mahmoud Abbas, chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization and “president” of the State of Palestine. I wasn’t there, but I didn’t need to be present to know the message Ben-Ami and his organization conveyed just by arranging the meeting.

We understand why you hate those Israeli Jews, Ben-Ami conveyed. They resist your claim for the entire land from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean. They prevent your people from killing more Jews in knife, motor vehicle, and bomb attacks. They conspire with America to cut off your financial pipeline and your desire to claim Jerusalem as the capital of your city. It’s not us American Jews you should hate, Abu Mazen. It’s those Israeli Jews.

Of course, Adolph Hitler would not have taken a meeting with a contingent of German Jews, but if he had, he would have gotten a good laugh out of their plea. He would have said fine. I’ll kill the Eastern European Jews if you promise not to complain, and then later he’d come for those fine, upstanding “good” Jews.

The message J-Street conveys is equally pernicious. They divide the Jewish people into “good Jews”––the ones who hate Benjamin Netanyahu––and the bad Jews––the Israeli people who elected him prime minister and who refuse to accept his vacuous claims for the entire land. Wait until 2020 when the Democrats take back the White House Ben-Ami must have told Abbas. Then, your money will be restored. Then the U.S. will reverse the decision to move its embassy to Jerusalem. Then the U.S. will interfere in the next Israeli election to make sure Netanyahu is defeated. Then you can have your country back and the bad Jews will go back to Europe where they belong.

Socialism’s Biggest Failure: Israel

Unless you’re an Israel scholar, you may not know that most of the founders of the modern state of Israel were socialists. The system they put in place in 1948 was based on socialist principles, reflecting both the experience many had growing up on kibbutzim or activism in socialist organizations in Europe.

The founders created an economic system dominated by the public sector, which to a certain extent fit the needs of the nascent country at the time. By taxing private enterprise heavily, they sought to build a social infrastructure, including government buildings as well as roads and housing, hoping to handle the massive flow of immigrants into the country.

Labor unions were especially strong which meant Israel’s factories were inefficient in relation to competitors elsewhere. Food and public transportation were heavily subsidized. By the 1980s, Israel was crippled with run-away inflation, mounting national debt and a lack of foreign reserves. Socialism was a failure.

How did that society evolve into the economic miracle of today? In 1985, Prime Minister Shimon Peres, one of the heroes of the War of Independence, convinced the Labor Party to accept drastic measures including deep cuts in public spending, freezing public sector salaries, and cancelling automatic salary adjustments for unionized workers. Further, responsibility for setting interest rates was transferred from the Treasury, which used the printing press to win political support for the government to an apolitical Bank of Israel. Import duties designed to protect local businesses were slashed and Peres began to lower taxes.

In 2003, the current prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, added crucial components to the transition from the failed socialist system to free market capitalism, when he reduced social spending, cut taxes, raised the pension age, and sold state assets to the private sector, even the El Al airline.

The result? Today Israel is one of, if not the fastest growing economies in the developed world. Inflation is 0.4%, unemployment is 4%, and the shekel is one of the world’s strongest currencies. Although poverty has not been eliminated, it is less than it was in 1985 and per capita income is about to pass both Britain and Japan. Israel imports more than $100 billion annually and has a trade surplus––something the U.S. has been unable to achieve for decades.

Socialist policies nearly brought about the country’s ruin. They undermined incentive and ingenuity. Today, Israel is known for its technical ingenuity. That could not have taken place under the socialist model where all property belonged to the state and personal initiative was neither encouraged nor rewarded.

Those who argue socialism can’t be judged by its implementation in places like Russia, Cuba or Venezuela, have a hard case to make that it can work anywhere given its failure in Israel where the entire leadership of the country was fully committed to it and gave it nearly forty years to work before throwing in the towel.

Is Bibi Netanyahu a 21st Century Churchill?

You don’t have to be a student of history to learn the lesson of The Darkest Hour,” the story of Winston Churchill’s struggle to save the British Empire when Hitler’s armies threatened to overrun their entire army on the French side of the English Channel. The movie provides insight into a critical moment in world history––when decisive leadership by Winston Churchill and heroic sacrifices by the English people saved three hundred thousand soldiers and in the process prevented Hitler from invading Great Britain––a tragedy that could have irreparably altered the outcome of the Second World War.

Reflecting on critical moments in history, it’s easy to imagine that what needs to be done is obvious, but that’s rarely the case. Churchill had to overcome personal doubts as well as fierce opposition mainly from members of his own party to stick with a plan he knew would cost lives. Lesser considerations often assume great proportion in the minds of those who cannot fathom the seriousness of a situation. That indeed may be the case today with regard to Israel where so many Jews both in Israel and in the diaspora fail to recognize or give sufficient weight to the precariousness of Israel’s existence.

While critics attack Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for one thing or another, it is remarkable that he is able to keep his eye on the ball––focusing on the Dunkirk level threat that Iran’s hegemony in the region represents for the state of Israel.

Britain and France were unprepared for the speed by which the German army plowed through Belgium and defeated the French, thereby endangering the entire British army. It is extremely rare for people to see existential threats before they materialize, which is why I argue the threat Iran poses to the state of Israel is not hypothetical or overblown, and why it must be Israel’s top priority.

The threat not only comes from Iran’s potential as a nuclear power––the result of the terrible deal President Obama negotiated, the threat to Israel’s survival exists on a second front in the form of Iran’s surrogate Hezbollah. The later organization, which now controls much of Lebanon, was allowed to finance the expansion of its military and political power in recent decades by money laundering and cocaine sales, practices that the Obama administration knew about and allowed to continue in order to assure Obama could deliver his signature billion dollar get out of jail nuclear card to Iran’s autocratic government.

While Netanyahu recognizes the Iran/Hezbollah threat, so many others in Israel and in the U.S. are focused on lesser matters, including the fact that Netanyahu has been forced to ally himself with the most conservative religious parties in Israel and as a result to concede to some of their demands.

One example of a lesser issue whose proponents seem willing to define as the most important matter facing Israel’s future is the issue of women praying at the Western Wall. Netanyahu backed down on an earlier agreement that would have resolved this issue in order to appease the ultra-orthodox members of his government. To put it bluntly those who are unhappy with the collapse of the prior agreement need to ask themselves how they would feel if their efforts resulted in a situation where no Jews—men or women—could pray at the Western Wall––a potential outcome if Israel is not led by someone who understands the Iranian/Hezbollah threat.

The same question must be asked of those who are attacking Netanyahu for minor personal indiscretions––an example of a common political disease––expecting one’s leaders to be godlike with no past indiscretions or mistakes. History shows us the danger of such thinking as those men and women who have the courage to act in moments of crises are always people who have learned from past mistakes. The perfect human would be unable to see the potential evil facing him having never been exposed to wrong-doing (or admitting such), which is why so few are capable of greatness. Most of us view ourselves as perfect, never suffering doubts or admitting to past failures. We cannot imagine evil’s winning and thus bring that very outcome into play.

Eventually Bibi Netanyahu will be replaced––as Churchill was after he successfully prevented Hitler from conquering his country. Will pressure from the diaspora over lesser issues and internal politics result in the election of a Neville Chamberlain like person or will the people once again ignore the media and their American cousins and vote for someone who can separate the existential wheat from petty concerns chaff? Time will tell.

Two Must Reads to Understand International Politics in a Trump Presidency

People spending their limited energy trying to reverse the election results or demonize Donald Trump in hopes he will fail and be impeached are missing a huge opportunity to understand what lies ahead of the U.S. on the world stage.

Two brilliant articles provide insightful analysis of the implications of Trump’s victory for those with the ability to remain dispassionate and advance their personal comprehension of where things stand internationally and what needs to be done.

Start with Ruthie Blum’s “Why Abbas does not emulate Sadat,” which can be found at http://www.israelhayom.com/site/newsletter_opinion.php?id=17707&r=1.

The title doesn’t do justice to the column which reviews past peace negotiations and explains why any hope that the leader of the “Palestinians” will negotiate a peace deal with Israel is a pipe dream.

Next read the lengthy, but brilliant analysis of the current world order based on Henry Kissinger’s recent book (World Order, 2014) and his own reading of U.S. history by Niall Ferguson, entitled “Donald Trump’s New World Order,” which can be found here: http://www.the-american-interest.com/2016/11/21/donald-trumps-new-world-order/.

Ferguson lays out a potential path for Donald Trump’s administration to re-balance the world order reversing the disastrous policies of Barack Obama and taking a Teddy Roosevelt-like approach, based on existing realities and actual power alignments rather than wishful interpretations.

 

You don’t have to agree with every point made by Blum or Ferguson to come away with a greater understanding of where things stand in the world and the positions a Trump administration might take to bring restore America’s role as the number one superpower on the world stage.

Instead of Solutions, the Arab-Israel Conflict Needs a Way

In light of the Republican Party’s decision to abandon the two-state solution, I’m offering something better than a solution.

 

Those who think a solution to the Palestinian Arab-Israeli conflict can be found if the right people with the right attitudes sit down at a table, are fooling themselves. It’s not a matter of the right people, or people with the right intentions, or people who have caved to pressure from the U.S. or any other external body. Solutions are for math problems. What’s needed is a way.

In case you think I’m playing with words or offering a semantic solution (pun intended), here’s the difference. A solution is something that a group of authorized parties representing the key players with a direct interest in the outcome can put in words in a document for all to sign. That solution must also be something the leaders who the signers represent will accept and implement. It must be an agreement with some hope of working––i.e., holding up for an extended length of time.

A way in this context implies a process whose outcome will lead to a satisfactory outcome or a status that approximates the goals of those seeking a solution. A way doesn’t necessarily include the signing of an agreement or any formal recognition of the outcome. A way doesn’t require formal consent nor is it a public policy. A way is merely a strategic process implemented over many years that yields a result the majority over time come to accept.

What’s wrong with solutions?

Solutions are often imposed on the signers. They give up something to get something. Solutions engender opposition––people who are dissatisfied with the outcome who believe their side gave up too much may attempt to sabotage the agreement. Solutions often ride rough-shod over key issues, using language that ignores the substance of those issues and thus creates the ground for ongoing conflict. Solutions are often the result of one side winning a hot or a propaganda war and thus forcing the other side to surrender. Solutions are often treaties signed because one side won and the other lost. Which is why a solution is wrong for the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Today, neither side in the conflict has a defensible outcome that the other side can live with. Israel requires defensive security and continued existence of some if not all Jewish communities in Samaria, Judea, and East Jerusalem. Further, security concerns militate against Israel’s giving up any of the Golan Heights.

No Palestinian Arab political leader can accept any solution under those terms. The current leaders of the Palestinian Authority and its constituent members could never enter such an agreement and return to their people without certain knowledge that their lives and the lives of their entire family would be at risk. Thus, they engage in a propaganda war on two fronts––one outside the middle east where they see how many lies they can get away with and one with their own people to see how many they can incite to kill Israelis in hopes that the Israeli left will capitulate as soon as it wins a majority in the Knesset.

Is there a way out? I believe there is. Let’s examine the conditions on the ground. An increasing percentage of the people living in the Arab communities in Judea and Samaria are dissatisfied with the old guard PLO/Fatah leadership. Promises have been made for decades, which have not been delivered. They look across the current boundary based on the 1967 war and see a prosperous country where Israeli Arabs are living good lives. In Israel nearly 2 million Arabs––both Christian and Muslim––have full citizenship rights, which means they get health care, education and other benefits while enjoying job opportunities that afford them much better living conditions than their relatives enjoy on the West Bank. Are things perfect? Of course not, but if Israel offered to pay five or even ten thousand shekels to Arab Israelis to move to the West Bank, very few if any would sign up.

Some young West Bank Palestinians have turned to violence to show their frustration with current conditions. That is evidence they don’t believe things are going to change without drastic measures such as giving up their own lives. They need an alternative they can believe in that offers them something their leaders cannot––namely, a future.

Israel can best combat terrorism on two levels––the current military and police presence and the way––a quiet propaganda campaign focusing their messages to young Arabs who live in the territories. If they don’t already do so, they need to tell the story of Israeli Arabs living a decent life in Israel who prefer living in Israel than any other place in the Arab world.

In addition, Israel needs to offer a free university education annually to 500 or 1,000 territory residents who qualify, and Israel needs to offer advanced health care for anyone living in the territories who needs special or emergency care.

Of course, the PA will threaten the families of anyone who takes up these offers, but it’s the offer that counts. It’s showing young Palestinian Arabs a way out of their currently hopeless environment.

Israel also needs to offer programs for businesses in the territories to gain assistance, including loans, to grow their businesses and to put more people to work. Again the PA will threaten any business that participates, but this is a propaganda war.

Today, the PA wants to control the entire economy in their territory. They want to control every university acceptance, every business license, everything that can be controlled. People must see these restrictions run counter to their well-being. Israel can show business owners and their families a way to a better life.

And, Israel needs to react stronger when falsely accused. For example, when Mahmoud Abbas said a (non-existent) rabbi’s council wants to poison their water, Israel must show it is already providing more clean water than is required. It needs to publicize that fact in the territories and the West so everyone sees each lie.

Israel must fight a propaganda war offering young Arabs a better way of life with real opportunities––education, health care, business assistance, housing and even jobs. At the same time it must fight a propaganda war in the west to explain why negotiated solutions will inevitably fail raising even higher the level of violence.

The only time an Israel government should ever sit down with Palestinian Arab leaders is after they say upfront they are dropping their demand that Israel leaves its 4,000-year-old homeland, dropping their “right of return” demand, and dropping territorial demands that include removal of Jews from the territories. That won’t happen with the current leadership, but perhaps an extensive propaganda campaign offering real benefits will do that job.

The day that happens will be proof a way has been found where solutions have failed.