Foreign policy and human rights expert Joshua Muravchik, currently a fellow at the Foreign Policy Institute of The Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies, is out with a new book, “Making David Into Goliath: How the World Turned Against Israel.”
As the title suggests, the book examines how Israel went from everyone’s favorite underdog to the object of international campaigns seeking to delegitimize the Jewish state. I discussed the book with Muravchik:
You obviously wrote the book well before the latest Gaza conflict but does the war and outside calls for “restraint” illustrate the thesis of your book?
It illustrates it painfully well. Already, UN Human Rights Commissioner Navi Pillay, EU foreign policy czarina Catherine Ashton, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty [International], the British press and the usual array of “progressive” voices are assailing Israel for this fight in which Hamas is the aggressor and Israel is acting, with unmistakable reluctance, only in self-defense. True, most casualties are on the Palestinian side. Why? Israel has spent billions on civil defense and [the] Iron Dome to protect its citizens. Hamas urges its subjects to disregard Israeli warnings and to stay put in targeted buildings in order to become “martyrs.” They’re fulfilling their mantra: “You love life; we love death.”
Was the turning point for Israel’s international image the 1967 war or were there signs the “pariah state” image was being manufactured even before that?
Demonization of Israel was promoted by the Arabs and the Soviets before that. But Israel’s 1967 victory changed many things. Aside from making Israel seem less vulnerable and leaving it occupying territory where millions of Arabs lived, two other key effects of the war were pivotal. First, Nasser’s humiliation of arms spelled the death of Pan-Arabism, allowing the emergence of Palestinian nationalism. Before then, the Palestinian cause amounted merely to getting rid of the Jews, not national aspirations. Even the PLO covenant, written in 1964, did not mention Palestinian statehood or sovereignty. Second, the Kremlin was also humiliated by Israel’s 1967 victory. The defeat of its client breathed hope into those it had subjugated, Jews but also many others behind the Iron Curtain. Because of that, anti-Zionism was raised to fever pitch in Soviet propaganda and diplomacy.
In the United States, liberals used to be pro-Israel, but now a much higher percentage of liberals than of conservatives don’t support Israel. How did that transformation take place?
U.S. liberals are also affected by the dramatic turn against Israel of the global left. This began with the recognition by the Arabs that their legacy of affiliation with Axis in World War Two was a political liability; and so Fatah, under the leadership of Arafat who had been mentored by the Nazi-collaborator Amin al-Husseini, exchanged that legacy for a new revolutionary anti-colonial identity that they absorbed by apprenticing themselves to the Algerian FLN and the Vietnamese Communists. Also, in the latter half of the 20th-century the old Leftist paradigm of class struggle was superseded by national/ethnic struggle. Instead of workers against capitalists it became “the rest against the West.” Through that lens, Israel is inherently on the wrong side of progress — and of “progressives.”
What accounts for the anti-Israel movement among mainstream churches?
The mainline Protestant churches, perhaps reflecting a crisis of faith, decades back exchanged belief in God for belief in Leftism. I am not speaking of rank-and-file believers. But the officialdom of the National Council of Churches and World Council of Churches and the leading bodies of various denominations made themselves the handmaidens of Ho Chi Minh, Fidel Castro, and other such impersonators of the “wretched of the earth.” They took the Communist Manifesto for an update of the Sermon on the Mount. In that mindset, it was axiomatic to embrace the PLO and demonize Israel.
Israel has tried on multiple occasions to strike a deal with the Palestinians to give back virtually all of the West Bank. Would Israel’s problem go away if it gave back the West Bank or does the anti-Israel sentiment go farther than that?
If there was a negotiated peace agreement, hostility to Israel would surely diminish, although Palestinian rejectionists would still commit acts of violence and when Israel responded, it would still be blamed. However, a unilateral withdrawal by Israel would be taken as a vindication of the terrorists — as it was in Southern Lebanon and Gaza — and would only lead to increased attacks.
Israel hasn’t been very good at combating the anti-Israel narrative. Why? What can Israel do?
In the Cold War, the United States was not as good at propaganda as the Soviets. It is a difficult and uncomfortable activity for a democracy. Israel has indigenous political movements, NGOs and publications that are extremely critical of, even hostile to, the state itself. Any outsider looking to demonize Israel has already had his research done for him by Israel’s home-grown “adversary culture” and can couch his vituperations in quotes from Israeli sources. Needless to say, there is nothing like it … allowed to exist on the other side, NGOs or opposition. Israel needs to wage the “battle of ideas” with a little bit of the devotion it gives to other fronts; sometimes Israelis seem to feel that it is hopeless anyway, so why bother.
To what degree does a U.S. president hostile to Israel accelerate the anti-Israel movements?
It is hard to gauge, but the United States is Israel’s only supporter in a very hostile world. The message that no one misses — that the current U.S. president agrees in his heart with the demonizers even if politics (i.e., “the Jewish lobby”) inhibits him from saying it — no doubt invigorates and reinforces the conviction of Israel-bashers and Israel-haters in many places.