On Israel, Americans Aren't Mad Hatters

Back to AJC Colorado HOME
When Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu spoke before Congress in May, some were dismayed by his bipartisan standing ovations — more than any U.S. president since Kennedy. To Europeans who rank Israel with Iran and North Korea as the biggest threats to international peace, Netanyahu's rock-star reception was distressing. That's because many in the international community resemble the Mad Hatter for whom “nothing would be what it is, because everything would be what it isn't.”

If it seems curious that Americans are at odds with Europeans on Israel, Think Again. Americans don't see “through the looking glass.” We know that Israel's enemies are our enemies. We see Israel as our only stable and credible ally in the world's most critical and volatile region. So strategically valuable, “Israel equals five CIAs,” according to U.S. intelligence officials.

Congressional support mirrors grassroots support, which is overwhelming and growing. In a May CNN poll, 82 percent of Americans considered Israel a strong ally, up from 72 percent in 2001, and favored Israel (67 percent) over the Palestinian Authority (16 percent).

Those who attribute robust support of Israel to the “Jewish lobby” deny Americans' belief that, despite its ancient history and tininess (.17 percent of the land mass and 2 percent of the population of the Middle East), Israel is like us. Zionism and the Old Testament are rooted in America's founding, and inspired Jefferson and Franklin to propose a national seal featuring the Jewish exodus from Egypt because it reflected the triumph of liberty and religious freedom in the American Promised Land.

Unlike other Middle Eastern countries where women and minorities are often persecuted, Israel is a liberal, free, immigrant-friendly, multiethnic democracy, whose bedrock values resemble our own and where all citizens (regardless of sex, religion or race) possess universal rights. Not the Palestinian territories where homosexuals fear for their lives; not Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Yemen or Egypt where female honor killings are endemic; not Iran whose execution rate is the highest, after China.

Americans identify with Israel's pluck, and admire its transformation from a poor, rural country into an economic powerhouse whose GDP growth has outpaced the developed world's average since 1995. Even without oil, Israel's GDP per capita ($30,000) exceeds that of oil-rich Saudi Arabia ($20,000). Hence, “Many Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip have a dream: to work or live in Israel,” reported Palestinian journalist Khaled Toameh.

American companies and consumers appreciate the incredible Israeli inventions — microprocessors, voice mail, wireless LAN, search engines, desalination plants, insect control, agricultural technologies, medical treatments — that spring from the human capital, vitality and entrepreneurialism that enabled Israel to exceed its wildest dreams.

However, Israel has one unrealized dream — to be recognized as a legitimate nation-state at peace with its neighbors, including a Palestinian state. That this dream has become an ongoing nightmare for Israel undermines the credibility of the international community. Alan Dershowitz argues, “Those who single out Israel for unique criticism not directed against countries with far worse human rights records are themselves guilty of international bigotry.”

Consider that most countries founded since Israel are failures delivering poverty, chaos, dictatorship and even genocide to their people. Yet nobody asks whether Burma or Zimbabwe have a right to exist or whether Serbia or Rwanda should be wiped off the map.

Americans are acutely aware of this hypocrisy. We know that Israel's main problem is the absence of peace-seeking partners, not its settlement policy. If territorial divisions were the problem, the conflict could be resolved by ceding territory and moving people, as Israel did with Gaza and the Sinai.

A recent poll of Palestinians clarifies their strategy to circumvent negotiations with Israel by unilaterally declaring statehood. Two-thirds reject Israel as the Jewish homeland. Even larger majorities: favor a two-state solution only as a stepping-stone toward Israel's eradication, deny Jewish history in Jerusalem, and support the Hamas charter's call for killing Jews behind every “rock and tree.” A majority support teaching schoolchildren to hate Jews.

With so many generations raised on victimhood and hate its understandable that many Palestinian children prefer jihad to jobs. Morally bankrupt, corrupt and despotic leaders exploited their people and stole their resources.

Former Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir said, “Peace will come when the Arabs will love their children more than they hate us.” As changes sweep the Middle East, Americans await leaders whose aim is a better society and who espouse respect and decency. The international community must condemn those who don't.

During his Congressional address, a heckler interrupted Netanyahu, rattling the lawmakers. Undeterred, Netanyahu implored them to Think Again. “I take it as a badge of honor, and so should you, that in our free societies you can have protests. You can't have these protests in the farcical parliaments in Tehran or in Tripoli. This is real democracy.”

Americans agree. Israel isn't what's wrong in the Middle East but what's right.


Melanie Sturm lives in Aspen. Her column runs every other Thursday. She reminds readers to Think Again. You might change your mind.
Date: 7/21/2011
Copyright © 2013 AJC