Time to Challenge the ‘Palestine-Firsters’

November 26, 2012 6:38 pm 1 comment

John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt. Photo: Maarten Derkse.

Between June and October of this year, Palestinian terrorists in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip launched almost 260 attacks, the vast majority involving rockets and missiles, into Israeli territory. Come this month, and the barrage multiplied considerably, with more than 100 rockets being fired on Nov. 11 alone. But it was only when Israel formally began a defensive operation three days later, during which Hamas leaders like Ahmed Jabari, the terrorists’ chief, were successfully eliminated, and airstrikes against key Hamas targets were undertaken, that the Gaza situation consumed foreign media coverage to the exclusion of almost everything else.

It’s a sobering thought, especially when you consider that more than 200 Syrians were murdered by the Assad regime during the seven days of Israel’s Operation Pillar of Defense, taking the toll of eighteen months of massacres to well above 40,000. Or that a bloodcurdling 81 prisoners were executed by the Iranian regime in one 10-day period this month.

Twelve years after the second Palestinian intifada triggered a worldwide movement to oppose Zionism and Israel on a scale unseen since the Soviet-inspired campaigns of the 1970s, we’ve grown accustomed to this kind of disproportionate—and yes, I use that word deliberately—media response. And we think, too, that we understand the reasons underlying it.

The commentator Jeffrey Goldberg explained it beautifully in one of his recent columns. Goldberg reported the contents of an email he received from a Syrian friend in Beirut. “We get very little interest from the international press compared to the Palestinians,” wrote the friend. “What should we do to get more attention?” Responded Goldberg: “My advice is to get killed by Jews. Always works.”

But there is another, historically weightier, factor that needs to be taken into consideration. I’m referring to the widespread belief that the “injustice” meted out to the Palestinians in 1948, when the State of Israel was created, is what lies at the root of the post-World War Two conflicts in the Middle East. According to this account, everything else that happens in the region—the extraordinary repression meted out by ruling regimes upon their own citizens, both before and after the much-vaunted “Arab Spring,” or the vicious civil war within the Islamic world which determines that the most numerous victims of Islamist factions are fellow Muslims—is just a side-show to this main event.

Many of the proponents of this view in America belong to a school of thought that has turned an anti-Semitic smear into an analytical category. I’m speaking, of course, about the term “Israel-Firster,” so enthusiastically deployed by a cast of characters ranging from the fringe Jewish blogger, MJ Rosenberg, through to the contributors to the “Open Zion” blog edited by the journalist Peter Beinart. These people believe that the reason the Middle East is in such a mess is because the U.S. administration is under the thumb of a nefarious “Israel Lobby,” a cluster of organizations and individuals so influential that they can force the government of the U.S. to act against its own interests by supporting Israel.

The two most well-known advocates of the “Israel-Firster” stance were both frenetically typing condemnations of Israel into their laptops as the Israeli Air Force struck back against Hamas. I refer to Professors John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, authors of the execrable 2008 tome The Israel Lobby, which is probably the clearest exposition of the “Israel-Firster” conspiracy theory that you are likely to read.

Writing in the London Review of Books, the same publication that printed the joint Mearsheimer/Walt essay that eventually became The Israel Lobby, Mearsheimer outdid his customarily fatuous assertions. For example, he quoted a now discredited survey that claims a majority of Israelis believe that Palestinians live under a system of “apartheid.” He approvingly cited a blog written by another marginal Jewish commentator, Mitchell Plitnick, which described the right-wing Yisrael Beitenu party as “fascist.” Most of all, he reproduced the myth, lovingly stoked in Arab capitals for the last 70 years, that the end goal here is a “Greater Israel.”

Meanwhile, Walt used Mearsheimer’s column as a cue to declare his belief that “the one-state outcome”—in other words, the replacement of the State of Israel by a Palestinian state stretching from the Mediterranean Sea to the River Jordan—“looks increasingly unavoidable.” Added Walt: “And in that context, even a prolonged, contentious campaign for civil and political rights wouldn’t be as pointless as what we are now witnessing.”

This sort of rhetoric is not only (because of its cavalier support of an outcome that could only be achieved through mass killings of Israelis) morally poisonous. It actually runs counter to the very same American national interests these authors claim to uphold.

What these “Palestine-Firsters,” as I call them, seek to deny is the reality that emerged from Israel’s latest limited campaign against Hamas. Firstly, that Israel can defend itself quite adequately without a single American soldier on the ground, in marked contrast to the rest of the region. Secondly, that the Obama administration’s support for Israel was based on that fundamental tenet of international law that holds that sovereign states have the right of self-defense. Thirdly, that a strong and secure Israel is a critical asset to American interests in the region, as well as the liberal democratic values which both countries represent.

For that reason, there is a crying need to supplant the vogueish, Palestine-centered interpretation of the Middle East with one that recognizes that this particular Middle Eastern conflict is not the most important, nor the most dangerous, in the region. As long as we fail to appraise this reality, we will permit regional leaders, like Turkish Prime Minister Reccep Tayyip Erdogan, and Egypt’s newest pharaoh, President Mohammed Morsi, to divert attention from their own wrongdoings onto the plight of the Palestinians.

An Israel chastised will not end Erdogan’s bloody, and largely unreported, onslaught against the Kurdish minority in his country. It will not stop Islamist terrorists from Egypt to Pakistan placing bombs in churches and mosques alike. It will not lead to the defeat of Al Qaeda operatives from Mali to Yemen.

What it will do, though, is hurt America. And that is reason enough to turn to the Palestine-Firsters and ask them point blank, where do your loyalties really lie?

Ben Cohen is the Shillman Analyst for JNS.org. His writings on Jewish affairs and Middle Eastern politics have been published in Commentary, the New York Post, Ha’aretz, Jewish Ideas Daily and many other publications.

1 Comment

  • Lori Lowenthal Marcus

    Excellent! Enough with the myth that the Arab Palestinians are the greatest victims known to humankind, and the corollary that all that is necessary for peace in the Middle East is for Israel to shave off parts of itself to create “Palestine.” May your column be read – and heeded – far and wide.

Leave a Reply

Please note: comments may be published in the Algemeiner print edition.


Current day month ye@r *

More...

  • Arts and Culture US & Canada Lena Dunham Responds to Charges of Antisemitism: It was Just a Jew Joke

    Lena Dunham Responds to Charges of Antisemitism: It was Just a Jew Joke

    “Girls” creator Lena Dunham responded on Tuesday to charges of antisemitism over an article she had penned for the New Yorker, saying it was all in good humor. Speaking to Variety, Dunham reflected on her “tight-knit Jewish family, where Jew jokes were part of the essential fiber of our communication.” The article Dunham referred to was called “Dog or Jewish Boyfriend? A Quiz,” with options such as “He doesn’t Tip” and “He’s Crazy for Cream Cheese.” Among Dunham’s critics, Anti-Defamation [...]

    Read more →
  • Sports US & Canada Former NBA Star Tweets Article About Jewish Conspiracy to Control Global Media

    Former NBA Star Tweets Article About Jewish Conspiracy to Control Global Media

    Retired NBA player Keyon Dooling tweeted a link on Wednesday to a wildly antisemitic article that accuses Jews of seizing control of the world’s media and using it to promote their own interests. The article, published by an obscure blog in April 2013, highlights six companies it claims are owned by Jews — such as Time Warner, Inc. and the Walt Disney Company – that allegedly “control 96 percent of the world’s media.”  The post includes allegations of “Jewish control” and says [...]

    Read more →
  • Sports US & Canada Rosh Hashanah Won’t Keep the Giants’ Geoff Schwartz From Season Opener

    Rosh Hashanah Won’t Keep the Giants’ Geoff Schwartz From Season Opener

    New York Giants offensive guard Geoff Schwartz responded to an outcry from Jewish fans on Tuesday, saying he will go ahead and play in the season opener despite the fact that it falls on the first night of Rosh Hashanah. “Keep getting tweets about that being the first night of Rosh Hashanah… Don’t know what I’m supposed to tell you. It’s a tough break,” the Jewish athlete wrote, referring to the Giants’ on-the-road game against the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday, Sept. [...]

    Read more →
  • Jewish Identity Sports Jewish Coach David Blatt Has NBA’s Cavaliers Surging at Playoff Time

    Jewish Coach David Blatt Has NBA’s Cavaliers Surging at Playoff Time

    JNS.org – When David Blatt was hired as head coach of the National Basketball Association’s Cleveland Cavaliers last June, he was not often recognized when he walked the streets of downtown Cleveland. What a difference a year makes. Now, Blatt can go few places without being recognized. For good reason. The Jewish coach has the Cavaliers in the mix to win the city of Cleveland’s first championship in a major sport since the Browns won the National Football League title in [...]

    Read more →
  • Europe Sports Croatian Soccer Star’s Hebrew Tattoo Causes a Stir Online

    Croatian Soccer Star’s Hebrew Tattoo Causes a Stir Online

    A Hebrew tattoo sported by Croatian soccer star Mario Mandzukic became an internet sensation in Israel after it was exposed on Tuesday during a Champions League match between Ateltico Madrid and Real Madrid A first glance, the tattoo, on the athlete’s back, might leave one with the impression that it was an unfortunate artistic mistake, since the Hebrew letters do not make sense as they are written. However, a closer look at the tattoo shows that it was actually written [...]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Theater Why an Algemeiner Editor Wrote a Play About a Mass Shooter

    Why an Algemeiner Editor Wrote a Play About a Mass Shooter

    For the past two years, I have served as Opinion Editor at The Algemeiner. I’m perhaps most proud of the paper’s commitment to publishing diverse and opposing viewpoints on the controversial issues of the day. We pride ourselves on voicing different opinions because we know that most issues are not black and white, and because our community is better served by a public debate. In my life outside of the paper, I am a professional actor and playwright. And similarly, [...]

    Read more →
  • Book Reviews Commentary In ‘America in Retreat,’ a Real-Life Risk Board

    In ‘America in Retreat,’ a Real-Life Risk Board

    JNS.org – “Risk: The Game of Strategic Conquest,” the classic Parker Brothers board game, requires imperial ambitions. Players imagine empires and are pitted against each other, vying for world domination. Amid this fictional world war, beginners learn fast that no matter the superiority of their army, every advance is a gamble determined by a roll of the dice. After a defeat, a player must retreat. Weighted reinforcement cards provide the only opportunity to reverse a player’s fortunes and resume the [...]

    Read more →
  • Beliefs and concepts Sports Does Working Out With Other Jews Keep You Jewish?

    Does Working Out With Other Jews Keep You Jewish?

    JNS.org – For Daphna Krupp, her daily workout (excluding Shabbat) at the Jewish Community Center (JCC or “J”) of Greater Baltimore has become somewhat of a ritual. She not only attends fitness classes but also engages with the instructors and plugs the J’s social programs on her personal Facebook page. “It’s the gym and the environment,” says Krupp. “It’s a great social network.” Krupp, who lives in Pikesville, Md., is one of an estimated 1 million American Jewish members of more [...]

    Read more →



Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.