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 Theater US & Canada New Play Explores the ‘Arrogance’ of American Jews Critical of Israel, Playwright Says

    New Play Explores the ‘Arrogance’ of American Jews Critical of Israel, Playwright Says

    In his new play Mr. Goldberg Goes to Tel Aviv, playwright Oren Safdie tackles an issue that he has a major concern with: the relationship between Israelis and left-leaning Diaspora Jews with their “I know better” critical views. At the heart of the one-act play is Tony, a Jewish and gay Palestinian sympathizer who expresses strong anti-Israel sentiments when the play begins and at one point even sides with a Palestinian terrorist who holds his captive. Tony, who is also an [...]

    Read more →
  • Music US & Canada Hassidic Parody of Taylor Swift Song Apes Long Jewish Holidays (VIDEO)

    Hassidic Parody of Taylor Swift Song Apes Long Jewish Holidays (VIDEO)

    A Jewish comedy troupe released a parody video on Wednesday of Taylor Swift’s hit song Shake It Off in which they joke about taking extensive time off from work for Jewish holidays. “And the goyim gonna stay, stay, stay, stay, stay. And the Jews are gonna pray, pray pray, pray, pray. I’m just gonna take, take, take, take, take. I’m taking off,” goes the chorus for I’m Taking Off. Menachem Weinstein, the video’s lead singer, is the creative director at [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Jewish Literature On 75th Anniversary, Looking at the Jewish Influence on Gone With the Wind

    On 75th Anniversary, Looking at the Jewish Influence on Gone With the Wind

    JNS.org – The 75th anniversary of the premiere of “Gone with the Wind” on Dec. 15 presents an opportunity to examine the Jewish influence on one of the most popular films of all time. That influence starts with the American Civil War epic’s famed producer, David O. Selznick. Adjusted for inflation, “Gone with the Wind” remains the highest-grossing movie ever made. It earned the 1939 Academy Award for Best Picture, the same honor another Selznick film, “Rebecca,” garnered in 1940. Selznick [...]

    Read more →
  • Featured Music US & Canada EXCLUSIVE: Matisyahu Provides Most Extensive Analysis Yet of His Religious, Musical Evolution (INTERVIEW)

    EXCLUSIVE: Matisyahu Provides Most Extensive Analysis Yet of His Religious, Musical Evolution (INTERVIEW)

    Matisyahu got candid in an exclusive interview with The Algemeiner on Monday about his religious and musical journey – after shedding his Chassidic skin, yarmulke, long beard and all – from the start of his career in 2005 when he became a reggae superstar with hits King Without a Crown and Jerusalem. The singer-songwriter embarks on his Festival of Light tour this month, an annual Hanukkah event that stops in Montreal, New York, and other cities before ending in San Juan, [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Personalities ‘Sheriff of Mars’ Unveils Endearing Life of Jewish Music Star Hidden in the Fields of France

    ‘Sheriff of Mars’ Unveils Endearing Life of Jewish Music Star Hidden in the Fields of France

    JNS.org – It was an era of steel strings, guitar heroes, and storytellers—high on heroin, rebellious. Outlaw country music, the hallmark of Nashville’s powerful and angry music scene of the 1970s, was the brew of greats such as Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, and Townes Van Zandt. But there is another, little-known music hero of that era: Daniel Antopolsky. A Jewish lad from Augusta, Ga.—the son of immigrants who settled in the south and ran a hardware store on Main Street—the [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture US & Canada Iranian Actress Replaces Israel’s Gal Gadot for ‘Ben-Hur’ Remake

    Iranian Actress Replaces Israel’s Gal Gadot for ‘Ben-Hur’ Remake

    Iranian actress Nazanin Boniadi replaced Israeli star Gal Gadot as the female lead in the new Ben-Hur remake, Hollywood.com reported on Tuesday. The Homeland actress will play Esther, a slave that Ben-Hur sets free and falls in love with. Gadot quit the movie when it became clear that filming conflicted with her schedule for the Man of Steel sequel. The Israeli actress plays Wonder Woman in the superhero film Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice. Actor Jack Huston takes on the [...]

    Read more →
  • Book Reviews Personalities Biography Sheds New Light on David Ben-Gurion’s Place in Jewish History

    Biography Sheds New Light on David Ben-Gurion’s Place in Jewish History

    JNS.org – There is one sentence in “Ben-Gurion: Father of Modern Israel” that made me sit up in surprise. I thought that I knew the basic facts about how Israel came into being, but while describing what it was like in the days and hours before the state was declared, author Anita Shapira provides one important anecdote I was not aware of. On the 12th of May, the Zionist Executive met to decide what to do. Moshe Sharrett had just returned [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture US & Canada ‘Death of Klinghoffer’ Actress Compares Met Opera to ‘Schindler’s List’

    ‘Death of Klinghoffer’ Actress Compares Met Opera to ‘Schindler’s List’

    An actress starring in the controversial Met Opera The Death of Klinghoffer defended the show on Tuesday by comparing it to the 1993 Holocaust film Schindler’s List, New York Post reported. “To me, this was like [the movie] Schindler’s List. We make art so people won’t forget,’’ said the actress, who plays a captured passenger in the show and asked not to be identified. The Met Opera focuses on the infamous murder of Lower East Side Jewish resident Leon Klinghoffer, 69. The wheelchair-bound father of [...]

    Read more →



Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.