Author of New Book Calls for Fresh Approach to Pro-Israel Advocacy Based on Highlighting Jewish State’s Morality
David Brog — the founding director of Christians United for Israel (CUFI) and executive director of the Maccabee Task Force — was recently interviewed by The Algemeiner about his latest book, Reclaiming Israel’s History: Roots, Rights, and the Struggle for Peace.
A transcript of the conversation — in which Brog discusses the current state of pro-Israel advocacy and calls for a fresh approach based on highlighting the Jewish state’s morality — follows.
What prompted you to write this book?
“I wanted to counter a trend. The rising generation of Americans — including so many who consider themselves pro-Israel — are increasingly buying into the fantasy that Israel is the main obstacle to peace in the Middle East. I say ‘fantasy’ because this view is contrary to the facts. And I say ‘fantasy’ because it’s an alluring belief. After all, if Israel is the obstacle to peace, then pressure on Israel can actually bring peace. There can be peace in our time!”
“When our young people buy into this myth, they grow embarrassed and equivocal in their pro-Israel activism. They try to change the topic. They’ll talk about Tel Aviv’s gay pride parades, Israel’s food scene and, of course, high tech. But they’ll never address the underlying moral claims that are doing so much damage to Israel’s reputation because they believe (or fear) that Israel is guilty as charged.”
“Here’s the good news. Most students who accept the prevailing myths about Israel do so simply because they don’t know better — no one’s ever told them otherwise. My experience over years of working with students is that when they learn the facts about Israel they’re both relieved and energized to go out and share these truths. My book is an effort to compile in one accessible, chronological narrative all of the facts and history that my students have found most important over the years.”
There are quite a few “case for Israel” books that have been written. Why is yours different?
“Most of the ‘case for Israel’ books are too difficult for people who’ve never studied this conflict in depth. These books tend to jump from topic to topic and era to era. 1948, 1967, 1973, Camp David with Begin and Sadat, Camp David with Barak and Arafat — it becomes a confused jumble. My book is a fast-paced, chronological and easy-to-read history of Israel that focuses on those aspects of Israel’s history that are most effective in demolishing the new anti-Israel narrative.”
“Even more importantly, my book expands our narrow, pro-Israel canon. Over the years we’ve all been reduced to repeating the same limited set of pro-Israel talking points. But our standard repertoire leaves out so many of the facts and stories that are most effective when making the case for Israel. My book reclaims this forgotten history and, I hope, will reintroduce it to all of us who wish to believe in and defend the State of Israel.”
What impact would you like the book to have and how has it been received so far?
“I want my book to remind all of us in the pro-Israel camp just how worthy our cause is. There’s a lot we all know — but a great deal we don’t — that makes Israel’s struggle for survival both just and admirable. We don’t have to be embarrassed to support Israel. We don’t need to change the topic or respond to damning allegations with non sequiturs about Pentium processors. We can proudly stand up and address the elephant that Israel’s enemies have dragged into the room: Israel’s morality.”
“Many readers who are new to this issue tell me that they’ve found my book compelling and informative. And that’s always great to hear. But the best compliments I’ve received come from people who’ve spent their whole careers steeped in these issues. When they tell me that they’re learning new things and receiving new energy from my book, I know I did something right.”
The book is meticulously researched and includes hundreds of references. What went into researching and preparing for writing the book? How long did it take you to do?
“I spent the last five years writing this book. It wasn’t a full-time project — I have a day job. But it swallowed nights, weekends and vacations.”
“What drove me was my dismay at how narrow our pro-Israel talking points had grown. If what we typically say to defend Israel is all we’ve got, then our case ain’t as strong as we’d like to think. I wanted to go back to the original sources and mine that rich seam of Jewish history in the Land of Israel. I wanted to bring long forgotten facts and stories back into the pro-Israel narrative. The results were well worth the investment.”
There is a strong focus on the history of the Israeli-Arab conflict. What do you say to those that insist on setting the clock of the conflict to a more recent time?
“People who want to understand the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians need to recognize the key historical pattern that’s driven this conflict. You don’t see this pattern with your nose pressed up against the glass of some news website. You see it only when you step back and view the conflict in its full historic perspective.”
“The Jews of Palestine (later the Israelis) have offered to split this contested land with the Arabs of Palestine (later the Palestinians) on five separate occasions — 1937, 1947, 1967, 2000 and 2008. The Arabs of Palestine/Palestinians turned down each of these offers, often quite violently.”
“I don’t care what your position is on two states or the settlements. Maybe there’s more that Israel could do to lure the Palestinians towards peace, maybe not. The basic fact remains that it’s the Palestinian rejection of the two-state model that’s driven this conflict from its earliest days until yesterday. In the face of this overwhelming historical pattern, you don’t get to blame this conflict on Israel. “
In the book, you ask why there is such a focus on the Palestinians as opposed to other stateless groups. Can you elaborate on the conclusion you reached?
“Sure. Most people assume that the Palestinians are the only nation on the planet who don’t have a state of their own. That’s a natural assumption since they’re the only stateless nation anyone ever talks about. But it’s far from true. There’s actually a book called The Encyclopedia of Stateless Nations that chronicles the claims of 350 stateless nations. And the encyclopedia’s author stresses up front that these 350 examples represent only ‘a fraction’ of the world’s stateless nations. According to the United Nations, ‘only 3% of the world’s 6,000 national groups have achieved statehood.'”
“The international obsession with one out of these thousands of stateless peoples raises an obvious question. What is it about the Palestinians that makes the world focus so much attention on their plight while largely ignoring the others?”
“Is it because the Palestinians are the largest stateless nation? Hardly. The 70 million stateless Tamils of south India and northern Sri Lanka outnumber the Palestinians by a factor of more than ten. Is it because the Palestinians are the oldest stateless nation? Of course not. Palestinian nationalism didn’t become widespread until after 1967. The stateless Kurds, by contrast, have had a separate national identity for centuries.”
“Terrorism certainly plays a role. Most stateless peoples have never resorted to the intentional murder of civilians to publicize their plight. The Palestinians have pioneered international terrorism and remain among its most zealous practitioners. But the Basques and the Arabistanis have also resorted to terror, and they still remain obscure. “
“We could go on. But bottom line is there is something about the Jewish exercise of the right to self-determination that draws special scrutiny. We don’t need to exaggerate. We don’t need to perceive all criticism of Israel as antisemitism. But we can’t deny that antisemitism plays a role in the world’s Palestinian obsession.”
The book ends on quite a skeptical note. Do you see any glimmer of hope now with the new peace initiative in Washington?
“I do not. And I wish I did. As I mention above, the Palestinian rejection of the two-state model has birthed this conflict and driven it forward down to the present day. So the only way anything changes, the only way a deal becomes possible, is if we see a change in the Palestinian attitude towards recognizing and sharing the land with a Jewish state. Yet we’ve seen no evidence of even the first initial rumblings of such an historic shift.”
“Mahmoud Abbas remains unwilling to recognize Israel as a Jewish state, one not subject to a Palestinian ‘right of return’ that would turn it into yet another Arab state. Abbas is not willing to stop inciting to and glorifying terror. For crying out loud, Abbas isn’t even willing to stop paying his citizens to kill Israelis. Unless and until these things change, the sixth Israeli peace offer will meet the same fate as the prior five. My only prayer is that this Palestinian rejection will come in the form of words, not suicide bombs.”