Disappearing Act

Written by Barry Rubin


May 18, 2008
by Barry Rubin

Exaggerations of Israel's demise are greatly exaggerated, to paraphrase Mark Twain.

The question is: why is this suddenly happening now and--even more important--what is the impact of this fad going to be? The answer to the second question is very surprising so keep reading.

The suddenness of this trend is illustrated by a telling anecdote. Two years ago, a young senator named Barrack Obama went on a trip to Israel with a group. In his reactions at the time, Obama said that Israel was so strong that it could easily make big concessions for peace.

Now, in his recent interview with Atlantic magazine doomsayer-in-chief Jeffrey Goldberg, Obama said the exact opposite: Israel may disappear unless it makes big concessions for peace.

First, one common thread is this: it is the latest trick for pretending that Israel should take big risks and make large concessions without getting much in return. Remember, there was the Oslo peace process which included the return of Fatah to the West Bank and Gaza Strip, its arming and supply with hundreds of millions of dollars plus Israel's offer to return the Golan Heights to Syria; the Israeli withdrawal from south Lebanon, the pullout from the Gaza Strip.

Given this experience, someone might conclude that concessions didn't work and that the Palestinians and Syria were not ready for peace. But such a conclusion is not permissible for those wedded to certain notions. Instead, they say: ignore all that because no matter how high the price you must make concessions and take risks in order to survive. Is this obvious nonsense? Yes. But obvious nonsense backed by the New York Times and McClain's in Canada, etc., drowns out the point that it is obvious nonsense.

Second, of course, this expresses wishful thinking. A lot of people want Israel to disappear and thus feel good in asserting it is going to happen. The line in "pro-Palestinian" circles in the West seems to be that it doesn't matter that they lose all the confrontations, that their state-building effort has collapsed, and that the movement is more split than at any time in the last forty years. More important, they say, they now have control of the narrative. That and a few bucks will get you a cup of coffee.

There are also some ideological reasons on the left, or what passes for it nowadays, that have invested heavily in the idea of Israel disappearing. One is that nationalism is obsolete.

This is clearly absurd. It might be disappearing in Western Europe--I mean European nationalism, not that of the new immigrants--yet it is not a generalized global phenomenon. Quite the opposite.[1] But the people who think this way want nationalism to die in their own countries very badly and detest those who have pride in their heritage.

Unfortunately, a disproportionate number of such intellectuals are Jews. To have Israel as daily disproof of their thesis is particularly humiliating to them. Who cares about the lives of millions of Israelis, for them it is like a teetotaler with an alcoholic cousin, or a racist with an African-American one.

There is also something here involving their own definition of Jewishness. Many have nothing to do with their background except when using it to denounce Israel (or exalt past Jewish suffering or great revolutionary "heroes" to magnify themselves). They have never understood Zionism and, despite their self-proclaimed humanitarian credentials, could not care less about the fate of Israelis.

Finally, there is the most interesting and new aspect of the Israel-is-dead movement, what it tells about the politics of the new-new left and the many people its ideas have influenced. It is also closely related to the let's-kill-Western-civilization movement, too.

Here are its mantras:

Briefly, let me suggest that on the list of countries and societies unlikely to survive, Israel is at the bottom, not top, of the ratings. Take any Middle Eastern state and it is riven with problems: inept governments, stalled development, massive population growth, bitter rivalries. You want to put your money on the future of Iran, Iraq, Syria, or Egypt?

Israel is the state and society in the region most likely to survive over the next century.

And what about Europe? Aside from the EU's project of dissolving away those countries, plummeting birth rates, loss of self-confidence, and rapidly rising immigrant populations do not make their futures look bright. Sweden, Norway, and Holland are all well on the way to the cliff edge. One after another, European countries will be passing Israel in their proportion of Muslim population. If we speak of urban areas, those with the greatest cultural and political influence, they are already doing so.

Even if you attribute nothing but good and moderate intentions to the immigrants, if they don't integrate into the existing society then they are going to transform it to the extent that countries like Britain, France, or the Netherlands as we have always known them could be said to have disappeared.

Remember also that Israel's enemies are overwhelmingly outside its borders; the opposite is true for the Middle Eastern and European states. And it's easier for a coherent society to survive an external threat than a disintegrating one to weather an internal challenge.

The bookies better set Israel's odds as better than the rest or they are going to lose a lot of money.

You might remember that I promised at the start of this article to surprise you with the conclusion. So here it is?

What effect does all this talk about Israel disappearing have? Simple. It assures radical Islamists and radical Arab nationalists that they will win. Thus it encourages Arabs, and especially Palestinians, to keep fighting rather than to make peace and act moderately or constructively.

It promotes terrorism, recruitment to terrorist groups, violence against moderates, and dictatorships. After all, if victory is in sight why stop fighting? If triumph is possible than it follows logically that anyone who wants to make peace is a traitor who should be killed.

While the authors of the Israel-is-dead movement enjoy career benefits and feel good, thousands of Arabs, Muslims, and Palestinians will die as a result of what they are writing. Israelis will die, too, but not enough to make their predictions come true. Any possibility for peace will be set back for many years; any hope of a better life for the Arabs themselves will be postponed until after the predicted apocalypse.

As William Shakespeare had Mark Anthony say of other men who brought disaster to the cause they supposedly revered: "O, pardon me, thou bleeding piece of earth,/"That I am meek and gentle with these butchers!..../"Woe to the hand that shed this costly blood!"

[1] For a devastating analysis on this issue, see Jerry Z. Muller, "Us and Them," in Foreign Affairs, http://www.foreignaffairs.org/20080301faessay87203-p0/jerry-z-muller/us-and-them.html
Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), with Walter Laqueur (Viking-Penguin); the paperback edition of The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan); A Chronological History of Terrorism, with Judy Colp Rubin, (Sharpe); and The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley).

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