ROME – I’m standing on the edge of the Roman Forum, by the Arch of
This is the marble structure built by the Empire to commemorate
the capture of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple about 1,941 years
ago. Legionnaires are shown carrying off the Menorah and other items from the
sanctuary. The inhabitants are sold into slavery, the Jews are
Well, not really. Today, the great empire has long vanished and
the Jewish people have not only survived, but by every social, economic and
security standard Israel is flourishing.
In the late 1960s, Palestinian
and Arab leaders were certain Israel would not survive.
That they were
completely wrong has not prevented a whole new rash of contemporary
The PLO view, shared by virtually all Arabs at the time,
was very clearly defined. The two main points boil down to the following: First,
Israel would not survive because it had no real basis for existence. Second, the
Arabs would destroy it using various strategies.As Yasser Arafat put it in 1968,
terrorism would “create and maintain an atmosphere of strain and anxiety that
will force the Zionists to realize that it is impossible for them to live in
Israel.... The Israelis have one great fear, the fear of
The PLO’s attacks would “prevent immigration and
encourage emigration... to destroy tourism, to prevent immigrants becoming
attached to the land, to weaken the Israeli economy and to divert the greater
part of it to security requirements.”
This would “inevitably” prevent
Israel’s consolidation and hasten its disintegration.
The final step
would be “a quick blow by the regular armies at the right moment” to finish
Didn’t quite work out that way. Immigrants flooded the
country after the Soviet Union collapsed, and were successfully
People weren’t frightened into fleeing. Casualties were
absorbed and limited. The country became economically successful and militarily
victorious. As a result, today’s Israel is stronger – far stronger – than
Israel has lost a great deal since its foundation, especially in
terms of human lives. But the biggest losers have been the Arabs who wasted
resources, suffered greater casualties, faced repeated humiliations and ended up
with dictatorships and stagnant societies.
They will continue to be the
biggest losers if they spend the next 60 years playing the same
FURTHERMORE, THE Arab states in 1948, 1967 and 1973 were relatively
united, and with a superpower sponsor to boot. But they couldn’t destroy Israel.
So how are they going to do so today, with Israel outpacing its neighbors on
every index of social and economic development. Even with so much oil money
having been spent, Arab societies haven’t really advanced. Just who has the
advantage today? Remember what happened in 1948. True, all the Arab states
invaded the new state of Israel. But they didn’t coordinate; they all sought to
grab territory for themselves. With Iran and Turkey jostling for power and
leadership today, the conflict and disorder has intensified.
there is a revival of the claim – sometimes among ill-informed well-wishers,
more often among antagonistic haters – that Israel might not survive. This is
based partly on wishful thinking, partly on ignorance.
factors, however, is a basic disbelief that Jews are a people and can be a
This attitude reflects a lack of knowledge – often among Western
Jews themselves – of Jewish history, as well as a naïve acceptance of
anti-Israel propaganda, of claims that have proven to be false for
The fact of the matter is that Israel’s existence is not in
danger. It is Israel’s adversaries, and in some ways Western Europe, that are
facing true existential danger.
Israel’s enemy neighbors and
near-neighbors are poised on the brink of what could be a decades-long series of
horrifying civil wars: Islamists against Arab nationalists; Sunni against
Shi’ite; economic collapse; and much more. Syria is on the verge of a bloodbath;
Egypt faces not some bright new economic dawn, but rather a terrible reckoning.
At some point the oil will run out, with much of that wealth squandered. Recent
discoveries even suggest that Israel itself will be a rising exporter of
petroleum and natural gas.
Periodically, some radical Muslim writes that
if only each Muslim would kill one Jew, Israel would vanish. High hopes are held
for the nuclear weapons that Iran still doesn’t have. But such schemes never get
off the ground. Indeed, it is Arab nationalism that is threatened with
extinction under a wave of revolutionary Islamism. By leaving the path of
pragmatism for that of doctrinaire Islamism, Turkey is likely to lose the
success it enjoyed for so many decades.
There is not one regime in a
Muslim-majority country that should feel confident about its future; not one
such state whose continued existence can be taken for granted.
only two ways Israel could conceivably disappear. If Arabs and Muslims dropped
radicalism, ideology and bickering and spent the next 50 years concentrating on
technological and economic progress before turning on Israel, it could happen.
However, such a focus on material development and moderate democracy would erode
Arab and Muslim tempers to the point that they would no longer want to engage in
such a foolish and futile life-and-death struggle, which is why the Islamists
reject that approach.
In fact, quite the opposite is happening. It is
radicalism, not pragmatic development strategy that is in
Ironically, the other way Israel could find itself wiped off the
map is if its leaders were to heed the advice they’re getting from the West, and
those stubborn, stiff-necked people aren’t about to doom themselves by
implementing the mistaken ideas of the Western media, experts, intellectuals and
governments who claim such policies are the road to safety.
Part of the
problem here is that all too many Western intellectuals no longer believe in
patriotism, nationalism or religion, or even in the very idea of the
nation-state, let alone in fighting – or even sacrificing – for one’s
Many Arabs’ and Muslims’ belief that Israel must cease to exist
stems from contempt for Jews and the conviction that their own nations and
religion are inherently superior. Many Westerners, on the other hand, believe
that Israel must cease to exist because all countries, including their own, must
cease to exist; that the national model is unviable.
With regard to
Israel, these opposing arguments amount to the same thing, and reveal more about
those espousing them than about Israel.
When a European cabinet minister
says his country has no distinct culture and another urges the locals to be nice
to Muslims so they will reciprocate after they take over; when a European
country’s counter-intelligence chief tells me his country has no future, and a
quartet of professors from another remark to me over cocktails that they believe
their country is finished, is it Israel that is in danger of collapse? Who’s
really staring into the abyss? All of which doesn’t mean Europe’s existing
states and societies are about to be actually destroyed – but they’re more
likely to go than Israel is. You want to talk about demographic threats?
Overall, the majority of Europeans are having children at half the rate needed
for mere replacement of the existing native population.
Yet all of this
also shows why Israel is the key to understanding today’s world. Israel’s
survival shows that democratic societies can fight and defeat dictators and
totalitarian ideologies, Western religions do have a continuing place in Western
societies and nation-states are still a viable – perhaps the most viable – way
to organize many political structures.
That’s precisely why so many are
working so hard to demonize and discredit Israel. If people in the West
understand what Israel is and what it is doing, they will comprehend the value
of those approaches and values. If they understand how Israel is lied about and
mistreated they will comprehend much wider problems with the people, ideas and
institutions governing their own lives today.
The writer is director of
the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) and editor of the Middle
East Review of International Affairs (MERIA).