The Region: Better unpopular than dead

Delegitimization is a real problem, but the threat of destruction – mass loss of life in terrorist and rocket attacks, or an Iranian nuclear attack – is the real danger.

Golda Meir once memorably said, “Better a bad press than a good epitaph.” In the Western world, where a cushioned elite increasingly mistakes headlines or academic studies for the real world, the difference between the material world and words is often lost.
Instead, we are getting something along these lines: “Joe [Israel] is a stupid, lazy, dishonest, lying, no-good criminal who deserves to be punished. And you know what his main problem is? People saying stuff like that about him.”
Here’s the reliably buffoonish Roger Cohen: “I took a short break for my daughter’s bat mitzva, Israel killed nine activists on a Gaza-bound ship in international waters, and its bungled raid prompted international uproar and Jewish soul-searching.”
First, he lets us know that he’s a Jew (bat mitzva) and then he goes forth with no less than five anti-Israel points in 21 words: Killed nine (no mention of the attack on the soldiers), activists (no mention of evidence that they were radical Islamist jihadists seeking martyrdom), international waters (implication this is some kind of piratical aggressive act and no mention that this is how blockades are conducted, international law experts point out it was legal, see Cuban Missile Crisis, British operation in the Falklands, etc.), bungled raid (it is Israel’s fault that it went in without lethal force and faced greater violence than expected), Jewish soul-searching (Oy! Where have we gone wrong! We used to let people beat us up and murder us and now Israel – gasp! – defends itself).
And so after purveying anti-Israel propaganda that delegitimizes Israel, Cohen then goes on to say that the main threat to Israel is being delegitimized. Why? Because of the “occupation.”
But it was the end of the “occupation” of the Gaza Strip that created the current mess. You just haven’t been paying attention.
Cohen’s conclusion is this: “What Israel in turn must realize – before it is too late – is that the real threat it faces today is not one of destruction but of delegitimization.” This sentence deserves the greatest attention.
Delegitimization is a real problem, but the threat of destruction – mass loss of life in terrorist and rocket attacks, an Iranian nuclear attack, assaults that shut down normal life – is the real danger.
Having people call you names and an obscure boycott here and there doesn’t compare to being destroyed or dead.
WHERE DOES Cohen’s thinking, and a very similar approach by Bernard Kouchner, Franco Frattini and Miguel Angel Moratinos come from? – Cohen and Kouchner are Jews, and their view expresses the traditional Jewish Diaspora attitude: What our neighbors think of us is the most important issue. Why? Because lacking their own country, economy and means of defense, Jews were helpless. Thus, they had to make people like them, to prove themselves the best and more moral of people with no “selfish” demands of their own.
And that’s why so many Jewish intellectuals criticize Israel. On one hand, they are dedicated to a universalist agenda which involves dissolution of Jewish peoplehood.
On the other hand, Israel goes against the Diaspora strategy of trying to prove that Jews are without sin. They want the conflict ended not because it is in Israel’s interest but because it interferes with their own needs.
Once you admit the fact that the Gaza flotilla and other problems (continuation of the Israel-Palestinian and Israel-Syria conflicts) are caused by actions of the other side, you show that Israel cannot solve them on its own.
You might have to blame the Arab or Palestinian or Islamist side. What if they said that there are deliberate campaigns to undermine Israel’s legitimacy as part of the broader strategy of destroying it? Then they would have to take Israel’s side, which is what they want to avoid.
But they will never criticize the Palestinian Authority for, as an example, rejecting the two-state peace offers of 2000 or refusing to negotiate at all from January 2009 to May 2010. But if you only blame Israel for the problems and never its enemies, you are – tada! – delegitimizing Israel! And thus those complaining that Israel is delegitimizing itself are energetically delegitimizing it.
What if they were to say: “Israel is being delegitimized.
This is a big lie and must be fought against, so we are going to give you the facts about how jihadists prepared to attack the Israelis.”
Then, the delegitimization campaign would falter and the threat would be dismantled. Instead, they are the single main cause of delegitimation in the West.
Even in 2010, power still matters. Violence settles quarrels.
Individual men are greedy for power. Revolutionaries seek state power to fundamentally transform their societies. Regimes aggress against neighbors. Power is respected.
Yet the idea has taken hold in most Western governments that what is most important is image. If we are nice to our enemies, we will win them over. If we are popular, we will avoid trouble. If we apologize, we will be forgiven.
If we tell everyone we are weak, we will be pitied. If we sympathize with the underdog, even one that wants to be “overdog” and maul us to death, we will be noble and thus succeed.
In short, what we are seeing is the abandonment of realpolitik and in a real sense of the real world itself.
If a Canadian labor union or British teacher’s union (dominated by leftists) want to boycott Israel, or if newspapers write nasty articles about it, or if college professors want to teach slanted anti-Israel courses, that is not the principal threat.
Of course, the concern is that eventually Western governments, staffed by people so indoctrinated, will turn against Israel. Yet after all the op-eds are written, governments make decisions based a bit more on the real world. After a half-century in which the threat of pressure on Israel has been discussed daily, it has in practice not amounted to much. Or as Prof. Frédéric Encel put it in Le Monde: “Emotion and compassion is one thing, diplomacy is something else entirely.”
The real threat is not being unpopular in certain circles (check out US public opinion polls for a corrective there), i.e Iran, Syria, Hamas, Hizbullah, the Muslim Brotherhood and others of that ilk. Guess what? They are also the real threat to the West, too.
Golda Meir was right. Policy may be adjusted to reduce criticism but what’s need to survive the real material threats should not and will not be sacrificed.
The writer is director of the Global Research in International Affairs Center and editor of Middle East Review of International Affairs and Turkish Studies. He blogs at