May 2, 2002
The Best Defense: U.S.A.
The Jewish world is trembling. Ask American Jews who would ordinarily be visiting Israel. Ask college students who want to spend a year in Jerusalem, or out-of-business hotel owners in Tel Aviv. Ask the average Israeli who hesitates when entering a cafe, stepping on a bus or visiting a mall. Ask the one in 10 Israeli citizens currently out of work. Ask the Argentine Jew who might otherwise move to Israel but prefers to stay put. Or the French Jew whose synagogue has been bombed, while a rabid anti-Semite finishes second in a presidential election.
For the first time in decades, people are beginning to talk seriously about Israel's ability to survive. Not coincidentally, for the first time since the collapse of the Soviet Union, people are worried about genuine anti-Semitism. But the hatred is spewing from the West, not the East, reviving stark images of the 1930s.
The natural response of most American Jews in this time of crisis is to rally to Israel's defense. But the best defense of Israel may ultimately be our support for a credible and productive U.S. role in the Middle East, one that will only benefit Israel's security interests.
As the leaders of an American population that strongly supports Israel, how will we enable President Bush to define America's role as a mediator? Some in the American Jewish community have reacted negatively to Bush's recent diplomatic initiative. Many see a divine injustice in offering the Palestinians anything when all they have offered is violence. Critics feel the president is hypocritically rewarding terrorism, a move that will ultimately sacrifice Israeli security. They argue that Yasser Arafat and the Palestinian Authority, like Osama bin Laden and the Taliban, must be crushed through military force.
But following the Afghanistan model will not work to Israel's benefit. While Afghanistan harbored international terrorists that waged war on the West, the Palestinian territories are home to an entire people whose political status is still undecided. That is why every attempt to further isolate Arafat through force only makes him stronger. In contrast, only a small minority in Afghanistan mourned Bin Laden's defeat.
Bush realizes that Israel cannot win this war the same way America won in Afghanistan. Even those who support military activity against the Palestinians admit there is no military solution to the conflict. Simply put, tanks and helicopters cannot permanently defeat suicide bombs.
The relative pause in the weeks following Operation Defensive Shield should fool no one. Terror may have been delayed, but only a political solution will put an end to the problem.
Despite this dismal reality, some have no appetite for the diplomatic horizons Bush seeks to offer. They spoke clearly at the April 15 Israel solidarity rally, when the representative of the administration, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, was nearly booed off the platform for voicing sympathies with ordinary Palestinians.
Bush's choice to send Wolfowitz, both a staunch Israel supporter and a leading advocate of action against Iraq, reflected the unique foreign policy dilemma now facing the White House. At both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue, sympathy for Israel is unequivocal; no one questions Bush's commitment to the security of America's most important Middle East ally. But the entire Arab world is ablaze in opposition to current Israeli policies regarding the territories, and America simply cannot ignore the threat posed to our key Arab allies.
The fall of these friendly regimes to hostile fundamentalists would mean the end of even a modicum of stability in the Middle East. It would certainly jeopardize Israel if hostile regimes develop weapons of mass destruction amid intensified regional turmoil. Furthermore, any plans for regime change in Iraq would be shelved indefinitely. As the crisis continues, the only winner is Saddam Hussein, who continues to openly sponsor suicide terror and enjoys each day the United States is diverted by an angry Arab world.
These are the scariest times Jews have seen in decades. There may be no solution for an ageless anti-Semitism, but there is one way to secure an Israeli future free of Palestinian terrorism -- enabling President Bush to lead the parties to a political agreement. As the president proved in leading both sides to a resolution of the impasse in Ramallah, negotiations are still possible. They do not necessitate a capitulation to terror, nor will they entail sacrificing Israeli security. Returning to negotiating means acknowledging that a purely military approach to the Palestinians will condemn the region to eternal conflict, and sentence world Jewry to never-ending fear.
The best hope for avoiding disaster, and for true Israeli security, is an active and credible role for the United States in a political process. In its moment of fear and anxiety, the American Jewish community can enable progress by lending its support to the president in his current efforts. Indeed, we should be encouraging the United States to take a more active role, not discouraging U.S. diplomatic efforts that will benefit the state of Israel.