Sunday, October 25, 2009

Emmanuel Navon: Jew Boy Street

Courtesy: Emmanuel Navon

In one of the many phone calls that Golda Meir made to Henry Kissinger during the Yom Kippur War, she thought it would be a good idea to pull the Jewish emotional trick in order to speed up the urgently needed arms delivery. Kissinger got quite annoyed. "Let me explain something to you, Golda" he said. "I am, first and foremost, an American. Then I am a Secretary of State. And only after that am I a Jew." Unimpressed, Golda replied with the aplomb and wit of a Jewish mother: "It's OK, Henry. In Hebrew, we read from right to left."

Eventually, Henry did deliver the goods, but he also held Israel back toward the end of the war. He didn't want the Soviets to step in and, mostly, he didn't want Israel to humiliate Sadat. The Egyptian leader, Kissinger correctly figured, would give up on the Russians if he was convinced that only America could deliver Sinai to a Soviet-weaned Egypt.

When Kissinger landed in Israel during his "shuttle diplomacy," some Israeli demonstrators shouted at him "Jew Boy!" Then Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was embarrassed about this name-calling, but he eventually gave in to Kissinger's arm-twisting by pulling out of the Suez Canal's eastern shore. Sadat got his down payment and didn't need more explanations. Then came Jimmy Carter. He started talking about the need to associate the Soviets to the "Middle East peace process." Sadat couldn't believe it. "I kicked the Russians out of the door and Carter wants to snick them in from the window!" he exclaimed. Hence Sadat's decision to preempt Carter's mischief by dramatically announcing that he was willing to negotiate directly with Israel and to come to Jerusalem.

Carter coerced Begin into withdrawing from all of Sinai and into dismantling all Israeli settlements there. To some, this proves that only America can force Israel into making peace and, in effect, save Israel from itself. This theory, however, misunderstands the difference between what Kissinger and Carter had in mind.

For Kissinger, the Soviet Union was an enemy to be defeated. In the Middle East, that meant pulling the largest Arab country out the Soviet rim, and preserving "our son of a bitch" in Iran. For Carter, by contrast, the Soviets and their Middle-East clients needed to be appeased by addressing their demands –first and foremost when it came to Israel. But forcing Israel to meet its enemies' demands and dropping the Shah did not temper Soviet expansionism and Muslim radicalism. Indeed, the last year of Carter's presidency witnessed, almost simultaneously, the signing of a peace agreement between Israel and Egypt, the Islamic coup in Iran, and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan (not to mention the Sandinista coup in Nicaragua).

According to the "linkage" theory, America will be able to pull itself out of Iraq and sweet-talk the Iranians into dropping their nuclear ambitions only after the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is resolved. Georges Soros, for example, wrote in his 2007 manifesto On Israel, America and AIPAC that "Iraq is largely beyond our control; but if we succeeded in settling the Palestinian problem we would be in a much better position to engage in negotiations with Iran and extricate ourselves from Iraq." Recent history proves otherwise. Khomeini seized power in Teheran and Saddam Hussein built a nuclear plant (thanks to France, in both cases) after Israel and Egypt signed the Camp David accords under American pressure. The Camp David accords did not only set the framework for a bilateral Israeli-Egyptian peace agreement but also for a solution to the Palestinian problem.

The fact that America is not winning in Afghanistan and is being outsmarted by Iran has nothing to do with Israel. When America is resolute and gives itself the means to win, it does. At the end of 2006, the war in Iraq seemed lost. President Bush gambled one last time by ordering a surge of troops. It worked. It is thanks to the surge's success that President Obama was able to order a gradual troop withdrawal from Iraq. Today, it is in Afghanistan, not in Iraq, that the United States is loosing control. According to General Stanley McChrystal, the US commander in Afghanistan, a surge is badly needed in Afghanistan to avoid a humiliating defeat for NATO. President Obama is wavering.

Sending more troops to Afghanistan is harder than delivering articulate speeches on why peace is better than war. Easier still is to adopt George Soros' mistaken "linkage theory" that being tough on Israel shall alleviate America's Middle East headaches.

J Street's website claims that "Georges Soros did not found J Street" and that Soros "publicly stated his decision not to be engaged in J Street when it was launched." It does not say that Soros was not engaged in J Street before it was launched. Wikipedia's entry on J Street states that "the initial support of J Street came from multi-billionaire George Soros, who for a brief time was associated with the organization. Soros pulled out before the initial launch, so as not to negatively affect the group."

Today's opening of J Street's conference in Washington was preceded by many accusations and very little debate on substance. There are clearly different ways of approaching the Middle East's challenges. J Street's approach has the merit of being clear, even though it has failed in the past. Instead of trying to find out the exact number of J Street's Arab donors, or of pointing out to the correct fact that the Israeli speakers at J Street's conference are mostly political has-beens whose ideas have been defeated by facts and rejected by voters, Israeli policy makers and commentators should engage in an easily winnable debate. Exposing the fallacy of most of J Street's assumptions is no rocket science. Let's do that instead of debasing ourselves with the "Jew Boy" name-calling.

After all, those who called Kissinger a "Jew Boy" three decades ago probably miss him today.