By David Isaac
In his Jerusalem Post column “Surrendering to Pressure” (April 11, 1986), Shmuel Katz wrote: “Surrender on vital issues to pressure – or the fear of pressure – has been a central feature in the behaviour of Israeli governments, from Labour to Likud. The examples could fill a bulky doctorate thesis; and each surrender has been followed by the unabashed pretence that nothing important had been sacrificed.”
Shmuel Katz frequently observed that Israel’s leaders often showed themselves to be unworthy of the people they led, who were far more resilient in character. Unfortunately, two events last month – one large, one small – demonstrate that Israel’s leadership still hasn’t found its backbone.
In both cases, Israel’s government did the right thing at the start, only to buckle as pressure was brought to bear. The first example is Noam Chomsky. Israel quite rightly prevented this moral invertebrate from entering via Jordan.
As Edward Alexander and Paul Bogdanor document in their book, The Jewish Divide Over Israel, “The central theme of Chomsky’s anti-Zionist propaganda – the idee fixe that underlies all his books, articles, speeches, and interviews on the subject – is that the Jewish State must cease to exist.” Yet, Israel back-tracked the very next day, calling the decision to stop Chomsky an error.
The second example regards the far more serious flotilla. When Israel’s raid to stop a fleet of ships from running its Gaza blockade went awry, Israeli spokesmen defended Israel’s actions as necessary, well within its rights and in keeping with international law. Prime Minister Netanyahu, during his press conference, came up with the memorable sound-bite, “This was no love boat.”
It appeared that Israel, despite the mounting pressure – or more accurately, the unhinged and madly disproportionate reaction of the world – would hold firm. It took less than a week for the international pummeling to soften Israel up, as the Wall Street Journal revealed in its front page headline “Israel Explores Easing Its Blockade of Gaza” on June 4th, a mere four days after the event.
The Wall Street Journal article explained that under mounting pressure, and with news that a dual Turkish-American citizen was killed, Israeli officials were reviewing their Gaza policy and would look for ways to make it easier for humanitarian goods to enter Gaza.* Israel is also considering allowing foreign observers to sit in on its investigation panel. From the article, one is left with the impression that a big factor in Israel’s change was U.S. pressure.
“Protecting the welfare of American citizens is a fundamental governmental responsibility and one that we take very seriously,” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was quoted as saying. Never mind that the American citizen in question left the U.S. for Turkey when he was two-years-old and was probably as culturally American as a piece of baklava.
What would Shmuel say? One of the refreshing things about Shmuel’s writings is that he did more than just analyze a situation – he nearly always recommended a course of action. Given the dangerous penchant of this administration to pressure Israel, he likely would have offered the same prescription he did in “Surrendering to Pressure,” in which he called for the American Jewish community to put pressure on the U.S. government to ease up on the Jewish State.
Weakness of character in the Israeli government increases the responsibility of the American Jewish community to be supportive of Israel. Administration pressures can be countered. There is a tremendous body of support for Israel in the American political world. It stems from the perception that the U.S. and Israel share not only common values, but also common interests. …
Surely the role of the U.S. Jewish leaders is clearly indicated. … They must take direct issue with the administration on the subject of the bullying of Israel. They must assert their refusal to have their intelligence insulted, and to have their hands tied…
This demands a change in their policy – of pretending once Israel has given in, that “if Israel agrees, who are we to interfere?” If they recognize an obligation to stand up for the security of Israel, they should protest not only against the arms deal but also against Washington’s policy of “twisting Israel’s arm” to acquiesce in measures inimical to its security.
Such a bold move will also add heart to Israel’s political friends; and give direction to an all-too-often bewildered Jewish community.
That “administration pressures can be countered” has already been proven true with this administration. Jewish congressmen, feeling the heat from their constituents, recently sent a letter to the administration to ease up on its criticism of Israel, which led to a meeting with the president.
This pressure needs to be applied doubly by American Jewish organizations, whose responsibility is the Jewish community as a whole. This administration must be made to understand that its misguided Mideast policy is not only inimical to U.S. interests, but risks losing large Jewish financial and electoral support.
* Not only do these goods maintain Hamas in power, but Hamas is already getting all the aid it wants. The Gaza Strip is flooded with merchandise. As Jonathan D. Halevi reports, “Given the abundance of supply, the price of diesel fuel and gasoline, delivered to Gaza through pipes from Egypt, is half that of the price in Israel.”