In recent days, a story spread that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had referred to White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel and Obama adviser David Axelrod as "self-hating Jews." Asked about this by Wolf Blitzer on CNN, Netanyahu denied the allegations. But the rumor offered a glimpse into the unseemly side of the politics of supporting Israel, where accusations of Jewish self-hatred sometimes mingle with accusations of war crimes.
It is hard to believe that anyone could question Emanuel's dedication to Israel or characterize him as being anything other than a Zionist. By now, most everyone knows that Emanuel's father served in the Irgun, an Israeli paramilitary outfit, whose alumni include the late Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin.
And Emanuel himself volunteered in a non-combat role in the Israeli Army.
I know a little something about this too, having participated in an ulpan (Hebrew immersion) on a kibbutz as well as in several Israeli Army programs for non-Israeli citizens. While some of these experiences turned out better for me than others, they all illuminated the composition of Israel supporters.
Of the Americans and foreigners who go to Israel and spend time on kibbutzim, most have just graduated from high school, dropped out of college or, in some cases, gotten into trouble with the law in their native countries. Historically, there were also those fleeing persecution or poverty, which isn't so typical today when many participants in activities like Taglit/Birthright Israel come from wealthy U.S. families. Few of these visitors would be considered idealists. Rather, a significant percentage of them seek to rehabilitate themselves in a country that will pay much of their expenses if they become friends or citizens.
The IDF supporters are a bit different. They tend to be older, more resolutely Zionistic and, from a political point of view, more to the right. That is true whether the participants are religious or secular, Christian or Jewish. But there are also liberal Zionists who revere the IDF, people who believe that Jews have a right to a homeland but also believe that settlement activity does not help matters.
I tend to fall into that category. On the kibbutz, I was in the majority; on the army bases, I was in the minority.
I favor a land-for-peace, two-state solution along the lines of that proposed by former Israeli Prime Minister, now Defense Minister Ehud Barak (and rejected by then-Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat), in the waning days of the Clinton administration. In such a scenario, Israel would likely yield 95% or so of the West Bank. As for Jerusalem, current Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has said that the Palestinians don't necessarily mean the Old City of Jerusalem when they discuss having Jerusalem as their capital.
All of that sounds reasonable to me. Still, I sometimes wonder why Israel is held to a higher standard than any other country in the world. Many people forget that the idea of a two-state solution did not begin last year.
In 1948, when the U.N. mandate ended, Jews and Palestinians were both supposed to have their own homelands. It is important to remember that Israel would have had an even svelter piece of land than it now has. There would have been just an access road connecting Jerusalem to the coastal plain. Yet that was fine to the Israelis.
It was not, however, acceptable to the Palestinians or the neighboring Arab countries, which attacked Israel and tried to destroy the embryonic Jewish nation.
What other country has been attacked, as Israel was in 1948 and in numerous wars since, went on to win the wars and then was forced to give up the land it won?
It goes without saying that the United States will never return territories to the Native Americans, the Mexicans and the British. Like the Israelis, we Americans conquered states such as Texas and California in wars, but, unlike Israel, we initiated some of those wars.
Yes, I know, times were different back then. That was before the age of 24-hour cable news coverage, the Internet and the U.N., the world body that once issued a "Zionism Is Racism" resolution.
One can understand why Netanyahu in his speech on Sept. 24 before the General Assembly decried the body for providing a forum for Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad who on Sept. 23 once again denied the Holocaust and threatened Israel.
The MIT-educated Netanyahu, whose diction may be as good as that of any U.S. politician, echoed the language of Joseph Welch at the Army/McCarthy hearings. Netanyahu said to those at the U.N. who did not walk out on Ahmadinejad, "Have you no shame? Have you no decency?"
Netanyahu was right, but so was U.S. President Barack Obama in his recent decision to remove the prospect of a missile shield in the Czech Republic and Poland. His policy change has already produced dividends from the Russians. Moscow criticized Tehran for denying the Holocaust and opened the door to sanctions against Iran if it continues to pursue nuclear weapons.
Placing SM-3 interceptors in the Mediterranean, as the Obama administration will now do, gives us a greater ability to protect Israel from any missile strikes. That may not stop Iran from funding Hezbollah and Hamas, but it could provide some leverage for the U.S. when it begins nuclear talks with Iran in October.
By thawing U.S. relations with Russia, following a chill in the latter years of the Bush administration, Obama and his advisers like Axelrod and Emanuel, as well as Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and the rest of the national security and military team, are proving to be geopolitical strategists of a high order. They have not only improved ties with Moscow; they have also improved the climate for peace in the Middle East.
Russia, which has significant economic dealings with Iran, can potentially influence Tehran with carrots and sticks unavailable to the U.S.
Of course, that is easier said than done, considering that Iran is a rogue regime, which killed its own people in the streets following its recent disputed election.
The only positive development resulting from such fraud and destruction is that the world is coalescing against Iran. On Sept. 25, French, British and U.S. intelligence disclosed that Iran has been secretly enriching uranium in a second location, contravening U.N. resolutions.
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown called the breach a "line in the sand." The French, Germans, Russians and Chinese all either criticized Iran or advised it to cooperate with international inspectors, which means that any possible sanctions against Tehran will have a stronger chance of being efficacious. If the world unites in this fashion, that could deter Iran from threatening Israel.
All of which leads me to believe that Israelis and Palestinians might at last reach a two-state solution, something that could have happened in 1948, when Rahm Emanuel's father was fighting for the independence of the Jewish nation.
If Emanuel and Axelrod are "self-hating Jews," then I'll take more of them. They are guiding Barack Obama, whose first name means "lightning" in Hebrew and is close etymologically to the Hebrew word for "blessed," to a historic peace in the Middle East and the world.