In the wake of Barack Obama's trip to Israel, Republicans and Democrats
wasted no time tilting over the meaning of every word uttered by the
man whom Democrats will nominate for president this year.
But amid all of the partisan debate, one prominent analyst thought both
sides of that argument had it all wrong.
According to Nicholas D. Kristof, The New York Times op-ed columnist,
the problem wasn't whether or not Obama was supportive of Israel.
Notwithstanding the differences he might have with Republican John
McCain, it was Obama's recitation of many of the time-honored clichés
of pro-Israel rhetoric that was, in Kristof's view, unfortunate.
In his July 24 column "Tough Love for Israel?," which echoed "The Two
Israels," an earlier piece published on June 22, the Times' resident
human-rights advocate opined again that what Israel needs from the
United States is the sort of intervention that friends and family of an
alcoholic would employ: It must be stopped from destroying itself.
THE 'GOOD' AND THE 'BAD'
Kristof sees the Jewish state as a sort of schizophrenic country split
between its good and bad sides. In his formulation, the "good" Israel
is the country of
local human-rights groups and journalists who
sympathize with the Palestinians, and defend them against the nation's
security establishment in the courts and the media. The "bad" Israel is
composed of settlers who supposedly "steal land" from the Arabs, with
an army and government that abuses them with checkpoints and barriers
that divide their communities from those of Jews.
What Kristof wants is for American presidential candidates to stop
pandering to the "Israel lobby," and instead "clarify that the [Israel]
they support is not the oppressor that lets settlers steal land and
club women but the one that is a paragon of justice, decency, fairness
People like Kristof cannot be dismissed as Israel-haters, as some on
the Zionist right might like to do. Nor can Jewish groups like the
Israel Policy Forum, Americans for Peace Now and the new left-wing
lobbying group J Street be labeled as closet backers of Hamas. When it
comes to their support for Israel's right to exist, they deserve to be
taken at their word when they say they want only what's best for the
But good intentions notwithstanding, the point of this push for "tough
love" is support for a troubling campaign to force Israel to make more
unilateral concessions to the Palestinians, no matter what the actual
conditions on the ground would dictate as rational policy or what the
people of Israel think is prudent.
The goal of Kristof and the Jewish groups that seem to agree with him
is to splinter the bipartisan coalition that has remained Israel's
ace in the hole in the United States. They may not subscribe to every
chapter and verse of John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt's controversial
treatise The Israel Lobby, but they share the revulsion those two
authors have for the ability of the American Israel Public Affairs
Committee and its allies to rally Congress and the vast majority of the
American people to head off attempts to strong-arm Jerusalem.
The notion that any American ought to think themselves better qualified
than Israel's democratically elected government to decide matters of
life and death for that nation is, at best, a curious one.
But what makes this latest push to "save Israel from itself" truly
absurd is how divorced it is from the facts on the ground.
Israel has, after all, spent the last 15 years steadily retreating from
a maximalist position on territory and security issues. The Oslo
accords gave the Palestinians self government. Oslo collapsed due to a
Palestinian refusal to end terrorism or accept a state alongside
Israel, but three years ago, Israel withdrew every settler and soldier
from Gaza. Instead of peace, the Palestinians under the leadership of
the Hamas terrorist group E2 have answered with rockets, missiles and
The "moderate" Palestinian Authority, which Israel and the United
States still hopes to use as a negotiating partner, is itself
compromised by support for terror. But even if one takes its stand on
peace at face value, it is a weak, unpopular structure whose sway only
extends to those parts of the West Bank that remain effectively under
the control of the Israel Defense Force. It hasn't the will or the
ability to make peace.
Americans tempted to embrace the "tough love" thesis need to remember
that the overwhelming majority of Israelis are already prepared to hand
over most of the West Bank to a Palestinian state that will live in
peace with them. If there is a ever a reasonable chance for peace, they
will be the first to seize it. But Israelis know that under the current
circumstances, any land handed over will simply become yet another
Hamasistan terror base.
But none of that seems to matter to Kristof or the true believers in
the peace process. For them, the only obstacle remains the presence of
Jews in parts of the West Bank and in those areas in Jerusalem that
were occupied by Jordan prior to the city's unification in June 1967.
Indeed, Kristof used his column to chide those who rightly pointed out
that in the absence of Israeli sovereignty, Jews would (as was the
situation prior to June
1967) be unable to even visit holy places in
Jerusalem or Hebron. For him, Jews and even Christians have no such
right. The only thing that appears to be sacred in his view is the 1949
armistice line, which the late Abba Eban famously dismissed as
"Auschwitz" borders because they placed Arab armies and terrorists in
position to destroy the state.
Kristof acknowledges Israel's security barrier has stopped the flow of
suicide bombers. But in spite of the lives it has clearly saved, he
thinks it does more harm than good because it inconveniences
The columnist's preferred policy would be for Israel to negotiate "more
enthusiastically" with Syria (the current pace of talks to give back
the Golan Heights being too slow for his taste); talk with the Saudis
on the basis of their peace proposal, which is predicated on a
so-called Palestinian "right of return" (which means the end of a
Jewish state); expel Jews from those places that were Judenrein prior
to June 1967; and halt their anti-terror security checkpoints. And what
he wants is an American president who will try to force Israel for
its own good to do exactly that.
For the "tough love" crowd, only Israel has the ability to engender
peace. Palestinian intentions, and their culture of terror and hatred
for Israel and Jews, are mere details to be ignored.
It9s far from clear exactly what an Obama or McCain administration
would mean for Israel in the next four years. But the one thing that
friends of Israel should not hope for is a president who thinks he
understands things better than the Israelis themselves.
Unlike those who intervene with addicts to give them "tough love," it
is Kristof, and those Jewish groups who mimic his position, who are the
ones with a tenuous grip on reality.