America, France and Israel
Andrew Sullivan former editor of the New Republic, frequent contributor to the NY Times Magazine and the Sunday Times of London, wrote a great piece on the relationship between the United States, France, and Israel.
Titled "A Tale of Two Allies, America - and France and Israel", Sullivan shows why there's a lot of support for Israel today in the US and by the same token why there's so much dissatisfaction with France.
Being Israeli and French, and living in the United States, I fully agree with Mr. Sullivan: he touches on all of the right points.
"While Israel's battle against Islamic and Palestinian terrorism is regarded across Europe with dismay and disdain, large pluralities of Americans cheer the Zionists on"
"The real root of Americans' sympathy for Israel, I think, is a cultural one. Americans admire tenacity, democracy and a free society. They look at Israel and see a polity not unlike their own. There's a free press, a democratic system, a cantankerous civil society and a strong military. They admire the hard work that has built an amazing society from virtually nothing."
I copy the full article below.
A Tale of Two Allies
America - and France and Israel
May 5, 2002, The Sunday Times of London
In crises or periods of personal turmoil, you often find out who your friends are. And your enemies. That's why our friendships and relationships can change more profoundly under stress than in any other condition. And that goes for countries too.
I was thinking about this recently observing the coverage in the American media of two critical American allies: Israel and France. If you want an insight into the future of U.S. foreign policy, you could do worse than notice how attitudes toward these two countries have hardened in recent months. And in these relationships, the growing gap between Americans and Europeans is particular marked. While Israel's battle against Islamic and Palestinian terrorism is regarded across Europe with dismay and disdain, large pluralities of Americans cheer the Zionists on. And while France remains central to the European project, and its recent flirtation with the far right has alarmed other Europeans, Americans saw in le Pen mere confirmation of what many already believed: that France is an essentially untrustworthy, hypocritical repository of posers and bigots.
I'm not exaggerating. And this prejudice is even more striking when you recall that France is America's oldest ally. The capital city was designed by a Frenchman, L'Enfant, and the square across from the White House is named after LaFayette. In the War of Independence, France was America's key ally against the British. Both republics point to the Enlightenment as their founding influences, and up until President Kennedy, France was regarded as the centre of culture to which Americans still paid obeisance. But in the last few decades, distance from France has deepened into hostility not merely among American elites, but also among ordinary Americans. The Cold War worsened matters. De Gaulle's suspicion of the Anglo-American nexus led to natural tension. France's desire to use Europe as an anti-American counter-weight in world affairs didn't help either. More recently, the war on terror has exposed a deeper rift. French foreign minister Hubert Vedrine's belief that American policy was "simplistic" failed to get a respectful audience in Washington. For most Americans, when the French call something simplistic, it's a good sign it's the right thing to do.
The suspicion of the French is deepest among conservatives. The Washington Times, the conservative rival to the Post, said after le Pen's recent triumph in the first round of voting: ÒYou donÕt have to be an anti-Semite, a racist or even a jerk to enjoy the squirming this morning among our dear friends the French." "Everyone take a moment to cackle over how these people were so smug about the Florida recount," chimed in Jonah Goldberg at National Review. When the Weekly Standard had a reader contest for people to name a fourth country to be added to president Bush's "axis of evil," Libya, Syria and China made decent showings. But France won.
In almost two decades of living in the United States, I'm still amazed at the contempt most Americans privately hold for France. That doesn't mean a basic alliance with France is in question. But popular culture still tilts against Paris. Last weekend, the still-popular Saturday Night Live sketch comedy show ran a spoof tourism commercial for France. Here's the voice-over: "France, home to the world's greatest painters, chefs and anti-Semites. The French, cowardly yet opinionated, arrogant yet foul-smelling, anti-Israel, anti-American, and of course, as always, Jew-hating. Paris, the city of whores, dog feces on every corner, and effete men yelling anti-Semitic remarks at childern. The real creme de la creme of world culture. With all that's going on in the world, isn't it time we got back to hating ... the French?"
The contrast with Israel couldn't be starker. While most Europeans have experienced the horror of the last few weeks as grist for their hostility to the Jewish state, Americans have bonded deeply to their Israeli allies. A recent Gallup poll found that 47 percent of Americans sided with Israel in the current conflict, compared to a mere 13 percent with the Palestinians. (40 percent registered no preference). The more Americans tilt to the right, the more pronounced their pro-Israeli sympathies. But even among professed liberals, 45% favor the Israelis compared with 24% who back the Palestinians. And among the strongest supporters of Israel have been Democrats, such as Senators Dianne Feinstein and Joe Lieberman. Perhaps the most aggressively Zionist political magazine in Washington, The New Republic, tilts left and endorsed Al Gore in 2000. And last week, despite requests for silence from the administration, the House and Senate both passed by overwhelming margins statements of support for Israel.
Sceptics will say the following: this all points to the "strong pro-Israel lobby" in Washington and Jewish control of the American media. There's no question that American Jews do indeed have a strong presence in the media and in political funding. Good for them. But explaining most Americans' support for Israel in this paranoid (and near-bigoted) fashion misses the point. Support for Israel is not just among elites, and the strongest backing comes from Republicans who get almost no Jewish votes and far less Jewish campaign money than the Democrats. President Nixon - an anti-Semite in private - was a fierce defender of Israel. So was Ronald Reagan.
The real root of Americans' sympathy for Israel, I think, is a cultural one. Americans admire tenacity, democracy and a free society. They look at Israel and see a polity not unlike their own. There's a free press, a democratic system, a cantankerous civil society and a strong military. They admire the hard work that has built an amazing society from virtually nothing. When Americans look at the dictatorships, thugocracies and failed societies and economies of the neighboring Arab states, they feel distant and repulsed - especially since Islamist anti-Semitism is so naked. The newest factor in this bond is also the religious right. The Republicans were once the natural repository for country-club anti-Semites. But that cultural influence has waned dramatically -replaced by fervent support for Israel among many fundamentalist Christians, who back Israel's claim to the Holy Land for Biblical reasons. This evangelical influence has largely eclipsed the old elites', just as George W. Bush's strongly pro-Israel administration has supplanted his father's more neutral posture.
Above all, Americans, like all people, tend to like and support those who like and support them. Israel (and Britain, to a similar degree) can only gain from their proximity to the greatest super-power. This is not ultimately decided by elites, but by the people who vote for and endorse them. American support is not inevitable; and it can be withdrawn. If I were Jacques Chirac, or indeed any other European leader, I'd think about that lesson more deeply now than ever.
Posted by David Melle
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Recent Palestinian allegations about a massacre in the Jenin "refugee camp"
(in reality, a fortified terrorist base) were spread like bushfire by the
Western media, despite no corroborating evidence. So was Yasser Arafat's
poisonous charge, upon emerging from isolation in his compound, that Israel
was setting fire to the Church of the Nativity ? a transparent effort to
incite Christian rage against the Jews (maybe Arafat knew about Hitler's
success in setting fire to the Reichstag).
The ease with which Western media gave currency to such dubious "news"
illustrated once again how Western complicity helps the Arabs to spread
disinformation damaging to Israel's ? and the West's ? war against
The Arabs have successfully pilloried Israel in the court of public opinion
through the deft propagation of two big lies. Relying on the sketchy
historical knowledge of most people, and on the propensity of oft-repeated
lies to become accepted wisdom, Arab officials have fabricated a historical
narrative that has gained wide acceptance. It justifies Arab aggression,
even terror, as an understandable response to cruel Israeli "occupation"
and to the "stealing of Palestinian lands." The charges often stick, even
though they are based on falsehoods.
Since the second stage of Oslo was implemented in 1995, and most
Palestinian towns and villages were ceded to the control of Arafat's
Palestinian Authority, over 95 percent of the Palestinian Arab population
of the West Bank and Gaza have not been under physical Israeli occupation.
Yet amazingly, Arab spokesmen keep talking about their need to fight
Israeli occupation, and officials and the media seldom challenge them. It
seems like everyone forgot that in signing the 1992 Oslo accords, Israel
recognized Arafat's PLO as the official representative of the Palestinian
people. Arafat was brought back, with his henchmen, from exile in Tunisia
and given control of territories that Israel occupied in the defensive 1967
war ? areas that never belonged to any Palestinian entity.
In return for self-government, the Palestinians undertook to revoke parts
of their national covenant that called for Israel's destruction, and never
again to resort to violence. These pledges were constantly violated the
moment the Israeli occupation was removed.
Still, Israel, exhausted by incessant Arab attacks, and eager for peace,
continued implementing the Oslo agreements ? including the ceding of
territory and relinquishing control over their population. Since Oslo 2,
the Palestinians have enjoyed self-rule of sorts. We say "of sorts," not
because of the repeated incursions Israel had to make to thwart suicide
bombing attacks, but because rule by Arafat's Palestinian Authority was not
really "self-determination." The election by which Arafat was elected with
an over 90 percent majority, Bolshevik style, was rather questionable and
was never repeated again.
In fact, the "Authority" Arafat has established is even more repressive
than many of the 21 dictatorships governing all other Arab states. His
Tunisian henchmen did what they knew best. They immediately established a
rule of terror, brooking no opposition, and wrested control from the local
leadership. They systematically violated the Palestinians' most rudimentary
human rights, engaging in extortion, kidnap, torture, and summary
execution. They robbed the inhabitants of their livelihood, creating such
mayhem that the Palestinian standard of living was cut by half and
unemployment rose to over 60 percent. Every resource was exploited to wage
a war against Israel, including considerable funds earmarked by the EU and
U.S. as aid for the refugees.
Arafat's war disrupted trade with Israel and the employment there of most
Palestinian labor ? both sources of increasing Palestinian wealth. A
nascent Palestinian civil society was destroyed, enabling the PLO to
radicalize an increasingly impoverished population, and to transform their
misery into pathological hatred for Israel.
Yes, the Palestinians are right in feeling under occupation and oppressed.
But they are mistaken to think it is by Israel.
The audacious lie about the occupation is based, of course, on a bigger,
more basic falsehood: namely, that Israel stole "Palestinian Arab lands"
and that the PLO is fighting for the restitution of these illegally
"occupied lands," especially those ostensibly usurped for Israeli
"settlements" (which occupy, in fact, less than three percent of the West
Bank's area, and were built on empty government-owned land).
Palestinian propagandists insist that contemporary Jews are not descended
from Biblical Jews, and have usurped "Palestinian Arab lands" in three
stages. They first allegedly penetrated Palestine in the late 18th century,
settling it by stealth under imperial colonialist protection. Then in 1948,
after the U.N. partition, they took more land by force, displacing an
indigenous Palestinian Arab population fighting for self-determination; and
finally, in the 1967 Six-Day War, Israel aggressively expanded, occupying
the "West Bank" and the Gaza Strip and holding its Palestinian inhabitants
in bondage, as they have ever since.
The disputed territories, together with the territories that are now Israel
and Jordan, were originally (in Biblical and post-Biblical times) Jewish
kingdoms, and for most of the last seven centuries part of the Ottoman
Empire. After the defeat and disintegration of the Ottoman Empire in the
wake of the First World War, the League of Nations divided most of its
former possessions in the 1922 peace conference. The Arabs were granted
rights to most of the formerly Turkish-controlled lands, to an area that
was 500 times larger in size than the small area reserved for a Jewish
homeland in Palestine. The British received an international mandate over
Palestine because they undertook to establish a Jewish national home there,
which the League considered as an act of "restoration" of ancient Jewish
rights to the land ? rights that outweighed any Arab claims based on later
conquest and residence.
At first, the Arab representatives to the Versailles conference gladly
accepted this division. It gave them control over vast areas lost centuries
ago, without requiring them to sacrifice hundreds of thousands of soldiers,
as the Allies had, to liberate these lands from Turkish dominion. They did
not then consider the tiny sliver of South Syrian wasteland, known to Jews
as Judea and Samaria and to the Europeans as the Holy Land, of any
significance, politically or religiously, and were happy to give it up in
exchange for what they so surprisingly gained. The Emir Faisal, who
represented the Arabs, signed a draft agreement with the Zionist movement,
welcoming the Jews back to their homeland and pledging cooperation.
So the disputed territories of the West Bank and the Gaza strip were never
"Palestinian lands" ? neither as national patrimony nor as private
property. In fact, until the institution of the British mandate, the Holy
Land never had a separate political identity or a distinct people
inhabiting it. It was a neglected province of South Syria, whose few and
destitute Arab inhabitants considered themselves South Syrians. As Bernard
Lewis notes, "From the end of the Jewish state in antiquity to the
beginning of British rule, the area now designated by the name Palestine
was not a country and had no frontiers, only administrative boundaries?
within a larger entity" of Syria.
Indeed, to date, 93 percent of the land in what was the British Mandate ?
including the lands of the West Bank ? are still government-owned. They
were so despoiled, malaria-infected, and sparsely populated that no private
owners evinced any interest in owning them, so they were kept by the sultan
and then inherited by the British mandate in safekeeping for the Jews.
On a visit to the Ottoman-controlled Holy Land in 1860, Mark Twain
described it as "the prince of desolation." "The hills are barren? the
valleys unsightly deserts? peopled by swarms of beggars struck with ghastly
sores and malformations? Palestine sits in sackcloth and ashes? only the
music of angels could charm its shrubs and flowers again into life."
Other writers and artists visiting the Holy Land (chiefly from Britain and
Germany) ? as well as geographers, archeologists, and cartographers ? were
equally stunned by its utter desolation.
It was only toward the end of the 18th century, when a growing stream of
Jewish immigrants rehabilitated the land ? draining swamps, reclaiming
deserts, and controlling the diseases (chiefly malaria) ? that a decimated
Arab population began increasing. The resuscitation of the land by the Jews
and the economic opportunity they created brought an influx of Arab
immigrants from dirt-poor neighboring Arab states to swell the number of
Arabs in Palestine, so that by the turn of the century there were about
250,000 Arab Muslims and 150,00 Jews living there. 100,000 Christians and
It was in fact British colonial machinations that turned initial Arab
acceptance of a Jewish homeland in British-protected Palestine into
unmitigated and disastrous hostility. British behavior in the Middle East
in general, and in Palestine in particular, was common colonial practice:
divide and rule. In India, it enabled the British to subdue the
subcontinent with few troops by pitting hostile segments of the indigenous
population against each other. They employed this strategy in Palestine
Indeed, their naming the mandate over the Holy Land "Palestine," rather
than the land of Israel, was a deliberate effort to obliterate the Jewish
connection to the land by calling it by its Roman name. They also, in 1923,
unilaterally removed from the original mandatory area all the land east of
the Jordan River-75 percent of the territory promised to the Jews ? and
gave it to the Emir Abdullah of Arabia, Faisal's brother, in compensation
to the Hashemite family for other broken promises. They did so despite
objections from the League of Nations. The small area that had been
designated as a home for the Jews was thus reduced to a mere sliver.
The British helped make hostility to Zionism the defining issue of local
Arab politics, and assisted in its exploitation as a lethal weapon in
bloody Arab inter-clan struggles for dominance. Muslim clerics and Arab
effendis exploited hostility against the Jews, always convenient
scapegoats, to deflect the rage of their destitute, exploited people.
The British appointed an extremely radical upstart politician, Hajj Amin
al-Hussieni, with a record of violence and incitement, as chief mufti of
Jerusalem. They gave him the authority of a spiritual leader to the Arabs,
and control of the considerable funds and properties managed by Muslim
religious trusts. The mufti promptly proceeded to exploit these resources
for his nefarious campaign against the Jews and against his Arab opponents
? much as Arafat does today.
The mufti was, in fact, the originator of the murderous religious
incitement used so effectively today by Arafat. Since the beginning of the
British mandate in 1920, he used mosques, schools, and charitable
associations to mount a racist campaign against the Jews, accusing them of
betraying the Prophet Mohammed and of trying to defile and destroy Islamic
holy places. The incitement resulted in periodic outbreaks of violence
which culminated in several massacres and the eviction of Jews from
Arab-dominated areas ? notably in Hebron, where the Jews, who had lived
there for centuries, were butchered by their Arab neighbors after the mufti
spread a rumor through the preachers in the mosques that the Jews were
conquering and defiling the El-Aksa Mosque.
The British not only failed to stop the carnage, but also arrested any Jew
who bore arms in defense. British colonial officials then exploited Arab
rage as an excuse to put more and more restrictions on Jewish immigration
to Palestine and land purchase. They reneged, in fact, on their obligation
to establish a Jewish national home. They even illegally blocked the
entrance of Jews who were desperately trying to escape Europe. They did so
even when the danger to Jewish life became obvious, helping Hitler to trap
and kill many Jews.
The mufti accompanied his 1936-39 war against the Jews with a campaign of
terror against his Arab opponents (again, just like Arafat). His henchmen
assassinated not only every political rival that contemplated some sort of
accommodation, but also practically anyone who could even potentially
become a political rival. Hundreds of Arabs were liquidated, a large part
of the Palestinian elites. Many more were forced to flee.
It was a tragedy from which the Palestinians, who were developing by then a
hateful, xenophobic nationalism, never recovered. It explains why to date,
the Palestinian, many of whom are talented, hard-working people, have been
unable to build a civil society with legitimate political institutions. It
was the loss and demoralization of their leadership that prevented the
Palestinian Arabs from establishing a state in 1948. That in turn
facilitated the takeover of their political life by the radical and
criminal elements that have brought on them repeated catastrophes.
In 1948, the British gave up the mandate and the U.N. partitioned
Palestine, offering the Jews only a sliver of the area originally
designated as a Jewish national home. Partition arbitrarily deprived the
Jews of their internationally sanctioned legal rights to all of Palestine,
including what is now the kingdom of Jordan. Nevertheless, Israel accepted
The Palestinians, and the Arab states supporting them, refused to accept
partition and launched a war of annihilation against Israel. The British
left on May 15, 1948, doing everything they could to render the Jews
defenseless before the onslaught of six Arab armies ? including an Arab
legion led by British officers which put siege to Jerusalem and almost
starved its population. Against all odds, and at great cost (every ninth
Israeli was a casualty of the war), Israel repulsed the Arab attacks and
established itself within the 1949 armistice lines. Jordan unilaterally
annexed the remaining heartland territories designated for a Palestinian
state, and Egypt took control of the Gaza Strip. The Palestinians never
protested ? perhaps because they considered Jordan their own, since the
majority of its inhabitants were Palestinians.
Before Israel ejected Jordan from the "West Bank" and Egypt from the Gaza
Strip, in 1967, Palestinians lived for almost two decades under a very
repressive Jordanian occupation and under brutal Egyptian military rule in
the Gaza Strip ? in utter destitution and with no rights at all. Gaza was,
in effect, a large Egyptian prison camp. Yet they did not protest. Their
anger was skillfully directed against Israel, so that they wished it
destroyed even though it did not then occupy "their land" or hold them
captive. Nor did any of their friends who today pretend to defend their
right for self-determination raise then even a squeak