To the Editor:
Norman Podhoretz is quite right in his “Israel: A Lamentation From the Future” [March]. There is a division within Israel that has spilled over into the Diaspora, affecting at least those of us who care deeply about Israel. But this has less to do with the political Left and the intellectuals (read “leftist intellectuals”) whom Mr. Podhoretz excoriates than with two visions of Israel that have been in conflict since the 1930’s. The struggle between the Revisionist disciples of Ze’ev Jabotinsky and the Zionist followers of Chaim Weizmann and David Ben-Gurion reemerged twenty years after Israel’s independence and its end is not in sight.
One might have supposed that Israel’s acceptance in 1948 of two political entities west of the Jordan River, one Jewish, the other Arab, would have ended the matter. Although then, as now, this decision was anathema to the Revisionists, Ben-Gurion had the votes and so it was that Israel came into being without laying claim to the Greater Israel coveted by the Revisionists. The matter would have ended there had it not been for King Hussein’s folly in joining Egypt’s President Gamal Abdel Nasser in the Six-Day War of 1967 which resulted in Israel’s occupying the West Bank. This gave new life to the Revisionists, at that time led by Menachem Begin and his Herut party. Soon thereafter the young members of Rabbi Moshe Levinger’s Gush Emunim movement started building settlements on the West Bank, not in furtherance of Israel’s security but rather to make a statement about the right of Jews to live anywhere in Eretz Yisrael. These settlements, mostly illegal, were later sanctioned when Mr. Begin came to power in 1977.
Mr. Podhoretz suggests that those who disagree with the Revisionists have less of a commitment to the permanence of Israel and are operating at least in part out of some snobbish impulse or out of resentment of the increased political power of the Sephardim and the Orthodox. But the political differences cannot be so neatly compartmentalized. There are Orthodox rabbis and Sephardi leaders who favor Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank and Gaza, including Rabbi M.E. Shach, whose Degel Hatorah party has two seats in the Knesset, and Moroccan-born Eli Dayan, the mayor of Ashkelon, situated minutes from Gaza.
Nowhere does Mr. Podhoretz answer the argument he so blithely belittles that Israel cannot hold on to the West Bank and Gaza indefinitely and remain both Jewish and democratic. Israel has delegitimized Meir Kahane’s Kach party for preaching the expulsion of the Arabs from the territories. If this is no longer an acceptable alternative, what solution other than a political one, meaning territory for peace, does Mr. Podhoretz suggest? The formula of territory for peace is not the peace plan of the Labor party alone. The government of Israel, including members of the National Religious party, agreed to this formula in voting for UN Resolution 242. Ten years later the government of Israel (headed by Menachem Begin) reaffirmed its commitment to the same prescription for peace in the Camp David accords, this time as part of the framework for determining the future political status of the West Bank and Gaza.
Mr. Podhoretz argues that Israel’s intellectuals on the Left have increasingly distanced themselves from the majority of the Israeli people, meaning the Sephardim and the Orthodox. This is a familiar argument of those on the Right such as Allan Bloom and Paul Johnson, who take their cue from Martin Heidegger’s condemnation of Socrates’ “contemptuous and insolent distancing of himself from the Athenian people. . . .” Regrettably, Heidegger used this same argument as his rationale for casting his lot with the Nazis, the legitimate representatives of the “volk.” Moreover, now that I. F. Stone of the far Left in his recent book The Trial of Socrates has joined in condemning Socrates’ class snobbery, Heidegger’s argument no longer belongs exclusively to the Right. The factual premise for Mr. Podhoretz’s argument also is missing. The polls consistently show that a majority of Israelis favors Israel’s talking to the PLO if it keeps its promise to cease terrorism.
In all likelihood, the issue that Mr. Podhoretz dwells upon will be decided not on the basis of ideology—this division will persist after the political status of the West Bank and Gaza is determined—but on Israel’s security needs. Here is where Mr. Podhoretz lets us down. Just as he does not explain why a political solution is not preferable to continued Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, he also does not explain how the existence of an independent Palestinian state west of the Jordan River will threaten Israel’s security more than, let us say, a Jordanian political presence favored by Israel’s Labor party and some leaders of the Right, including, so it seems, Foreign Minister Moshe Arens, who in a recent address to the American Jewish Committee’s Board of Governors in Jerusalem spoke about the need to bring Jordan back to the negotiations. As a result, the reader is left with no choice but to accept Mr. Podhoretz’s military judgment on an issue that has a long list of respected Israeli generals on the other side.
The fact is that American Jews have little, if anything, worthwhile to contribute to the security issue facing Israel today on the West Bank and Gaza. The less said from the Diaspora, the better. The issue will be decided the only place it can be, in Israel, through the Israeli political system. In the meantime, those calling for one solution or another from a distance of 6,000 miles are a little like John Wayne, who was a hero only to people who confused the movies with real life where people pay for their mistakes. The same goes for those who rush to embrace Yasir Arafat; for the Grand Rabbi of Lubavitch, Menachem Mendel Schneerson, who from his headquarters in Brooklyn calls on Israel not to surrender one inch of Eretz Yisrael; and for the editor of COMMENTARY, who, in his jeremiad, suggests to the world that the permanence of Israel is debatable.
At the end of his article Mr. Podhoretz concludes that the blood “of complicity [for the destruction of Israel] is on the hands of almost everyone in the world—on the Left but also on the Right and the Center. . . .” This does not leave many blameless. Israel is a small country that depends for survival on support outside Israel from the Left; Center, and Right, particularly in the United States. To attack any one of these groups risks losing important support for Israel; to attack all three has the potential of reducing Israel’s supporters to the irreducible minimum, namely, Norman Podhoretz.
Alfred H. Moses
To the Editor:
Norman Podhoretz’s nightmare must have been spellbinding for COMMENTARY readers. If it caused one or another of them a sleepless night, that may be considered salutary. People should worry about Israel. . . .
Mr. Podhoretz looks at the present from the future. . . . Leaving this gimmick aside, his point is that Israel cannot survive the establishment of “Palestine” on the West Bank and in Gaza. Had he stated this in a straightforward article, his “Lamentation” would have been one more in an ongoing controversy. Instead, he finesses the requirement to prove his prophecy of doom. Was that because he wanted to spare us the gruesome details? Or did he want us to take his conclusion for granted?
I for one do not. I do not cherish any more than Mr. Podhoretz does the idea of having “Palestine” as Israel’s neighbor. But this would not be the end of Israel. (In 1948, let us recall, Israel would have gladly accepted a considerably larger “Palestine.”) Nor would I buy a used car from Yasir Arafat. But that is what negotiations are for: to establish the necessary safeguards.
Secular Jew that I am, I do not believe that our Lord is a joker to have allowed a Jewish state to emerge after a hiatus of 2,000 years, only to see it disappear again after some forty-odd. I am not willing to write Israel off just to make a point. . . .
Benno Weiser Varon
To the Editor:
. . . I fully agree with Norman Podhoretz that the intifada created a qualitatively new situation, for which Israel was ill-prepared, whose dynamic “sooner rather than later” must lead to the formation of a Palestinian state. However, I profoundly disagree with his hopeless conclusion that the creation of such a state must inevitably lead to the destruction of Israel. . . .
First, let me suggest what I believe to be at the root of this malaise: the sad lack of a more empathetic response to the Palestinian people’s sad fate. . . . The Palestinians are the victims of the Arab world’s deceit, treachery, and unscrupulous manipulation beginning with the Arabs’ outright rejection of the United Nations’ two-state solution in 1947. After over forty years of endless wars (whose only result was the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza), . . . the Palestinians finally decided that neither war nor terrorism could defeat Israel or bring them closer to their dream of independence and a peaceful life. The intifada was a desperate, spontaneous uprising of a whole population, an expression of its pent-up frustration with Arab and PLO leadership, as well as with Israel’s suspected goal of absorption. . . . The uprising led to the formation of an indigenous leadership which speaks for the Palestinians’ own aspirations. Both the PLO and the other Arab states—as well as Israel and the world—must now reckon with this leadership and adjust their policies accordingly. . . .
In my view, this local leadership speaks for the Palestinian people and seeks a solution based on coexistence between Israel and a Palestinian state. . . . Arafat must either be the instrument for realizing this aspiration or else suffer rejection by the Palestinians, who are now in a position to make their own peace—if necessary, without the PLO. In sum, the quarrel between the Israelis and Palestinians is not a quarrel between right and wrong but the morally more difficult dilemma of two rights, which can only be resolved by compromise and mutual respect. . . .
The major task now is for the Israeli leadership and the Jewish people to recognize the intifada not as a mortal threat, but as an unexpected opportunity, . . . a possible escape route for both peoples: for the Palestinians, from the endless prospect of wars, terrorism, and occupation, and for Israel, escape from the inevitable destruction of its democratic character, without which Israel is not Israel. . . .
Often in history, the moment of greatest danger proves to be the moment of greatest opportunity—if there exists the will. I believe this is such a moment. In fact, just as the need for resolution of the conflict is the most urgent, so the time is the most propitious, thanks to a fortunate conjunction of two factors: (1) The Soviet Union desperately needs peace and stability in the world if it is to have any hope of achieving its reform goals with indispensable Western, and especially American, assistance. Gorbachev knows that a Middle Eastern explosion would blow up those hopes, so he is ready for the first time in decades to reverse the Soviet policy of sabotage to cooperate with the U.S. to achieve a settlement; and (2) it is now crystal clear that the parties to the conflict are structurally incapable of finding a solution on their own and need the cooperation and guarantees of the U.S. and the Soviet Union to that end. So this is the optimum moment for both great powers to collaborate in pushing for a general settlement. . . .
Finally, I would ask the reader to take out an atlas and look at the map of the Middle East. What do we see? Tiny Israel, an isolated island in an Arab sea. Is it even conceivable that over time Israel could survive in this sea while engaging in hostile, forced occupation of the Palestinian land? . . . Surely, in the end, the world will not support prolonged occupation and subjugation. And in that futile effort, would not Israel lose its democratic character and be transformed into a military police state? In this context, I do not think it possible to accept Mr. Podhoretz’s premise that “in retrospect it seems . . . obvious that a unified Jewish effort could have succeeded” in preventing the creation of a Palestinian state.
I have a vision of an alternative future: Israel, Arab Palestine, and Jordan joined in a common market—a “Benelux” of the Middle East—an engine to lift the entire Middle East into the modern world. A dream? Perhaps. But better a good dream than a bad nightmare. And if, in the end, despite everything we did or might have done, Israel is destroyed because we accepted a Palestinian state, the unbearable pain and anguish of the surviving remnant would at least be partially assuaged by the knowledge that our choice of paths was honorable, free of “shame and self-disgust,” and that it is not we, but the world, that must be judged.
New York City
To the Editor:
In his morbid fantasy about the destruction of Israel, Norman Podhoretz completely fails to offer an alternative, constructive or otherwise, to the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, as well as to the vigorous procreation of one million hostile Arabs in these territories.
Evidently, in projecting Israel’s annihilation, he knows more about military strategy than 1,700 of the highest-ranking Israeli reserve officers, members of the Council on Peace and Security, who have asserted that Israel would not be in mortal danger without the West Bank.
In peace as in war, Israel will continue to exist on foundations of strength rather than weakness, on watchtowers of vigilance rather than trust. The complex struggle to achieve an accommodation with the Palestinians, as Israel succeeded in doing with Egypt, must be founded on military strength and security. It is not the best kind of peace, but the best kind is not the way of most nations. It does not have to be Israel’s way, either.
[Rabbi] Jack D. Spiro
To the Editor:
One can admire the heartfelt poignancy of Norman Podhoretz’s “Lamentation” without being blind to several of its flaws. Mr. Podhoretz does not note, for example, that a significant factor in the current revival of PLO fortunes was and is the failure of Israel to come up with a definite plan giving a reasonable amount of political autonomy to Arabs in the West Bank and Gaza. . . . An alternative to the PLO solution does not exist. The yearning for a “Jordanian option” is not a policy. . . .
Whether we like it or not, Arabs in the West Bank and Gaza may not be treated the way the Indians were in the early days of America. This does not mean that there can be no plan other than that of the PLO. But before an Israeli proposal can be accepted, it must first exist. . . .
Gerald B. Franklin
Larchmont, New York
To the Editor:
My own “lamentation from the future” about the demise of Israel may be even more lacerating than Norman Podhoretz’s. It goes as follows.
Beneath the competing commitments to Israel and to liberalism that tormented American Jewry in the 20th century was to be found an even more wrenching conflict between Americanism and Judaism. Long before Louis D. Brandeis and Franklin D. Roosevelt made liberalism a fashionable identification for American Jews, the leaders of American Jewry (Louis Marshall, Jacob Schiff) were staunch political conservatives. Yet they were no less tormented by issues of divided loyalty than latter-day liberals.
American Jews were never able to fulfill their yearning for an integrated American Jewish identity without sacrificing Jewish commitments. That explains why they distanced themselves from the plight of the Jewish people in virtually every major historical crisis of the 20th century: their initial response to Zionism was tepid, if not hostile; they were essentially passive when confronted with British and American appeasement of Nazi Germany and indifference to the desperate plight of Jewish refugees; they were in a state of paralysis during the intifada of 1987-89. Not very much, except money, was ever forthcoming from the American Diaspora. . . .
But even without the Diaspora, Israel might have endured—if it had remained faithful to Jewish, rather than modern Western, imperatives. In the modern era, however, the unity of nationality and religion, so fundamental in Jewish history, steadily eroded (except among the Islamic nations that finally destroyed Israel). After 1967, any determination to settle the land of Israel (precisely what Zionism had always been about) was repeatedly undermined by denizens of the cafes and beaches of Tel Aviv, who had a different set of priorities. The handfuls of committed settlers who returned to Judea and Samaria were spurned as fanatical zealots for doing only what Zionist pioneers had always done (always amid a hostile Arab majority). Once the Bible ceased to be a respectable source of Jewish inspiration (to say nothing of obligation), and once even Zionism was suspect ideologically, Israelis outdid themselves in delegitimating their own national purpose.
In my own academic field, history, the relentless revisionism of Israeli scholars ultimately deprived their people of respect for their own national origins. The struggle for national independence was dismissed as an episode of oppression; self-defense was depicted as military aggression; Arab irredentism was transformed into Zionist rigidity; the ingathering of the exiles was mere colonialism. It is little wonder that even Israelis came to believe that Zionism was racism; that “land for peace” meant something other than perpetual war; and that stones and Molotov cocktails, when thrown by teenagers, were the moral equivalent of nonviolent civil disobedience.
So the Third Jewish Commonwealth went the way of its predecessors. Soon there may be top few Jews even to compose lamentations. So it may be appropriate to recall the words of two resolutely secular Zionists. David Ben-Gurion, testifying before the Peel Commission in 1937, responded to a question about the source of authority for Jewish settlement by stating: “The Bible is our mandate.” And Golda Meir insisted: “It is the essence of morality to ensure the survival of the Jewish people in the Jewish state.” But modern Jews, burdened by an excess of morality, somehow managed to ignore this fundamental moral precept. They paid for their folly with their national existence. American Jews were silent spectators.
Jerold S. Auerbach
To the Editor:
Norman Podhoretz has beautifully articulated what many of us have felt and observed about the conduct of the liberals toward Israel. . . . I would, however, like to question his use of the emotionally loaded term “occupation” to describe Israel’s presence in the territories. . . .
How these lands can be “occupied” when there is no other country with a legal claim to them is beyond me. If Mr. Podhoretz thinks they are occupied, perhaps he could name the country to which they belong. Certainly they do not belong to a supposed Palestinian entity which is not a country, and has never exercised national sovereignty.
Unfortunately, even Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir’s government has not clarified this matter, since Shimon Peres publicly refers to the territories as “occupied.” As a result of this . . . blunder, American Jews, who are nothing if not moralists, have been encouraged (nay, required) to jump on the bandwagon and attempt to force a return of these “illegally held lands.” Israel’s plan—by not clearly legitimating its presence in the territories—may very well have been to keep open the option of trading the territories for peace. But the net effect of this lack of clarity has been to saddle Israel with the role of villain, even in the eyes of its own people. . . .
I believe that a solid ethical case can be made for the Jewish state as the rightful owner and possessor of the right to control its own safety, security, and destiny against an element within its internal population which, if unchecked, could bring catastrophe upon itself as well as upon the Jewish people. . . .
West Hartford, Connecticut
To the Editor:
In his warning of the probable consequences of certain trends among the Jews, Norman Podhoretz is perfectly on target. . . .
Mr. Podhoretz maintains that most American. Jews were once “simply and unconditionally for Israel” and hence willing to defer to its concerns about security and also prepared to exert their political influence on its behalf. In my opinion, this description applies more to the generation that lived through the Holocaust than to the ones that followed; my personal impression is that . . . younger people display greater indifference to Israel and to issues of Jewish survival than their parents and grandparents did. The currently reported intermarriage rate of 40-50 percent is but another symptom of this indifference.
In any case, the reservoir of support represented by that previous attitude was squandered instead of being nurtured. But the blame does not rest solely with Israel’s “national-unity governments” that kept sending mixed messages, or with the retired generals who felt free to criticize the government and its policies publicly. Well before those stupidities came a bigger and more fundamental one that Mr. Podhoretz does not really deal with. That is the total failure of Israel, since 1967, to seize the moral offensive.
There is no better example of this than the handling of the West Bank. Israel deliberately refrained from saying forthrightly and continually after June 11, 1967 that the territories taken in the Six-Day War were not only the spoils of battle but historically Jewish lands that had been excluded from Israel’s boundaries only by the fortunes of war in 1948. Except for East Jerusalem, nothing was annexed. And in this failure . . . Prime Ministers Begin and Shamir were as guilty as any Laborite.
The failure to speak out left Israel in the position of the occupier of another people’s homeland, saying in effect that it did not really want the West Bank but that no one else would be permitted to have it, either. The concept of the Palestinian Arab as a squatter on Jewish land, to whom Israel owed nothing, was never presented. . . .
The Arab thus was granted the moral high ground, and the status of oppressed victim. Indeed, he was eventually converted into the quasi-Jew whose homeland was snatched from him and occupied for the sake of the alleged security needs of the quasi-Nazi aggressor, Israel. Since that distortion of history—which Israel failed to counteract through any action of its own—seems to have gained headway among Israelis, why should it not seduce Diaspora Jews too? . . .
For every argument that Mr. Podhoretz makes as to the ultimate consequences of a Palestinian state, there is a corresponding one that militates against permitting the Arab population of Israel to grow without restriction. If present trends continue, the PLO need not fire a shot: if it waits long enough, even that portion of Israel behind the 1948 armistice lines will have an Arab majority. One need not support either the religious opinions or the political ambitions of Meir Kahane to recognize that the issue of population transfer must be seriously addressed. The present failure to do this on the part of Israel’s current political and intellectual leadership will, if continued, ultimately result in consequences no less disastrous and final than those of the behavior Mr. Podhoretz so rightly indicts.
And here, too, Israel’s dereliction is matched by a corresponding one on the part of Diaspora Jewry. Those who should be preparing the ground for a moral and intellectual defense of the extremely unpalatable actions that Israel will some day almost certainly be forced to take for sheer survival totally avoid any discussion of the entire issue. . . . They have abandoned the field to those who see the Palestinian Arab, if not exactly as oppressed underdog, then as someone with inalienable rights to the 20 percent of the Jewish homeland that the Arabs do not yet possess.
That failure, if not reversed, will in due course inspire yet another “Lamentation,” even if we are spared the occasion for the one that Mr. Podhoretz has so eloquently composed.
To the Editor:
The conclusions Norman Podhoretz reaches in his article could be averted, but only if Israel’s people believe in the Torah, . . . which clearly commands Israel and the Jews to take control over their own land. . . . Numbers 33:50-56 orders Israel to take possession of its land and to transfer the aliens or non-Jews out of the land, with dire results if this is not done. Deuteronomy 2:2-5 gives the Arabs, as descendants of Esau, the hill country of Seir. That is Arab land east of the Jordan. . . .
All these biblical exhortations are the platform which will save Israel—but only if Israel wills it. The one and only Israeli who believes and espouses what will save Israel is Rabbi Meir Kahane. . . .
Jack C. Stoller
To the Editor:
. . . Today Israel is depicted as a giant that is strangling the efforts of a small people, the Palestinians, who are fighting for their homeland. But the truth is that the “Palestinian people” is a myth; partly the result of British imperialism, partly Arab propaganda, and partly media hype.
The most superficial historical survey shows that in the last thousand years there was a Palestinian administrative unit for only about thirty years, hardly sufficient time for a people to develop a love for its homeland. . . .
After World War I, Britain and France broke up the Ottoman empire into a number of artificial states, contrary to the wishes of Arab nationalists who were all for a united Arab nation. Under the British Mandate for Palestine, the Arabs became divided into three separate factions. One group looked to Syria as their state. A second, made up of Eastern Palestinian Arabs but with a sizable following in Western Palestine, became instant Jordanians after 1922. The third group were followers of the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Al-Hajj Amin Husseini, who fought for a separate Palestinian state. All three groups fought one another but agreed on one point—to return the land to Muslim rule, first by ousting the British, and second by preventing the Jews from establishing their own state.
In 1948, the British left and the Arab states tried to destroy the infant Jewish state but failed. From then until the Six-Day War, the Arabs of Judea and Samaria lived quietly as Jordanians and the stateless Arabs of Gaza lived quietly under Egyptian rule.
Now it is 1989 and we have the same players in the same game. Assad still has his maps of Greater Syria. King Hussein has the same yearning for Western Palestine as his grandfater Abdallah did but without his grandfather’s courage. Arafat and the PLO have taken the place of the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, though this time around his group is at center stage.
There is no Palestinian people. There are Arabs (Muslims) of various ethnic origins who live quietly under Muslim rule but are ready to revolt against Jewish rule. . . . The time is long overdue for Jews to abandon the illusion that the present conflict is a struggle of two nationalisms which claim the same piece of land. . . . Rather, it is a war of the Muslims against the Jews with the ultimate goal of the destruction of the Jewish state. . .
Los Angeles, California
To the Editor:
. . . It is the province of religion to prepare men for the death they dread and to present them with a picture of what will happen after that death. Norman Podhoretz’s article is filled with precisely such religious optimism. His elegy is a very fair summary of the response by Jewry to events leading to the death of the Jewish people. . . . But should the Jewish state of Israel be expunged, there will be no noble and tragic mourners such as those Mr. Podhoretz describes. The Jewish religion died long ago. Jewish folkways have been those of the prevailing society for centuries, and so-called Jewish intellectuals are similarly carbon copies of the surrounding culture. Jews themselves question who and what is a Jew.
The last real symbol of this scattered, beaten, history-burdened people is Israel. When that goes, there will be no shame, no self-disgust, and certainly no will to go on as Jews among the surviving remnant. . . .
To the Editor:
I offer the following as an epilogue to Norman Podhoretz’s horrifying “Lamentation”:
Then, having destroyed Israel, Islam’s paranoia increased, inflamed by the enormity of its crime, and it still feared the Jews, though few remained. And America, suffused by liberal sentiment for Islam, turned faster from its own Jews than it had from the state of Israel. It was only later that Christianity, one of the two remaining peoples of the Book, discovered that it had been the target all along—for manifesting to the world God’s favoring of the Christian West, for relegating Islam to impotency in industry and science, for abandoning Islam to sand and burning sun. But now Islam would be direct at last: battle and vanquish the “Great Satan” and the West and set about proving that Muhammad would not forever deny Islam the verdant leaves of Eden.
To the Editor:
. . . “Israel: A Lamentation From the Future” is a brilliantly lucid and penetrating analysis of the profound dilemma now facing that beleaguered nation. . . . There can be no quarrel with the proposition that since Israeli lives depend on the outcome of Israeli decisions, the Israelis must be taken to know better than anyone else what is best for them. Nevertheless, those of us who wish peace and well-being for Israel and the Arab world can still ask whether the Israelis are botching the job of getting world opinion to understand their plight. So far, what we see and hear from Israel is a hodgepodge of messages whose cumulative effect in shaping opinion seems to be negative in the extreme, especially in view of the violent media images of the Israeli response to the intifada.
At times we are told about the Labor party’s willingness to talk to the PLO, and about clandestine or not-so-clandestine contacts between Israelis and Palestinians. . . . At other times we are told (for the most part by Likud spokesmen) that the Israeli government will never talk to the PLO because it is a terrorist organization. . . . These mixed messages bring about . . . confusion, ambivalence, and outright hostility toward Israel. They result in the widespread impression that the Palestinian revolt is properly directed against Israel, and that Israel alone bears responsibility for making the concessions that would end it. Rarely mentioned is the share of responsibility belonging to the Arab states for the dismal circumstances of the Palestinians and for tensions in the Middle East. . . . The real but insufficiently emphasized facts are (1) that Israel is still technically in a state of war with all but one of its Arab neighbors; . . . and (2) that while all Arab states have publicly advocated a representational role for the PLO, not one has publicly offered Israel a commitment to honor any agreement entered into by Israel and the PLO. . . .
The Israelis would certainly be justified in announcing that it would be absurd for them to attempt to negotiate with the PLO . . . without at least the start of good-faith negotiations for peace treaties with Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia. . . . [For] whatever the PLO and Israel alone agreed to would be so risky as to be unworthy of the paper it was written on. It is simply not enough for the United States and the USSR to give their blessing to direct dealings between the PLO and Israel. . . . A deal between Israel and the PLO without participation by the Arab states as signatories would rest on the same quicksand as the deal under which Egypt and Israel assigned Jordan a role it never chose to fulfill. As long as a state of war between them and Israel continues, Arab states need only point to that as justification for whatever they choose to do. . . .
Chevy Chase, Maryland
To the Editor:
Norman Podhoretz is to be commended for putting the current crisis facing Israel and its supporters in its proper perspective. The U.S. decision to open talks with the PLO and the failure of the American Jewish community to rally to Israel’s defense on this issue is a watershed event. The possible consequences of this failure are every bit as serious as Mr. Podhoretz makes them out to be. His article serves as an important reminder that the stakes involved in this struggle are nothing less than the survival of the Jewish state.
The problem is that most Americans—Jews and non-Jews alike—seem to have forgotten that the Arab-Israeli conflict is not a dispute over the borders of the Jewish state but rather a dispute about the very existence of such a state. Instead of seeing recent events as the latest tactic in the forty-year Arab siege of Israel, many American Jews have succumbed to the lies and deceptions of the PLO propaganda machine. . . . The treacherous journey of Rita Hauser and Menachem Rosensaft to Stockholm to meet with Yasir Arafat was the logical conclusion to this trend. It is a cruel irony that among the midwives of the American government’s shameful betrayal of Israel were so-called Jewish “leaders.”
As Mr. Podhoretz points out, Jewish liberals have been unable to find a rationale by which they can defend Israel. They have accepted the idea that Israel is an illegal occupier of “Arab lands,” and taken at face value the claim that the purpose of the Arab riots is to advance the cause of human rights. In fact, their goal is to push the Jewish presence out of the country. Instead of comparing the riots to American civil-rights demonstrations, these critics of Israel would do better to reread some history. They might then learn that the intifada bears a strong resemblance to the bloody anti-Jewish riots carried out by Arab mobs in 1920, 1929, and 1936. The major difference is that there is now a Jewish army to shield the Jewish population from the depredations of the rioters. Fifty years and many wars later, Arab irredentism and fundamentalist Islam still regard Jewish sovereignty in any part of Palestine as anathema. . . .
The American Jewish “establishment” has proved unable to cope with this crisis. A timorous and uncertain Jewish leadership has been overwhelmed by a tide of hostility to Israel. In the face of virulent attacks on Israel’s legitimacy, all they have managed are halfhearted apologies instead of forceful advocacy. Jewish intellectuals have been recruited into the ranks of those calling on Israel to accede to demands for territorial surrender.
The PLO has exploited this weakness and its position has been immeasurably strengthened. The question remains: can Israel survive this drift toward appeasement, or is the nightmarish outcome envisioned by Norman Podhoretz inevitable? Some take refuge in the comforting illusion of the invincibility of the Israeli army, but it was precisely that sort of overconfidence that cost Israel dearly on Yom Kippur of 1973. Had that war taken place with the 1949 armistice lines as the jump-off points for the Arab armies, Israel might not have survived.
What is needed from Jewish leaders and intellectuals is conviction about the justice of Israel’s cause. While the energies of world Jewry have been spent on deciding “who is a Jew,” the PLO has gotten a head start on its two-stage plan to destroy Israel. If that plan is to fail, it is incumbent on American Jews, who are the foundation of U.S. support for Israel, to mobilize in its defense. . . . Those who would destroy Israel look on American Jews as a lever by which they can separate Israel from America and the vital military aid which it provides. . . . Norman Podhoretz’s warning must be heeded. American Jews must write, speak, act, lest our silence and inaction be construed as a disavowal of Israel. . . .
Jonathan S. Tobin
Americans for a Safe Israel
New York City
To the Editor:
By chance I read John Updike’s “On Not Being a Dove” in your March issue before I read Norman Podhoretz’s “Israel: A Lamentation From the Future.” Reading the two articles in reverse order pointed up certain similarities in the reaction of the Left and the media to the Vietnam war and the present uprising in Gaza and the West Bank. At the same time, however, striking . . . differences emerged.
The most chilling difference, one that must torment the conscience of the most recalcitrant Jewish leftist, liberal, or peacenik, is that, in glaring contrast to America, Israel in the present struggle “cannot afford a single mistake” (Henry Kissinger). The cavalier advice the Left is giving to the majority of the Israeli electorate must be assessed in the light of past harm inflicted on the Jewish people by those who clamored for “universal justice” while disdaining their own people. . . .
The media treat the present phase of the Arab-Israeli struggle by means of a curious balancing act. Jewish themes of general or communal interest are given a congenial airing while Israeli events are tagged in the press with onesided headlines and on TV as sound-bites of such things as Palestinian children being chased by Israeli soldiers. One side-effect of this treatment is the creation of a psychological wedge between American Jews and Israelis. . . .
Another difference between Vietnam and the Israeli situation is in the way Jews are being manipulated to collaborate in an assiduously orchestrated and brilliantly propagandized campaign to thrust a 23rd Arab state into the vital innards of Israel. This was succinctly expressed by Judge F.D. Murphy in an address to a group of liberal Jewish lawyers in March of this year. “As for American Jews who identify Israel with South Africa and Israeli soldiers with Nazi troops, what is it that so distorts, so unbalances your perception of Middle East reality?” Judge Murphy asked. He went on to say, “Standing on the east bank of the Hudson, you suddenly possess a wisdom about the occupied territories denied to the Israelis standing on the West Bank. After all, if you are wrong you will still summer on Cape Cod wearing your good-faith smile while vultures pluck the eyes from Israeli heads.”
How could the Gentile judge have intuited that this “unbalanced perception of Middle East reality” is rooted partly in an obsolete but lasting holdover from the Lower East Side socialist past, from the doctrine that a Jewish state is a “reactionary plot to divert the struggle of the Jewish masses,” and partly from the lingering 2,000- year-old discomfort with the unavoidable but distasteful requirements of a state struggling for survival. . . ?
The callous requirements of a peccable state make many American liberals cringe, even from their safe distance. The brutal wages paid for Israeli statehood bruise the kind soul of Woody Allen, for example, who grieves in the New York Times over the excessive physical force exerted over throwers of Molotov cocktails. Does he suggest that the Israelis assume an attitude of the robber in one of his movies, who shoves a “this is a hold-up” note to the bank teller and then keeps debating syntax?
Thinking over the conflict between the preservation of the state and the Jewish ethos, I was recently struck by an extraordinary confession made by an Israeli soldier to an American reporter as quoted in the New York Times Magazine: “I spent three months on patrol in the refugee camps. The first month, I didn’t touch anybody. The second month, I started beating people. And the third month, I wanted to kill them all. I have no illusions any more.” . . .
Reading this quote, I could not help musing: have Israelis adopted the standards of their neighbors? Have they abandoned the precept of the “sanctity of life”? Have they shed the Jewish superego and unleashed the group-survival instinct of the murderous id? . . . With trepidation I went over the report again only to find, for better or worse, that the confessing Israeli soldier was a “liberal Swiss-born Christian” turned kibbutznik and converted to Judaism. . . .
What caused this liberal Gentile from the peaceful Swiss meadows, neutral for centuries, to retrieve his dormant murderous survival instinct? The answer lies in the frightful manner in which the Arab-Israeli struggle is now being conducted, a manner not perceived by most of the world, fed on cursory headlines and sound-bites. PLO propaganda has adroitly converted a monstrous evil into a potent TV tear jérker, as well as a new military trump card: children as a weapon and a shield!
This cunning tactic is described in the same article I mentioned above: a soldier relates how it is not uncommon to “fight eight-nine-year olds.” “They were stoning us,” he reports, “and they were putting the women and children in front so we couldn’t shoot. They know our orders now. They know when we can shoot and when we can’t.”
This heartless stratagem and the harm done to Arab children by prolonging the uprising and rejecting an interim autonomy which might bring about a cooling off period and an attempt at an Arab-Israeli symbiosis, should give pause to those who try to pressure Israel into making the “single mistake.” The price of failing to enlighten the American public on the differences between the Vietnam war and the present Arab-Israeli struggle by Jewish information agencies may well be the disaster foreseen in Mr. Podhoretz’s “Lamentation.”
New York City
To the Editor:
I fervently admire Norman Podhoretz’s article. I wish I could think he sees the situation too darkly. Dammit, I cannot.
New York City
To the Editor:
I could not get past the first paragraph of Norman Podhoretz’s article. My mind balked and my eyes clouded over even before the end of the first sentence. For a moment, even drawing a breath was difficult. Thank you, Mr. Podhoretz, for striking at the heart.
Manhattan Beach, California
To the Editor:
Once again Norman Podhoretz has stirred my intellect and emotions. It is impossible to respond to his magnificent article except in personal terms.
I have grown up knowing only the existence of Israel, but have often wondered what I would do if Israel were to be destroyed. Now that I have two young children, I often wonder how I could explain to them that my generation, the one that came after Hitler, was the one that finally brought Judaism to an end. I have often wondered how my children could think of me as anything other than a coward or a fool.
I imagine one of my sons researching a paper for his undergraduate course on the “History of Self-Hatred” in the department of genocidal studies at one of the few universities that still admitted what few Jews were left. His research would lead him to articles in the New York Times, Tikkun, and the Nation, and he would . . . ask me how I could cry over the destruction of a Jewish state which the Jews themselves hated; how I could rant and rave about the anti-Semites who destroyed my religion when in fact it was the Jews, my contemporaries, colleagues, and co-religionists, who precipitated, encouraged, aided, and abetted its demise. . . .
I would then show him my old copy of Norman Podhoretz’s essay and tell him that some of us did care. . . .
Teaneck, New Jersey
To the Editor:
Thank you for the wonderfully resonant warning by Norman Podhoretz. It comes not a moment too soon.
It is very hard nowadays to be a Zionist. Not only are we attacked by our enemies, we are also attacked by our so-called friends. Hardly a day goes by without some assault in the press or on television, lambasting Israel for protecting itself against the intifada now in its second year. Every step taken by Israel to put down the rioting—whether by tear gas, by plastic bullets, by the arrest of suspects, etc. etc.—is harshly condemned. . . . No one seems to want to understand that Israel is literally fighting a war—a war of survival. No one seems to want to believe that Arafat, in his speeches in Arabic, vows the destruction of Israel (to be accomplished in stages). . . .
Nevertheless, we must take heart. We are not completely isolated. We still have staunch friends in Congress who recognize Israel as a strong and dependable ally of the United States in a very crucial part of the world. . . . We must hope that President Bush will uphold the promise made in his 1988 position paper: “We will not support the creation of any Palestinian entity that could place Israel’s security in jeopardy.” . . .
Monticello, New York
To the Editor:
I am writing under the shocking impact of Norman Podhoretz’s “Lamentation,” and I sincerely hope that his dark vision of the future will never materialize. I am afraid, though, that Mr. Podhoretz’s general approach is too optimistic, for he strives to place the burden of guilt for self-destructive-ness, self-hatred, and suicidal inclinations mainly on the shoulders of the present generation of intellectuals.
I can assure your readers that at the beginning of the 1940’s, when I was a student at the Hebrew University, the situation was in many respects even worse; at that time distinguished scholars, teachers, philosophers, and scientists of world reputation opposed the Bill-more program of 1942 (urging the creation of a Jewish state) on grounds that the establishment of such a state would necessarily result in a militaristic regime along South American lines. Their proposal was for an autonomous Jewish entity in “Palestine” under the protection of an international force. . . . How does this sound today?
Another proposal later made by this group—all very honorable and distinguished men who had come together in the Brit Shalom movement—was for the Jewish Agency to agree to a yearly immigration quota of 30,000 Jews. Moreover, without having been empowered to do so by any democratically elected Jewish body, they even presented their ideas to a supposedly “moderate” faction among the Arabs . . . , who immediately turned them down. And all of this occurred, let us recall, when the small Jewish population was being forced to make a stand against a hostile Mandatory government, when seven Arab states were preparing for an invasion of “Palestine,” and when one-and-one-half-million Jews, survivors of the Holocaust, were languishing in refugee camps all over Europe, awaiting their redemption by aliyah.
The tragedy of our generation(s) is the arrogant behavior of these recurrent groups of Jewish intellectuals who want to force national suicide upon us by invoking their goddess of morality and progress. Another deplorable fact is the stubborn refusal of the Jewish masses to identify themselves with Israel through aliyah. If during the past twenty years half-a-million Jews from all over the world had immigrated, the present mortal danger of a second Palestinian state would not exist. But I believe that we shall overcome these obstacles; that is our foremost task. . . .
Tel Aviv University
Tel Aviv, Israel
To the Editor:
Unfortunately, Norman Podhoretz is right in most of the things he says in his article, but his title is too pessimistic. It was the late chief rabbi of Israel, Isaac Ha-levy Herzog, who said, in the spring of 1948 when our prospects were none too rosy, that a “third destruction” would not occur. And nowhere in the words of our Prophets is such a possibility mentioned.
The West can be relied upon to abandon us in our hour of need—just as it did in the Holocaust. . . . Israel can still survive. What we really need now, however, is not so much financial support as a strong aliyah of about 100,000 young Jews from the United States and other countries in the so-called free world. We here in Israel are in the front lines and need more manpower from the rear echelons. That would be the best and the most useful demonstration of Jewish solidarity—with deeds and not words. . . .
To the Editor:
. . . In his excellent essay Norman Podhoretz is right in concentrating his ire on the intellectuals, both here and in Israel. They have joined the enemy and destroyed our values. According to them, we Jews have no rights in Israel. . . .
I hope Mr. Podhoretz will continue in the spirit of Jeremiah. The intellectuals may be beyond redemption, but the right-thinking people need encouragement.
To the Editor:
Norman Podhoretz’s article is a stirring piece that chills the blood. I only wish it had been entitled “A Lamentation From a Future” instead of “the Future.” In any case, his timely article may indeed shape that future. . . .
E. F. Schmerl
To the Editor:
Kudos for Norman Podhoretz’s article in the March COMMENTARY. I certainly hope it gets people thinking. . . .
Royal Oak, Michigan
To the Editor:
. . . As a Bible-thumping, fundamentalist Christian . . . , I would like to offer my two-bits’ worth of comment. Norman Podhoretz’s article is one of the very best short summaries published to date of salient developments in Israel’s brief history as a modern state. . . . Mr. Podhoretz has given us a mountaintop view such as can only have been put together by one who has ploughed the valleys and swamps gathering details. . . .
A salute to Mr. Podhoretz and to COMMENTARY.
Lockeport, Nova Scotia
To the Editor:
One cannot but hope that, ten or twenty years from now, “Israel: A Lamentation From the Future” will be viewed as alarmist. In this instance, hope is a duty, and not an easy one. In the last year or so, I have been impressed by the number of people whom I always thought to be supportive of Israel but who now feel free to espouse positions long promoted by Israel’s declared enemies. Perhaps they always held those positions but were previously inhibited from expressing them. It’s hard to know. And it’s impossible to know the accuracy of any perspective offered “from the future.” But we can know what is happening day by day—the positions changed, the further changes proposed—and it all lends to Norman Podhoretz’s “Lamentation” the ominous ring of truth.
Richard John Neuhaus
New York City
To the Editor:
Congratulations on a masterpiece, Norman Podhoretz’s article in the March issue. . . .
Not long ago I spoke to a class at American University in Washington taking a course called “Middle East Alternatives.” The absence of even a single question—in more than an hour of discussion—from a viewpoint sympathetic to Israel was a bit of anecdotal evidence of the erosion of Israel’s position, as highlighted by Mr. Podhoretz. Afterward, a young man introduced himself to me as one of three Jewish students in the class of about 35. He indicated that two of them felt beleaguered when it came to the question of Israel, and the third “disillusioned.” He implied, perhaps unintentionally, that apart from these three no one else in the class could be expected to come to Israel’s defense.
I wish I could say that the warning contained in Mr. Podhoretz’s article was exaggerated. I am certain it was timely.
Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs
To the Editor:
Congratulations to Norman Podhoretz for “Israel: A Lamentation From the Future.” . . . I was reminded, while reading the article, of the famous Pogo cartoon, “I have met the enemy and he is us.” . . .
Harvey B. Schechter
Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith
Los Angeles, California
To the Editor:
. . . It would be comforting to be able to assume without reservations that the majority of American Jews are for Israel, as Norman Podhoretz maintains. While I make no pretense of scientific accuracy, in my forty years in this country I have arrived at an unhappy conclusion. Yes, American Jews, most of them, are for Israel, but too many of them are in the “I’m so sorry for them” category. They assuage their consciences with donations to the United Jewish Appeal. . . .
Even with this sympathy, we must remember that the aims and policies of Israeli Jews and American Jews are not identical, or even parallel; in many instances, they are actually divergent. . . . For example, American Jews were opposed to most of the domestic and foreign policies of President Reagan, who was seen in Israel as the best friend that country had ever had in the White House. It became clear to me in the course of a visit to Israel shortly before the American election that, given the chance, the majority of Israelis would vote overwhelmingly for the Republicans. American Jews, on the other hand, gave 65 percent of their votes to the Democratic contender and the Democratic platform, disregarding the fact that the party was in the grip of individuals and groups who are not necessarily friends of the Jewish state.
This divergence of opinion had to come to a head sooner or later, . . . but it is tragic that the gulf between Israeli and American Jews should be widening at a time when the world’s opinion of Israel is at an all-time low, and the very existence of the Jewish state is at stake. . . .
Samuel L. Tennenbaum
West Orange, New Jersey
To the Editor:
. . . Thank you for your forceful and compelling “Israel: A Lamentation From the Future.” . . . This article ought to become must reading for all who presume to wear the mantle of Jewish leadership at a time of muddled thinking and weakened backbones.
[Rabbi] Pinchas Stolper
Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America
New York City
To the Editor:
This letter is a personal expression of gratitude to Norman Podhoretz for his brilliant article. As I read it, I recalled my own reactions to the events Mr. Podhoretz describes as they unfolded. His analysis is precise and on target. . . .
Norman Podhoretz writes:
The arguments made by Alfred H. Moses, Benno Weiser Varon, Elias Schwarzbart, and Jack D. Spiro, all of whom criticize my article more or less from the Left, are so familiar by now that anyone who has followed the debate over Israel’s predicament knows the answers to them as well as I do. But with all due respect to those arguments—and especially to the cogency with which they are advanced by Mr. Moses in particular—they are mostly irrelevant to the point I was making in my “Lamentation From the Future.”
First of all, contrary to what Mr. Moses imagines, I was not joining in with those who “from a distance of 6,000 miles” presume to offer a “solution” to “the security issue facing Israel today on the West Bank and Gaza.” As I have repeatedly written during the past few years, I believe that any Jew who wants to participate in that debate should get on a plane to Tel Aviv and claim Israeli citizenship under the Law of Return; otherwise, by refusing to put his own life on the line, he forfeits the moral standing to advocate a course that could endanger the lives of his fellow Jews in Israel.
Believing this, I willingly plead guilty to the charge of failing to “suggest” a “solution”—a charge that Mr. Moses, having announced that “American Jews have little, if anything, worthwhile to contribute” on these matters, then turns around and levels at me, while also simultaneously compounding his inconsistency by suggesting a solution of his own (namely, “territory for peace”).
But it is not only because I do not live in Israel that I offer no solution. The truth is that I do not think a solution (in the sense of a new political and territorial arrangement that would allow Israel to enjoy both security and peace) is at hand. There is nothing remarkable about this. Forty years is not such a long time, as history measures these things; and as against Mr. Schwarzbart’s contention that a “good dream” is better than a “bad nightmare,” we have the Prophet Jeremiah’s warning about the dangers of crying “peace, peace, when there is no peace.”
This does not mean that I think the present situation is wonderful or that it does not involve dangers of its own. What it means is that a PLO state—which, with Jordan having dropped out, is now the only available alternative to continued Israeli military control of the West Bank and Gaza—seems to me infinitely more dangerous. The people who keep telling us that “the status quo is intolerable” ought to be reminded that the last two countries of which those words were used soon discovered that there were worse fates than the status quo. South Vietnam no longer exists, and Iran got the Ayatollah Khomeini.
Another charge to which I plead guilty is that I failed to provide the details of the scenario by which a PLO state could lead to the destruction of Israel. But this was not because I was unable to do so. On several recent occasions, in fact, I have spelled out just such a scenario. Here is one brief version, taken from a piece of mine published this past February in the New York Post and a number of other newspapers:
“. . . [T]he minute a PLO state were set up, it would become another Lebanon, with various factions engaging in a bloody struggle for dominance. As in Lebanon, this would in all probability result in Syrian intervention, which would in turn require an Israeli response [which would in its turn almost certainly bring other Arab armies into play].
“Even if this particular chain of events did not occur, however, the new Palestinian state would seek