After pulling every last Israeli out of Gaza and handing the territory to the Palestinians in 2005, the once-loathed Ariel Sharon was told by his old political nemesis, Shimon Peres, that it seemed as though every Western leader was struggling “while you, Arik, are enjoying the support of the whole world.”

“Yes,” the old warrior responded. “But for how long?”

Sharon already knew the answer. Two weeks before this moment, MSNBC had noticed Israel was still going ahead with construction in the Jerusalem suburbs and building its security fence to protect Israelis from West Bank terrorist attacks. “Enjoying a moment of international sympathy, Sharon’s government is moving swiftly to capitalize on its unilateral withdrawal and ongoing demolition of 25 Jewish settlements,” readers were informed.

When you hear a word like “sympathy” regarding Israel, you know there’s another word that can’t be far behind. That word is squandering. “Palestinian officials say the move to begin construction in new sections of Maale Adumim risks squandering the goodwill Israel generated by uprooting settlements for the first time on land designated to be part of a future Palestinian state.”

There it is. Like Chekhov’s gun that you know will be fired, if there’s sympathy for Israel you know it’ll be squandered.

“Since the brutal attacks by Hamas on Oct. 7, I have been filled with a familiar sense of dread as the Israeli government has squandered the sympathy and support of so many around the globe,” begins an unusually vapid rant at War on the Rocks, a site normally known more for getting into the weeds of strategy than for logorrheic diary entries.

“As predicted, Israel has squandered the goodwill and empathy it had after the brutal Oct 7th tragedy due to its bloody retribution,” pronounced anti-Israel triteness-generator Wajahat Ali.

American Prospect editor Robert Kuttner fretted that “Netanyahu’s Gaza attacks are rapidly squandering precious global goodwill.”

At the Financial Times, Gideon Rachman warned that “there is also a large group who start from a position of real sympathy for Israel — but who will be alienated if, for example, the cut-off of water and electricity to Gaza leads to starvation or outbreaks of disease; or if Israel flattens the territory, as the Russians once destroyed Grozny.”

Grozny! My, how things escalate.

Some were more honest about the disingenuous nature of their supposed sympathy. “All my sympathy for Israel,” lamented Croatian President Zoran Milanović, “unfortunately they lost within 15 minutes” of the Oct. 7 attacks. And he probably literally meant 15 minutes.

These observations about Israel’s squandering nature are offered not in anger but in sadness, of course. Why can’t Israel ever do anything constructive with sympathy?

It’s not as though there’s some mysterious equation to solve here. Israelis gained all that sympathy on Oct. 7 by dying horrible deaths. What’s more important, sympathy or survival? The world is very disappointed in the Jewish state’s choice.

It’s an old story. After Germany’s 1938 annexation of Austria, Jews were desperate for escape. President Franklin Roosevelt wasn’t willing to effect any change in U.S. immigration policy, either by executive action or pressuring Congress. But he was willing to organize a conference of nations who would talk and talk and talk about how sad it all was, because that at least could “show our sympathy with the victims of those conditions.”

“Sympathy” for the Jews usually means a death sentence. And FDR ensured it would be so, as Rick Richman writes in And None Shall Make Them Afraid, his recent book of key moments in the life and work of various Zionist figures (also reviewed in Commentary’s July/August issue here): “The text of the invitation included an assurance that no country would be expected to change its laws to admit more refugees or to provide any funds to resettle refugees; any financing, the invitation noted, would have to be provided by private organizations.”

FDR also instructed the State Department to prevent any consideration of sending the fleeing European Jews to Palestine. Other Western democracies were no better.

In attendance to watch all this unfold was Golda Meir. She was both dejected and resolute. The lesson was that “Jews neither can nor should ever depend on anyone else for permission to stay alive.” The conference inspired one of her most famous comments: “There is one thing I hope to see before I die, and that is that my people should not need expressions of sympathy anymore.”

Meir would return to this theme time and again after the establishment of the state of Israel and her rise to the prime minister’s office. The world, she repeatedly recognized, was full of sympathy for dead and defeated Jews, and the Jews would squander that sympathy by surviving. What has changed isn’t the world’s preferences but the Jewish people’s ability to render those preferences irrelevant.

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