Joshua Muravchik is a fellow at the Foreign Policy Institute of the Johns Hopkins University School for Advanced International Studies and a contributor to this magazine. He is also author of 11 books, including the recently published Making David into Goliath: How the World Turned Against Israel. I spoke with Muravchik about how Israel went from underdog to pariah, and the chances of that changing back anytime soon.
Lee Smith: You say the world has turned against Israel, but aren’t Israel and the Gulf states, like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, closer than ever because of Iran?
Josh Muravchik: It is not only the Gulf states and it is not only because of Iran. Much of the Sunni world feels doubly threatened: on one side by Iran and the Shiite and Alawite Arab populations aligned with it, and, on the other, by Sunni radical Islam. The latter movement at its extreme slaughters or enslaves whoever in its reach will not bow to it. But even in its relatively moderate iterations, it is seen as a totalitarian conspiracy that aims to monopolize political power and religious interpretation. Thus most Gulf states, including significantly Saudi Arabia, and also Jordan and Egypt and perhaps some of the other North Africans are at least implicitly on better terms with Israel than ever before.
But so what? Israel still faces enemies aplenty: heavily armed terror armies on its northern and southern borders stoking a restive population on the West Bank. These in turn are backed by Iran and Turkey—powers that were once allied with Israel but have embraced radical Islam and that are more formidable than the Arabs—as well as by Qatar, a simulacrum of a country with inexhaustible oil wealth.
Looming over all of this is the specter of an Iranian nuclear bomb, which President Obama will not prevent, and which, even if not used in a first-strike against Israel, will make all of Israel’s enemies bolder and more virulent.
Meanwhile, global discourse—encompassing Europe, the UN, international news media, NGOs, and even the Obama administration—exudes hostility toward Israel that constrains its ability to act in self-defense. The Arabs who today sympathize with Israel might alter this were they outspoken. But quite to the contrary, they keep their sympathy very quiet lest they arouse the anger of their own populations.
LS: Doesn’t the plight of the Palestinians anger the international community?
JM: Yes, the plight of the Palestinians evokes anger and sympathy, and this plight is indeed an unhappy one. Still, an egregious discrepancy is evident between the rage at Israel over the situation of the Palestinians and the indifference shown to other peoples suffering occupation and/or the denial of their national aspirations.
For instance, rarely does one encounter anger over the occupation of Tibet, although it has been occupied longer and more cruelly than the Palestinian territories, and unlike the case with Israel’s conquests in 1967, China’s occupation of Tibet was scarcely an act of self-defense. Were Beijing to offer Tibet the terms that Israeli prime ministers like Ehud Barak or Ehud Olmert offered the Palestinians, the Dalai Lama would dance for joy.
As for thwarted national fulfillment, who is angry on behalf of the Kurds? Kurds are five times more numerous than Palestinians. Their national identity goes back a millennium while Palestinian nationalism is less than a century old. The Kurds have their own language(s), history and traditions. The Kurds yearn for a state of their own. And yet no one non-Kurdish seems to give a fig.
LS: How much of the world’s turn against Israel has to do with Israel’s policies especially regarding the Palestinians?
JM: Israel’s policies of course contribute, and not only vis a vis the Palestinians. Israel’s transition from the world’s most perfect democratic socialism to a largely capitalist economy has cost it friends and admirers.