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July 18, 2006
You Are A Fluke Of The Universe ...

... You have no right to be here ...

Richard Cohen channels National Lampoon's "Deteriorata" in today's Washington Post opinion section in writing about Israel. He argues that since Israel's birth came out of the Holocaust and that many in the Muslim world refuse to acknowledge that genocide, Israel should "hunker down" and apparently allow terrorist groups to attack then without fear of reprisal:

The greatest mistake Israel could make at the moment is to forget that Israel itself is a mistake. It is an honest mistake, a well-intentioned mistake, a mistake for which no one is culpable, but the idea of creating a nation of European Jews in an area of Arab Muslims (and some Christians) has produced a century of warfare and terrorism of the sort we are seeing now. Israel fights Hezbollah in the north and Hamas in the south, but its most formidable enemy is history itself.

This is why the Israeli-Arab war, now transformed into the Israeli-Muslim war (Iran is not an Arab state), persists and widens. It is why the conflict mutates and festers. It is why Israel is now fighting an organization, Hezbollah, that did not exist 30 years ago and why Hezbollah is being supported by a nation, Iran, that was once a tacit ally of Israel's. The underlying, subterranean hatred of the Jewish state in the Islamic world just keeps bubbling to the surface. The leaders of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and some other Arab countries may condemn Hezbollah, but I doubt the proverbial man in their street shares that view.

Well, we can stop here, because most of the above amounts to nothing but gibberish. The conflict in the Middle East has not widened but in fact has narrowed. Egypt and Jordan have dropped out of the war, and Saudi Arabia, at least officially, has blamed Hezbollah for the conflict. Iraq has a new government, one that may still sympathize with Hezbollah and Hamas, but not to the extent that they will lend military support they don't have to help them fight the Israelis. In fact, the only two nations still fighting israel are Syria and Iran.

Cohen argues that the addition of Iran has expanded the fight, and that Hezbollah exists because of the existence of Israel. The fallacy there is that Israel has existed for almost sixty years, while Hezbollah only has operated for a little under thirty. In fact, they sprang into being before the Israeli incursion into Lebanon, borne of the revolution in Iran -- enabled by the foreign policy of Jimmy Carter, who cut support for the Shah because he didn't meet Carter's ideals in a leader, ideals that somehow included Yasser Arafat. Israel didn't create Hezbollah, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini did, and Carter helped put Khomeini in power.

Cohen finishes with this:

Another gifted British historian, Tony Judt, wraps up his recent book "Postwar" with an epilogue on how the sine qua non of the modern civilized state is recognition of the Holocaust. Much of the Islamic world, notably Iran under its Holocaust-denying president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, stands outside that circle, refusing to make even a little space for the Jews of Europe and, later, those from the Islamic world. They see Israel not as a mistake but as a crime. Until they change their view, the longest war of the 20th century will persist deep into the 21st. It is best for Israel to hunker down.

Jews have lived in the area for thousands of years. The Romans, the Ottomans, and finally the British ruled them as their numbers waxed and waned, but the area has always been home to the Jews. In the late 19th century, the Zionists began buying land from Arab owners and resettling in the harsh environment of the Trans-Jordan. Arabs at that time were only too glad to sell them what looked like worthless land for far more than its market value. By the time World War I loomed at the Ottoman Empire breathed its last, the Jews had started to tame the land and expand their settlements. Britain recognized this during World War I -- not World War II -- and obtained a mandate from the League of Nations to administer a Jewish homeland in the Trans-Jordan.

The Holocaust did not create Israel. The Jewish homeland had existed for two decades prior to it, but Arabists in the British government did not make it easy for Jews to emigrate to the new homeland, fearing the wrath of the Arabs in the area. Only three years after the end of World War II did Israel win its independence from the British mandate by a United Nations that opposed such mandates in any case, seeing them (rightly) as a rationalization for colonialism.

The Hebrew presence in the rest of Southwest Asia declined rapidly during the period between the wars. Jews got chased out of Baghdad, where they had built a large community over the centuries. The Arabs chased 20,000 of them out of Hebron, and so on. Claiming the Jewish presence in that region as artifiial rewrites history and misleads readers. The Arabs in the region performed the ethnic cleansing, and the British-mandated Jewish homeland (and later Israel) became the only place where Jews could live safely.

Cohen gives the benighted version of history preferred by Arabs and then advises Israel that they have little right to defend their existence. After all, Cohen argues, how can one allow someone to defend a mistake? Cohen doesn't bother to mention the "mistake" of Islamist terrorism -- well, he does, but casts it off in a patronizing defense of the "they can't help themselves' variety. Israel should not react to their attacks because it will never change the minds of Hezbollah and Hamas.

On that, Cohen and I agree. For that reason, Israel must continue their attacks on both Hezbollah and Hamas and completely wipe them out, unless they agree to lay down their arms and quit committing acts of war. Israel is not the mistake; caving into Islamist terrorism is the mistake. One would think that Americans would have learned that after own Beirut adventure, as well as Teheran and Somalia. Cohen, however, would prefer to keep blaming Israel for the hatred of its foes.

UPDATE: I originally credited "Deteriorata" to Firesign Theater instead of National Lampoon. It's a parody of the Max Ehrmann poem "Desiderata" that graced a million posters in the late 1960s and early 1970s (he wrote it in 1927).

UPDATE II: The Balfour Declaration in 1917 declared the intent of the British government to establish a Jewish homeland in Palestine. We should remember that the British intended that two homelands be established in Palestine, one for the Jew and one for the Palestinians -- and that the demarcation was supposed to be the Jordan River. The Hashemites stole a march on the British and declared an independent kingdom in what is now Jordan, leaving the British with a much-reduced spot of land for the two homelands.

One of the best histories of the region in the 20th century is A Peace To End All Peace by David Fromkin. It's always on my sidebar, as it's a must-read for anyone wishing to understand the politics of the Middle East.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at July 18, 2006 9:41 AM

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