Erdoğan and his party obtained a solid victory in the election this week, guaranteeing that relations between Turkey and Israel will get even worse. This is because the Turkish president has a history of anti-Israel rhetoric and actions whenever he wants to stir up his Islamist base or promote himself in the wider Islamic world. It’s not all talk, either, as he provides support for Hamas and is behind anti-Israel subversion in eastern Jerusalem.
Israel had good relations with Turkey before the advent of Erdoğan, just as it did with the other major non-Arab power in the region, Iran, before the 1979 Islamic revolution. But the Islamist ideology does not leave room for a Jewish sovereign state in the region, so neither of the new regimes can treat this “abomination,” in their terms, with anything but hostility. And hating Jews and Israel still plays well in the Muslim Middle East.
Today Israel has better relations with some of its traditional Arab enemies, including actual peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan, as well as a lessening of tension with some others, like Saudi Arabia. But even the long-standing peace with Egypt, despite the active security cooperation between Israel and the al-Sisi regime, does not come close to the promises made in the peace treaty, which calls for “cultural exchanges in all fields” and for both sides to “abstain from hostile propaganda.” Egyptians who visit Israel are harassed by security forces, Egyptian artists and academics boycott Israel, and the Egyptian media are full of government-sponsored libels and conspiracy theories about Israel and Jews.
The 1994 “peace” with Jordan is even less “peaceful,” including several violent incidents over the years, including the horrific 1997 murder of seven Israeli schoolgirls by a Jordanian soldier, who is unrepentant to this day. Cultural exchange and Jordanian tourism also do not exist. One of the family members of the murdered girls said that “peace with Jordan is between us [Israelis] and the royal family — not the people or the parliament.”
Saudi Arabia has softened its formerly tough rejectionist policy against Israel in many ways in the past 10 years or so; it has allowed one airline to overfly its airspace on its way to Israel (but not an Israeli airline); it has participated in secret discussions with Israel, Jordan, and the US concerning Iran; and would probably quietly cooperate in an Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear project. There have even been a few voices in Saudi media criticizing antisemitism. But as yet there is no reason to see the slight thaw in relations as anything but a very narrow expression of Saudi geopolitical interests.
The Palestinian Arabs are another story. Thanks to several generations of hate education since Oslo, relations with the Palestinians, both in Gaza and Judea/Samaria, have only gotten worse. The recent “knife and car intifada” and the incendiary kite attacks illustrate the degree to which the Palestinian in the street has internalized the hate propaganda that flows unabated from Hamas and the PLO. A young Palestinian man can get up in the morning, go out on the street, and look a Jewish girl in the eye before stabbing her in the heart. Palestinians hate Zionism, they hate Israel, and many of them deeply hate Jews.
But Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and some other Mideastern nations not already irrevocably under Iranian domination can work with us on practical matters, up to and including military cooperation. So why can’t they put aside the antisemitism? I think the answer is the idea, fundamental to Islam, that Jews must be subservient to Muslims. A moderate Muslim may tolerate Jews and treat them well, but Jews ruling over Muslims (or defeating them in war) – well, that’s going too far. So when they see Israel with its powerful army, dominating Arabs, it infuriates them, and reenergizes the traditional “apes and pigs” form of Muslim antisemitism.
What about Europe: why have the advanced nations of Western Europe, supposedly the most socially advanced countries in the world, been so hostile to the Jewish state? Why do they support our Palestinian enemies in so many ways – money, propaganda, lawfare, funding anti-Israel NGOs, UN resolutions, enabling boycotts by requiring labeling of our products? Why do they try to maintain the laughable distinction between antisemitism, which they claim to abhor, and “criticism of Israel” that invariably includes demonization, delegitimization, and double standards? What forces them to take this position?
Is it just fear of terrorism or fear of retaliation by Mideastern oil producers? Is it the desire by officials to gain domestic political advantage with their increasing Muslim populations? All these are true to some extent, but they are not adequate to explain the spitefulness of the public expressions of anti-Israel sentiment that we see in demonstrations or hear from public officials. There is something deeply personal in their dislike of the Jewish state.
There are multiple explanations for Europe’s animus toward Israel. It is an ethnic nation-state, and they hate nationalism. They are embarrassed that many Europeans were complicit with Hitler, and the Jewish state makes it hard to forget. They are still feeling the vestiges of two thousand years of Christian antisemitism. Finally, my favorite: if Israel, the state of the Jews, is as evil as the Reich, then Europeans needn’t feel so guilty about having stood by (or helped) while the Jews were murdered.
Turning to the United States, the political divide is deeper and more painful than it has ever been in my lifetime. Much of the Democratic Party has chosen to carry the Palestinian flag as part of its core ideology, and its potential candidates are competing over who will be more anti-Israel. The present administration is quite pro-Israel, but if and when the other side takes over, I expect that American policy toward Israel will be even more negative than that of the Obama Administration.
Bernie Sanders, one of the contenders for the Democratic presidential nomination, has taken some of the most extreme anti-Israel positions of any major candidate, more or less adopting the Hamas narrative of the “March of Return,” demonizing Israel for shooting “unarmed protestors,” and even treating the “right of return” for the descendants of Arab refugees to Israel – a call for the end of the Jewish state – as a legitimate demand.
In the US there is no large Muslim population (yet) and no dependence on Middle Eastern oil. Palestinian terrorists have killed Americans, and no country has worked harder to be a good American ally than Israel. And yet, the American Left focuses on Israel as its greatest enemy, going to ridiculous lengths to try to connect Israel with every issue for which they can find resonance. Did an American policeman shoot an unarmed black man? American police officers have attended training programs in Israel, so Israel is responsible!
This is an interesting example. My son teaches use of firearms to Israeli security personnel. Naturally, great emphasis is placed on distinguishing between armed terrorists or criminals and innocent civilians. What could be more important? One assumes that if an American police officer trained here, he would receive the same training. But according to the Left, the American comes here to learn to be racist, to shoot blacks first, and ask questions later. The accusation is monstrous, but it is commonly made. And believed.
In all of these cases, in the Middle East, in Europe, and in the US as well, antisemitism – or extreme anti-Israelism (essentially the same thing) – is a primary, entrenched motivator for anti-Israel politics (even when the politician in question, like Bernie Sanders, is Jewish).
A consequence of this is that appeals to rational self-interest on the part of our enemies will never bring peace, because they are not rationally motivated. We can relax and just concentrate on being strong enough, militarily, diplomatically, cybernetically, and economically to beat back their attacks. Forever.