Israel always has fought the odds but during its formative years it earned a reputation for pluck and survival in a hostile corner of the world. Its socialist policies, exemplified by the kibbutzim (collectives where residents shared not only work duties but also the rearing of children), delighted the left. Although Israel represented the rebirth of a Jewish state, its early leaders projected secular sensibilities. Today Israel rates as perhaps the most reviled country on the face of the earth.
Joshua Muravchik describes the transformation of Israel’s fortunes in “Making David into Goliath: How the World Turned Against Israel.” The author explains the hostility to Israel in its various manifestations. Charles de Gaulle saw it coming. Although prescient about so many military and diplomatic developments, in this instance he does not deserve a compliment. During and after 1967’s Six-Day War, de Gaulle shifted France from a friendly stance toward Israel to one of outright contempt. He cited France’s traditional ties to the status quo ante and to the growing economic clout of the oil sheikdoms. Other European states have followed France’s craven example.
The antipathy toward Israel seen in the academy, on the left, in international organizations and among portions of the press takes a deserved beating in “Making David.” The double standard persists, and Muravchik supplies specifics. He gives a history of terrorism.
A significant symbolic change occurred when perceptions of the strife in the Middle East changed from being a struggle of tiny Israel against united Arab might to one of Israeli power against Palestinian victims. The perception may not be true but it explains trendy attitudes. And if previous Arab leaders aligned themselves with the likes of Hitler, then the Palestinian cause was associated with Che and other poster heroes.
Muravchik does not spare Israelis, either. Menachem Begin takes a beating, especially for the ill-fated invasion of Lebanon, a mistake from which Israel has yet fully to recover. Muravchik also argues to considerable effect that Israel’s own adversarial culture has complicated its tasks on the global stage. He does not call for an end to the liberties Israel enjoys — and that do not exist in the Islamist world — but he says that the so-called post-Zionism is in fact a rejection of the Zionism that led to the establishment of the modern state of Israel.
“Making David into Goliath” is an essential book. It generates lamentations as well for the American political scene. No one in Congress surpasses Rep. Eric Cantor (R-7th) in knowledge of the stakes involved in the Israeli-Palestinian contention and other facets of Middle Eastern politics. The former House majority leader understands. We hope his wise counsel continues after he leaves office. When tensions intensify, his insights will be missed. Elections — and ideological temper tantrums — have consequences.