Why is Israel different?

Gunther Plaut May 30 1983

Why is Israel different?

Gunther Plaut May 30 1983

Why is Israel different?


Gunther Plaut

The voices are many and dissonant: I love Begin—I hate Begin (Menachem, that is, not Monique). Ariel Sharon was innocent of any complicity in the Beirut massacre—he was guilty and therefore had to go. Settlements on the West Bank are our only permanent defence—settlements must stop because they hinder the peace process. An independent Palestinian state will spell the end of Israel—such a state is inevitable, and its teeth can be pulled in advance. All Israelis agree—no Israelis agree on anything. Yasser Arafat is a moderate who wants peace—yes, the peace of an Israeli cemetery.


“Back to the 1967 borders!” is the United Nations’ demand. But before the Six Day War it was “Back to the 1947 borders!” On Nov. 29, 1947, the UN divided what was then Palestine into a Jewish and an Arab state. Jerusalem was to be internationalized. The Jews accepted and proclaimed Israel within the specified borders. The Arabs demurred, and five of their armies invaded the land. For a long time the fate of the tiny new nation hung in the balance, but in the end its fortunes turned. One per cent of its population fell in the battle (imagine 250,000 Canadians dying in a nine-month war). The conflict redrew the borders, people fled and were displaced—the unhappy consequence of any war. Germany invaded Poland in 1939. When it was over, 10 million Germans had to leave their homes and are now settled in the rest of Germany. No one suggests that Poland should resettle them and act as if 1939 never happened.

But it is different with Israel, everything is, and it worries me.

After 35 brief years of existence she has fought five wars. Except for Egypt and Lebanon, no Arab nation recognizes her, and most governments in Asia and Africa follow the communist line and have no diplomatic relations with her (though many of them are happy to receive her technology, her goods and even her weapons as long as they are imported via a third country). If there is any agreement among nations West and East about Israel, it is one thing: she alone of all the nations in the world must observe ideal standards of international ethics and internal social justice, standards neither demanded

Allan Fotheringham is on vacation.

of nor achieved by any nation on the globe, Canada not excepted. When I travelled to Australia recently, I was thunderstruck to find that Canadians are portrayed primarily as heartless killers of innocent baby seals. I got nowhere talking about the Canada I know and love. We are not all seal hunters, I argued. There is really more to us than that.

That’s the way it is with Israel. Every mark against the nation—real or invented—makes it, so to speak, into a nation of sealers. Responsibility for the 300 tragic victims of Christian Phalangist murderers—Arabs themselves— was laid at the door of Israel. This magazine headlined a memorable issue on the subject with a cover stating, ISRAEL ON TRIAL. But no one was on trial when, in the seven years previous, at least 60,000 Lebanese were slain in the course of the civil war. The loudest cries came (and come) from the Left, both here and

Israel alone of all nations must observe ideal standards of international ethics and internal social justice'

abroad, that same Left whose silence about Afghanistan marks it for a special prize in political hypocrisy—the same people who condemn U.S. imperialism but find no fault with Soviet expansionism or Cuban mercenaries. “No country must keep territory acquired in war,” they proclaim, meaning Israel but not, of course, the Soviets’ acquisition of the Baltic states of Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia.

Yet withal, the little nation of Israel has looked to its ethics while the real slayers of Sabra and Shatila have not been apprehended by the Lebanese ( much less tried). Because its own citizens so demanded, Israel felt compelled to put its entire government on trial to determine whether there was any action that was morally reprehensible and could be construed as complicity or even knowledge. In consequence this nation ousted its most admired war hero and sacked two other generals—for ethical reasons, not for failure to have performed valiantly.

The Palestinian problem will not go away. Israel’s first president, Chaim Weizmann, once said that it repre-

sented the clash of two national rights. It must be resolved and it could and would if a Palestinian leadership, Syria, Jordan and the other Arab states would sit down with Israel and talk about it in rational terms rather than through terror and constant war. Thus, while Israel needs and wants peace desperately, Syria, the Soviet Union’s chief client state in the Middle East, does not want it at all. On the contrary, the country’s minister of planning declared recently that Syria has thrived in its permanent state of war. For some strange reason— which appears logical to the purveyors of 1984—that attitude is said to be best rectified by putting even more pressure on Israel to make further concessions.

Israelis themselves are not agreed on their own politics, which are raucous and verbally violent, for democracy and dissent are the very lifeblood of the country, and that alone should make it appealing to those of us who are aware of the shrinking perimeters of democracy in a world that counts only 28 or 29 nations that deserve this ascription.

Israelis discuss the fate of the Arabs in their midst, the future of the West Bank, the rightness of adding new settlements, the peace process, the justification for the Lebanese war. Most believe that an independent Arab state on the West Bank would pose a great danger to Israel. Yet, while they want to give the Arabs the greatest autonomy possible, they do not consider independent statehood to be the only avenue for realizing cultural and national aspirations. In this respect they are no different from Canadians with regard to Quebec.

Israel is 35 years old. Transposed into Canadian history, that would bring us back to 1902, a world away from today’s realities. In 1902 the world demanded little of Canada, but of Israel it wants everything—total justice and total righteousness. It isn’t there of coursebut there is more of it than in many,if not most, places if one is willing to take a dispassionate look.

The land needs a little patience, a little peace and a little love. I believe that given half a chance they will do the right thing by the Arabs and by themselves, unless of course one thinks that the right thing is Israeli suicide. That was Gandhi’s advice to the Jews of Europe in the 1930s: collective suicide. There must be a different way._

Rabbi Plaut has authored 15 books. His autobiography, Unfinished Business, was published by Lester & Orpen Dennys.