Clausewitz has been upended. In On War, he famously wrote,
War is not a mere act of policy but a true political instrument, a continuation of political activity by other means.
However, he also said,
The aim of war should be the defeat of the enemy. But what constitutes defeat? The conquest of his whole territory is not always necessary, and total occupation of his territory may not be enough.
Total occupation of the enemy’s territory has not been enough for Israel – a state of affairs from which it has already receded – and defeat without the military conquest of territory is what Israel’s enemies pursue. Guerilla wars and insurgencies pursue such victory. Today, in a media world (a mediated reality), those who oppose the existence of Israel – as the existence of no other nation is questioned and opposed – believe they can destroy Israel through a campaign of negative commentary, cultural assault, symbolic misrepresentation, and tactical military loss that will direct the political responses of other nations. “When we speak of destroying the enemy’s forces,” said Clausewitz,
we must emphasize that nothing obliges us to limit this idea to physical forces: the moral element must also be considered.
This is the goal. The BDS movement, the “Free Gaza” movement, the anti-Zionists, the Mondoweisses and Max Blumenthals, all believe they can break Israel’s morale by the overwhelming weight of international political censure. They are containers of overweening self-importance, yet who can be surprised if they are buoyed these days by developments? Hamas is shrewdly using them to achieve one of two aims, either the political implosion of Israel or to bring Israel to a politically weakened state, thus weakened for further violent conflict.
One of the difficulties in combating political war against Israel is to be found in the blurred lines distinguishing the varieties of its critics. I wrote about this the other day in Obsessive-Compulsive Israel Disorder. At the most extreme end one will find the historically paranoid and conspiratorial anti-Semitic elements such as The Forbidden Truth, Jew Watch, and Vanguard News Network. I know of these three particular sites through the kindness of Twitterers seeking to enlighten a deluded Jew. A common theme among the conspiratorially obsessed is that notion of forbidden, or hidden, truth. By definition, esoteric knowledge is at the center of revelatory conceptions, whether Platonic enlightenment or religious truth. In fact, Jew Watch News makes this claim at the bottom of its homepage:
Jew Watch Ranks Up to 10 Times Higher Than The U.S. Holocaust Museum [in Internet traffic].
Why? Our Visitors Learn More. We Offer More. We Study & Archive the Truth.
That So-Called ‘Museum’ Is a Major Part of the ADL’s Hate Industry and Has Less to Offer.
You see, again, the inversion, the exchange of terms in conceptual formulation. It is the ADL and the Holocaust Museum that are made part of a “hate industry.”
You will be hard pressed to find substantive distinction between this vision and that of Phyllis Bennis on HuffPo. Bennis works with the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation and is a fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington and the Transnational Institute in Amsterdam. “Fellows” and “institutes” always emit an enlighteningly objective scholarly sheen, and the Right in the U.S. has used them brilliantly over the past two decades. The extreme Left uses them, too. The Transnational Institute tells us at its site that in the 1970s it
hosted regular activities focused on NATO and the militarisation of Europe.
I’ll point out that the bold emphasis is that of the Institute itself, telling us that it wasn’t the Warsaw Pact’s militarization that focused its attention. The Institute also informs us that in 1995
TNI published a prescient book, The Next Threat: Western Perceptions of Islam…
The threat we needed to spy in the distance was not Islamic fundamentalist extremism, but Western perceptions of Islam. Bennis herself did not just oppose the Vietnam War but supported the NLF, and proudly asserts so today, even in full knowledge of the deadly reeducation camps and the mass expulsion and boat exodus of hundreds of thousands of Chinese.
These are the affiliations of a fairly representative far Left voice, the kind that shows up on generically liberal blogs such as HuffPo and TPMCafe and in the diaries of Daily Kos. And these voices, barely distinguishable in their demonization of Israel from classic anti-Semitic sources, this illiberal, undemocratic infection at the left extremities that has advanced and retreated for over a century, now mingle in their attacks on Israel with mainstream liberal voices, on these blogs and elsewhere. It is painful for a true liberal to observe this corruption of liberal values by their antithesis, their enemy, under the cover of defending powerless victims – in the blind, covert championing of the mission of Hamas, Hezbollah, Syria, and Iran: the most illiberal forces imaginable.
Out of mainstream liberalism comes a voice, recently, like Peter Beinart’s, that begins to blend so easily with that of Bennis. In his response to Abe Foxman of the ADL at the NYRB, Beinart continues to demonstrate a shocking absence of historical perspective and knowledge. He says,
Palestinian rejectionism does not explain Netanyahu’s deep-seated hostility to a Palestinian state.
How does Beinart know? The rejectionism, formally, is 62 years old, older than Netanyahu himself. Netanyahu has lived his entire life in the reality of it.
to suggest that Palestinian and Arab behavior fully explains the growing authoritarian, even racist, tendencies in Israeli politics is to don a moral blindfold, a blindfold that most young American Jews, to their credit, will not wear.
Firstly, Palestinian rejectionism cannot explain Avigdor Lieberman’s crusade to humiliate, disenfranchise, and perhaps even eventually expel Arab Israelis, the vast majority of whom want nothing more than to be accepted as equal citizens in the country of their birth.
Why? Why cannot Palestinian and Arab behavior explain these phenomena? These behaviors have been anti-Semitically hateful and violent for the length of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It took one significant attack on the U.S. in 2001 to generate substantial distrust of Muslims, the abandonment of key civil liberties protections, and a regime of torture – with widespread public support of it. Would we reasonably expect no reaction to 62 years of war and over 40 of terror? Is Beinart unaware of how glumly, in the 70s, American liberals greeted the ascent of Menachem Begin, and his succession by the dreary Yitzhak Shamir? Does he not know of Meir Kahane and his racism? The current government is not extraordinary, developments like Lieberman not new. Based on the evidence, what might the U.S. be like after six decades of terror and war?
Obviously, as Foxman suggests, the Palestinians are not blameless. Yasser Arafat deserves history’s scorn for not responding more courageously to the chances for peace at Camp David and the much better ones put forward by Clinton in December 2000.
That’s it? That limp slap is all he offers to characterize Yasser Arafat’s decades of criminally exploitative leadership of his own people and career of murdering Israelis and Jews? The Palestinians “are not blameless”? After rejecting at the outset the partition that the Israelis accepted? After refusing for nearly three decades even to consider, in principal, offering recognition and peace for land, and now pretending the consequent settlements are the source of the problem – the Palestinians “are not blameless”? Palestinian blameworthiness is a weak add-on to an indictment of Israel’s moral blinders? Is Israel in Beinart’s judgment fundamentally at fault in the conflict? How different can one find this from Bennis?
How different is it from Andrew Sullivan? In his singular, emotively changeable fixations and his disingenuous rhetoric, he is at once sui generis and representative of the slippery nature of anti-Israel argumentation. Sullivan claims to have been changed by the 2008-09 Gaza War. He was a friend of Israel, but was moved from his uncritical support by what he considered the brutality of that war. But it is always in the empathic pose and voice that Sullivan attempts to gain credit for the torments of his misconceptions. Sullivan claims, absurdly, still to be a, now-critical, friend of Israel, but his rhetoric has come to incorporate all the slanted misrepresentations and verbal misdirections of Israel’s enemies. Now, post Gaza, he speaks of Israel’s “colonization” of the West Bank – with all that postcolonially conveys to the Bennisian Left – when he did not speak this way before Gaza and the West Bank settlements are unrelated to Gaza. Now he will dismissively say of Israel that, in its eyes,
[a] country permanently occupying and colonizing a neighboring region, and treating its original inhabitants as dangerous interlopers, is the victim.
Of course, “permanently” ignores the four-decade-long willingness of Israel to trade land for peace, and the three distinct offers to abandon nearly all of the settlements for peace. “Original inhabitants” either dishonestly or ignorantly denies Jewish history on the West Bank, “dangerous” interlopers challenges the true dangers, and “victim” dispenses with the entire history of Palestinian rejectionism. Now Sullivan will speak of Jewish “tribalism” and dual loyalties and invoke conversations with unidentified Jewish friends that mark American Jews as merely primally, emotionally, unthinkingly supportive of Israel – all of the themes intended to undermine the legitimacy and reasoned nature of support for Israel among American Jews.
But Sullivan’s problem is only with Gaza and Netanyahu. And Andrew Sullivan is a friend of Israel.
If one engages critics of Israel, one must immediately identify and hold to the light the nature of the criticism. Is it criticism only of the current government? Is it the much invoked “criticism of policy”? Is it discomfort with the Gaza blockade? Is it rejection of the settlement history? Is it denial of Israeli positions in seeking peace? Is it acceptance of the Palestinian narrative? Is it covert or overt opposition to the existence of a Jewish state? Does it question Jewish identity, national aspiration, and historical relation to the land? Often, critics will claim to be of a less offensive kind, yet slip easily, in the ever confused back and forth of debate, charge and counter charge, into the claims not of critic, but of foe. Is Israel, for the critic, simply, locally in error, fundamentally wrong, or once again the Jew demonized, whether by conspiratorial wingnut or postcolonial solidaritist with a halo?
Once, not long ago in even human time, Jews were victims of the greatest systematic genocide known to history. Almost immediately in its aftermath, they transformed themselves into the fiercest, most accomplished warriors on the planet. Now there is another kind of war, not replacing the old and original, but being engaged stealthily and successfully by Israel’s enemies. This new kind of war must now be mastered too.
Clausewitz also said,
The object of defense is preservation; and since it is easier to hold ground than to take it, defense is easier than attack. But defense has a passive purpose: preservation; and attack a positive one: conquest. . . . If defense is the stronger form of war, yet has a negative object, if follows that it should be used only so long as weakness compels, and be abandoned as soon as we are strong enough to pursue a positive object.
The positive object in this new kind of war is the destruction of the reputation and influence of those who seek, with and without arms, to destroy Israel.
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