New Statement

Why we should be side by side with Israel now

Defending Israel is not a matter of altruism. Defending Israel is in the West’s strategic, economic, military, and – yes, moral interest.

2012-03-15 by All the Founder Members

The Friends of Israel Initiative has been established in the firm conviction that the State of Israel must be recognized as a valuable member of the international community, and as a vibrant democracy with the strengths and imperfections of any other democratic political community.

Upheavals throughout the Arab world have brought these truths to light in an unmistakable way.

For, in addition to bringing down authoritarian regimes across the Middle East and North Africa, the “Arab Spring” has also debunked a lot of conventional wisdom about the politics of the Middle East. Thus while the West faces a Middle East that is rife with conflict, it does so without any conventional analytic frameworks to guide it. At such a moment, freedom-loving countries need steadfast friends in one of the world’s most volatile regions. One such friend and ally is the State of Israel: a stable, democratic, dependable ally of the West.

Yet at a perilous moment when the western democracies should be supporting Israel, there are western voices loudly asserting the opposite, voices critical of Israel in a thoroughly unconstructive way. This criticism is doubly ironic in that one of the mythologies debunked by the “Arab Spring” is the notion that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the root of all instability, terrorism, tension, and political dysfunction in Arab lands. Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons could not be blunted, terrorism could not be prevented, the Arab old guard could never be challenged until there was peace between Israel and the Palestinians: so the argument went, for years and decades.

That argument was always false, and that fact has now been underscored by a wave of Arab revolts – in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Syria, and the Gulf States – that has had nothing whatsoever to do with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

At the same time, friends of Israel and friends of democracy must be alarmed by the renewed anti-Semitism that has been unleashed in the Middle East, a wave of bigotry that reflects the decades of anti-Israeli venom that has issued from the very dictators that have now been deposed. Israel is not the only focus of Islamist attacks in the wake of the “Arab Spring,” of course; the Christian communities of the Middle East and North Africa are under intense and often violent pressure, which we deplore. Yet we must also draw attention to the threats to the beleaguered Jewish state that have followed what was hoped to be a springtime of rational politics in the Arab world. Radical mobs have attacked the Israeli embassy in Cairo. The bilateral agreement between Israel and Egypt, a bulwark of stability, faces an uncertain future, as Islamist parties control over 70·/. of the Egyptian legislature.

Moreover, those parts of the Middle East untouched by the “Arab Spring” remain volatile and dangerous. In Lebanon, the Iranian proxy Hezbollah has become politically entrenched and is re-arming in the face of U.N. forces deployed to prevent precisely that ominous development. Another Iranian proxy, Hamas, controls Gaza, from which terrorists attack Israel and penetrate an increasingly ungoverned Sinai.

Meanwhile, the Palestinian Authority is embarked on a path that can only bring more misery to its people. It uselessly pursued a unilateralist path to statehood, which was rejected by the U.N. Now, the Fatah-led P.A. is pursuing a unity government with Hamas, whose stated goal remains the destruction of the State of Israel and the annihilation of Jews. It is little wonder that, under these circumstances, negotiations have stalled, for Israel cannot negotiate seriously with a partner that remains uncommitted to peace. Thus, as former heads of government, diplomats, and global leaders, we urge our fellow leaders throughout the world to urge a different path in their conversations with Palestinian leaders: the rejection of violence, the building-up of Palestinian civil society, and negotiations aimed at genuine agreements, not propaganda.

In the midst of the Middle East’s roiling instability, Israel remains an island of stability, a stability built upon secure democratic values and institutions. Israel is like other western democracies: it is open, dynamic, innovative, and full of political contention mediated throughout functioning democratic institutions rooted in a democratic political culture. Such a country deserves to live in peace. Such a country has no territorial aspirations; time and again has returned land gained in war for peace, often to its peril – as events in Lebanon and Gaza have sadly proven, and as Sinai may prove. Land is not the issue. Peace is the issue, and at the root of that issue is the refusal of the Arab world to recognize the existence of Israel as a Jewish state, a state that has shown time and again its willingness to live in peace with its Arab neighbors of all faiths. 

That aspiration to peace is now threatened in an exceptionally grave way by the nuclear ambitions of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Those ambitions pose an intolerable threat to Israel, to the West, to the Sunni Arab states of the Middle East and North Africa, and to the global nuclear non-proliferation regime that has been painstakingly constructed and maintained for decades. There can be no doubt that Iran seeks nuclear weapons; recent IAEA reports ought to have cleared the fog of confusion from that question. For its part, however, Iran has intensified its defiance toward the IAEA, rattled its sabers in the Straits of Hormuz, and carried out terrorist attacks around the world, including a thwarted attempt to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the United States in Washington D.C.

While we applaud the international community’s efforts to put increasing pressure on Iran and isolate it, we insist that more must be done. It must be made clear to the current Iranian authorities that under no circumstances will Iran be allowed to acquire nuclear weapons, and that all options are on the table to make certain that Iran does not acquire such weapons, should the present Iranian government not change its course. Western unity, and unity between the West and Israel, is essential in this essential exercise in nuclear non-proliferation.

Despite the attacks visited upon it – terrorist attacks and rhetorical attacks – Israel remains a beacon of democratic possibility in an area of the world where coercion and brute force have for too long diminished the prospects of ordinary people. Defending Israel is not a matter of altruism. Defending Israel is in the West’s strategic, economic, military, and – yes, moral interest.


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