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An Oasis of Freedom

By Daniel A. Handlin and Joseph Mandelbaum

Thanks to our current political leadership, it has somehow become fashionable to criticize America’s allies while offering conciliatory gestures to our enemies. While this trend as a whole is questionable at best, one of the most dangerous effects it has had is the suggestion offered by some that the U.S. should in some way weaken or rethink its alliance with Israel. Most disconcertingly, the Obama administration seems to be taking this idea to heart, as evidenced by its recent snub of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. As former New York City Mayor Ed Koch, a Democrat, put it, “President Obama’s abysmal attitude toward the State of Israel … is shocking.”

Israel is America’s strongest ally in the Middle East and the only true democracy in the region. From the perspective of America’s grand strategic interests and moral responsibilities, it is very much in this nation’s interest to maintain a strong alliance with Israel. Many disparate terrorist groups engage in frequent internecine bloodletting, but they all have in common a fierce hatred of both the U.S. and Israel. Terrorism is a grave national security threat to the U.S. and an existential one to Israel. Hence, the support of a stable Middle Eastern democracy that has reliably sided with the U.S. is crucial to American strategic interests.

American arms sales to Israel are thus beneficial for both nations; weapons export is one of the very few industries in which the U.S. maintains a positive trade balance. These arms sales to Israel are also necessary for supporting the balance of power in the region, as Saudi Arabia, Iran, Syria, Egypt, and other nations in the area vastly outspend Israel on the imports of advanced American and Russian weaponry.

But what of the moral prerogative? The truth is that Israel is a paragon for human rights protections. It has the highest human development index and democracy index of any nation in the Middle East. Unlike any other country in the region, Israel respects basic liberties such as freedom of assembly, religion, and the press, as well as more specific causes such as women’s and gay rights.

But somehow, these facts have been submerged and twisted into a narrative in which Israel is a violator of human rights. Israel is an oasis of freedom in a desert of tyranny and oppression. In most of the Middle East, women still lack equality and face segregation in universities and workplaces; Freedom House recently described women’s rights in the Middle East as the “most severe” on earth. Israel has one of the highest percentages of support for same-sex civil marriage in the world. While a gay pride parade takes place in Tel Aviv, gays are executed in Egypt. Under Israeli law, all citizens are equal and enjoy freedom of religion. Every citizen in Israel has the right to vote, and there are numerous Arabs in the Israeli parliament—Israel is in fact one of the only places in the Middle East where Muslim women can vote. On the other hand, the Jordanian government has recently revoked the citizenship of nearly 3,000 Palestinian Jordanians to nothing but silence from the Obama administration. In the meantime, the Hamas government in Gaza fires rockets at Israeli schools and towns from behind human shields. There can be no moral equivalency between Israel and its neighbors.

Settlements are a thorny issue for both sides, but in truth they are a thinly veiled excuse for further criticism and attacks on Israel. It was agreed at Camp David in 1995 that Israel, in a final peace deal, would exchange some land in Israel proper for the largest Jewish settlements in the West Bank; this was agreed to by Palestinian negotiators several times under both Clinton and Bush.

This is why it is so baffling that this flimsy pretext for criticism of Israel has caused the Obama administration to publicly chastise one of its strongest allies. The moribund Israeli-Palestinian peace process is not at a standstill because Israel will build apartments in its capital over the next few years. It has stopped because Israel’s putative negotiating partner is a radical terrorist organization whose very founding documents are fundamentally opposed to Israel’s existence.  It is unclear how one would negotiate a peace with an organization that exists on the basis of permanent opposition to peace. Similarly, Mahmoud Abbas—universally considered a moderate—recently gave his strong approval for the naming of a square after a suicide bomber terrorist responsible for the deaths of 37 innocent Israeli civilians; negotiation with partners that glorify terror also seems a fruitless pursuit.

Ultimately, it is in the interests of all to reach a peaceful settlement between the Israelis and the Palestinians. But as Mayor Koch pointed out, “…to treat Israel and its prime minister as pariahs…only emboldens Israel’s enemies and makes the prospect of peace even more remote.” Peace, in the final consideration, will only be achieved by holding all sides to a fair and equal standard. In the meantime, the U.S. must realize that it cannot distance itself from its allies in order to appease its enemies.

Daniel A. Handlin ’11 is an astrophysics concentrator in Winthrop House. Joseph Mandelbaum ’11 is a chemical and physical biology concentrator in Cabot House.

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