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Existential Questions

May 9, 2009 | by Saul Singer

Destroying Israel is not a legitimate Mideast option.

By Saul Singer Reprinted with permission from the National Review.

The genie is out of the bottle. There is a thread linking seemingly disparate events: Mahathir's ovation from Muslim leaders when he called for modernizing the struggle against Israel; Tony Judt's New York Review of Books article calling for a bi-national "alternative" to the Jewish state; and Palestinian demands this week that the British apologize for the Balfour Declaration of 1917. The connection? A resurgent daring to question Israel's right to exist.

Bret Stephens in the Jerusalem Post and Leon Wieseltier in The New Republic have written devastating responses to Judt's article, but as Stephens points out, once a discredited idea becomes only "controversial," the battle has, in some sense, already been lost.

The question is whether calls for Israel's destruction, however politely wrapped, should be an acceptable part of civil discourse. Or as Stephens puts it, "... will the New Republic sack Judt [now a contributing editor] the way ESPN recently sacked Rush Limbaugh for making an arguably derogatory comment about a black football player?" To argue for placing five million Jews under the tender mercies of, as Mahathir Mohamad puts it, "1.3 billion Muslims," is a transparent recipe for dispersion at best, and genocide at worst.

This is not one of those nice, vaguely postmodern ideas that can be harmlessly bandied about, but an old-new fantasy of the same militant Islam that is stalking America. Editors and producers should be as intolerant of such musings as they are of racism, and for the same reason: Both reek of the genocides of the last century.

Sometimes, though, matters must get worse before they can get better, and this may be such a case. The idea that Israel has no right to exist moved underground long ago. Before the 1967 war, Arab leaders openly proclaimed the goal of throwing the Jews into the sea. Running Israel over with tanks has since become gauche, but overwhelming Israel demographically through the demand of "return" is not. And now, apparently, neither is emptying Israel of all meaning by stripping it of its Jewishness.

That the destroy-Israel notion has been forced to adopt various disguises is a mixed blessing. On the one hand, Israel has gained permanence with each passing year, and it is good and important that this has been reflected in the international debate. On the other, it is harder to combat a vulgar idea in disguise than in its unvarnished form.

The more emboldened Israel's opponents become, the more obvious it will be which side is struggling to survive and which side is on the attack.

The garb of the destructionist fantasy has become so enticing that it has even attracted a sizable Israeli minority. This minority does not wish Israel ill, but is uncomfortable with the state's Jewishness for some understandable reasons. To Israelis, the idea of being a "normal" country is intensely attractive, and normal countries just are, without any adjectives attached. Appeals to Israelis' modern, democratic, and egalitarian instincts have shown the power to sow bitter divisions among them.

In its latest incarnations, however, the destructionist fantasy has had all but its thinnest veils removed. When Palestinians say that the Balfour Declaration calling for a Jewish national home was a crime, it is obvious they are not interested in a two-state solution, but one state: Palestine. When Mahathir gives a pep talk claiming it is inconceivable that the piddling Jewish people can succeed against the Muslim multitudes, he is not calling for inter-faith dialogue. And when Judt writes about the failure of the quest for two states, Jewish and Arab, he is not talking about eliminating an Arab state, but instead the only Jewish one.

If this trend continues it will, at least initially, be bad for Israel's legitimacy, but good for Israeli unity. The more emboldened Israel's opponents become, the more obvious it will be which side is struggling to survive and which side is on the attack. Finally, the more the one-state (Palestine) solution gains currency, the more the two-state solution will lose steam.

If the Left, which, after all, has been the engine behind the two-state solution, starts boarding the one-state ship, who will be left to champion the idea of Israel next to Palestine? The rise of the destructionists hollows out the middle, leaving Israel with its back to the wall, and clarifying what this "conflict" has always been about. There is no "conflict" to be resolved between a fly and a flyswatter: Either the fly makes it or it doesn't.

The West is in a fight to the finish with militant Islam. Two masks must be lifted before we can win. First, it must be realized that drawing borders does not generate peace. Peace -- that is, an Arab decision to stop trying to destroy Israel -- will generate borders. Second, it is not possible that militant Islam will end its war with the West without ending its war against Israel.

To the enemy, Israel and America are two fronts in the same war. For the West, this war, like any other, will not be won until it is won on all fronts.

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