Israel: How Was David Made into Goliath? How the World Turned Against Israel

Israel: How Was David Made into Goliath? How the World Turned Against Israel
(Joshua Muravchik, September 29, 2017)

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About the speaker

Dr. Joshua Muravchik is a Distinguished Fellow at the World Affairs Institute and teaches at the Institute of World Politics. Formerly, he was a Resident Scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and a Fellow in Residence at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. He was also an aide to the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-NY) in 1977 and a campaign aide to the late Senator Henry M. Jackson in his pursuit of the 1976 Democratic presidential nomination.

Dr. Muravchik is the author of eleven books, including Making David into Goliath: How the World Turned Against IsraelThe Next Founders: Voices of Democracy in the Middle EastHeaven on Earth: The Rise and Fall of Socialism, and The Imperative of American Leadership; and also more than 400 articles in newspapers, magazines, and scholarly journals.

Dr. Muravchik received an undergraduate degree from City College of New York and a Ph.D in international relations from Georgetown University. He also received an honorary doctorate from the Aurel Vlaicu University of Romania (2004). In 1998 he received a citation from the Polish parliament for his activities on behalf of Solidarity.


Robert Reilly:

Dr. Joshua Muravchik is a distinguished fellow at the World Affairs Institute and teaches at the Institute of World Politics. I’ve had the pleasure on occasion of visiting his class to talk about related matters. He has been a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and was also a fellow in residence at the Washington Institute for Near East policy.

He’s not only a man of theory a bit of practice, so he has worked on the staffs of both Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan and was a campaign aide to the late Senator Henry M. Scoop Jackson in his pursuit of the 1976 Democratic nomination.

Dr. Muravchik has written 11 books. We were just sharing with each other how difficult writing is as one progresses through life and the energy quotient diminishes. None of you would know about that. I see everyone here is too young to have had that experience. Well, the book on the subject of which you will be speaking tonight on which there are several copies outside for sale is ” Making David into Goliath: How the World Turned Against Israel.” Please join me in welcoming Dr. Muravchik.

Dr. Joshua Muravchik:

Thank you Bob. I think I first saw you before I met you Bob. I think you were on a stage in some capacity, representing our government and I was in the audience as a member of some youth organization that was invited to come learn something about what our government was up to and that was probably in the time, roughly in the time frame that I’m going to use to start my talk.

And thank you all for being here and for giving me this opportunity to talk to you. I don’t think when I first saw you on that stage was as far back as 1967, but it probably wasn’t too far beyond that and but as 1967 is an important year when talking about the Middle East and we just passed the 50th anniversary of the 1967 so-called Six-Day War.

And the essential question that I want to talk about and that I wrote this book about is what happened to bring about the dramatic change that there’s been in the way the world sees and treats Israel. At the time of the ’67 war there was a great rallying of opinion in support of Israel in many different places and what may surprise you, what may not surprise you to hear, that Gallup polls showed that when Americans were asked who knew favored Israel or the Arabs, they were of course a substantial number that said neither, don’t know, but of those that had an opinion, those who favored Israel outnumbered those who favored the Arabs by about 15 to 1.

Now, today, Israel still enjoys great support in the United States but what’s particularly striking if you look back at the polls of that time, is that similar polls were taken in European capitals in London and Paris amid the European countries, in England and France, and the support for Israel was even more lopsided there than it was here. The Gallup poll in England showed the support for Israel outnumbering support for the other side by about 30 to 1 and the same was true for not Gallup, that’s an equivalent poll taken in France at that time, and there were big rallies and other European cities of people expressing their support for Israel and their solidarity with Israel.

And today, as I said in the United States there is still very considerable support for Israel but the United States is unique in that respect. And if you look at these major European countries as well as various countries elsewhere in the world, you’d find quite the opposite. And so, the question that I endeavor to answer in the book I wrote and I want to talk to you about tonight is what happened to bring about this change.

It’s really a fairly unprecedented change. It’s hard for me to think of any other case in which a country has experienced such a radical change in the way that other countries see it or treat it except, the exceptions one can think of are cases where countries underwent a revolution and it went from having one kind of government to a completely different kind of government and people felt differently about it but Israel didn’t change in any radical way from 1967 to 2017, but the way it’s perceived and treated did change.

Well, to start with there were changes on the ground, so to start with the obvious, Israel never again has seemed as imperiled as it did on the eve of the Six-Day War when the Egyptian-Syrian armies massed on its borders and the rulers of those countries issued blood-curdling declarations about once and for all doing away with this state. The spokesman for the Palestinians at that moment was asked what would happen to the survivors and he said, “I doubt there’ll be any survivors,” so that was a moment that seemed terrifying and ever since then, Israel has seemed much more secure than it seemed at that moment.

And the second change on the ground was that the war left Israel occupying the West Bank, Jerusalem, Gaza, and the Golan and also, in a much more secure situation in terms of its borders. But something else happened that is less obvious but I think perhaps even more important, which was the ’67 war paved the way for the emergence of Palestinian nationalism, which really had not existed before that.

That is the dominant idea throughout the Arab world over the decades between let’s say World War II and that time, actually, beginning somewhat before World War II, the dominant idea was Arab nationalism or pan-Arabism and that was the hot idea of that moment. It’s what Arab college students spent their time talking about and debating over coffee when they ought to have been in class in the same way that in this era we see radical Islam as the hot idea in that part of the world. And the main exponent of pan-Arabism or Arab nationalism, the idea that all the Arabs should be joined together in one single state and that way it would be a great power and the Arabs would really regain their sense of power and glory.

The main exponent of that idea was Gamal Abdul Nasser, the ruler of Egypt. He was, by the way, not at all shy about saying and his speeches and his writings who it was who he thought should be the leader of this omnibus pan-Arab state. But, in addition to whatever else that was, the ’67 war was a devastating humiliation to Nasser.

Those who recall what we call- he resigned at the end of- or then he resumed the presidency due to popular demand, the demonstrations in the streets of Cairo whether they were spontaneous or persisted by his intelligence services, we don’t know exactly, but probably some of both. But in any case, that idea was intimately identified with Nasser and vice versa And the defeat of the Arabs in 1967 just took all the wind out of the sails of the idea of pan-Arabism and it paved the way for the later emergence that we’re dealing with today of Islamism as another panacea for the problems of the Arab world but in the more immediate aftermath it also paved the way for reassertions or assertions of various varieties nationalism of the individual Arab countries.

And the Palestinians, as I said, had not had any strong sense of national identity. I referred a moment ago to on the eve of the ’67 war – I said the Palestinian spokesman. His name was Shukeiri but he was the spokesman because he was the head of the Palestine Liberation Organization, which had been founded in 1964, three years before. But even that was not an organization that was created at the initiative of Palestinians. It was ordered into creation by Nasser and it was Nasser who made Shukeiri the head of the PLO for those first years. The PLO when it was founded adopted a charter but the charter itself made no mention of a Palestinian state, of Palestinian sovereignty, of Palestinian nationality. It was all about liberating the territory of Palestine from the Jews. That’s what Palestine Liberation Organization meant: liberate this territory from the Jews, so it can take its rightful place as part of this overall Arab nation and imagined Arab nation, meaning the people in the imagined Arab state that would emerge.

There were a few Palestinians who had this idea of national identity, that they should see themselves as a distinct people or country, but they were miscellaneous intellectuals here and there, but the most important one of them was a young teacher in Kuwait named Yassir Arafat and he had a small group around him in Kuwait and they called themselves Fatah. Fatah was not a member or constituent part of the PLO to that point and there was no warmth between these two entities. But, after the 67 war Fatah was able to move into the PLO, take it over in short order, ’68, ’69, and Arafat became the head of the PLO. And then as you can read in PLO documents at the time, they that said that their principal task was to spread the idea of national identity among the Palestinians and they did that to a remarkable effect.

And so, we then had the emergence of this new people the Palestinians and lo and behold, Israel was then occupying, notably in the West Bank and Gaza, important, substantial populations of Palestinians. And so, Israel, willy-nilly, became an occupier and the Palestinians developed the narrative of protests, that Israel was occupying them and preventing the fulfillment of their national identity. And so, the narrative was in a sense reversed until that point. The essential issue in the Middle East conflict, as it was called, was that the Jews wanted a state of their own and the Arabs wanted to prevent them from having it. But at this point, now it became the Palestinians wanted a state and the Jews were preventing them from having it. So that was the beginning of putting Israel in a much darker light than had been the case before.

Still, I would argue that this new narrative of Israel as an occupier, denying to the Palestinians their aspirations for national self-fulfillment while it tells us something, is simply not sufficient to explain the great rage toward Israel that we see often from Europeans, and that has spread to some extent to the to the United States and is increasingly becoming a dominant discourse, as it’s put these days, in the Democratic Party or at least among the so-called ‘progressive wing’ of the Democratic Party, all quite oddly because historically, I think the Democrats were even more passionate supporters of Israel than the Republicans were. And this is not a complete transformation but it’s gone significantly far.

But I think this is not a sufficient explanation because if we look around the world, we can readily see other cases of occupation, other cases of people denied their national self-fulfillment and yet, no one seems to get very concerned about that.

When was the last time you saw on a college campus or anyplace else an angry demonstration against the occupation of Tibet? I haven’t seen Tibet, who’s been occupied longer than Palestine, much more brutally with the Chinese, in fact, endeavoring to, over time, erase the national identity of Tibet and if Beijing would offer to Tibet some kind of compromise settlement equivalent to what Israeli leaders have several times offer to the Palestinians, the Dalai Lama would dance for joy, but there’s no possibility that that’s going to happen.

And in terms of peoples who are denied their national self-determination, we just this week saw the referendum in Iraqi Kurdistan about nationhood for the Kurds and we saw among the governments, neither ours nor any other government except the Israel’s for regional strategic reasons, but with that exception, knowing not only did the governments not support the Kurds. But what about public opinion? What about elite opinion? What about professors and colonists and who has been embracing the Kurdish cause? What I’ve seen is just silence and lack of interest on this.

But if you are a deep believer in the right of self-determination, the Kurdish case for nationhood is infinitely stronger than the Palestinian case is. As I described to you, the whole sense of Palestinian nationalism is only about 50 years old. I don’t denigrate it for that reason. We live in a world where there are scores of new nations that were formed after World War II and I think we ought to respect the national identity of peoples who belong to younger nations. I don’t denigrate it, but the Palestinian nationalism as I said, is about 50 years old. Kurdish nationalism is documented for at least a thousand years. The number of Kurds in the world is five, six times as many as the number of Palestinians. Kurds have their own distinct culture, much distinct from anyone else unlike the Palestinians, who are not that distinct from other Levantine Arabs. They have their own language, their own traditions and so on, and yet, no one is indignant over the lack of an independent state of Kurdistan.

So I think that even though I would grant the point that some of the change that I’m trying to explain can be traced to the fact that Israel is interfering with Palestinian national self-determination, it simply is inadequate to explain that. We have to look elsewhere for that explanation and the elsewhere that seems to me to offer explanation lies in two kinds of forces at work. One is a raw pressure that’s been brought to bear by the Arabs and non-Arab Muslims, and the other is a broader intellectual shift, change of paradigm as academics like to say, that’s occurred since World War II, that is not specific to the Middle East but has had tremendous consequences in the way the Middle East is viewed. And let me explain each of these.

When I talk about raw pressure, I mean in particular vis-à-vis Europe but also vis-à-vis meaning the moderate Arabs, the use of intimidation, which began after that, began in the 1970s after Arafat and his friends took over the PLO, and was expressed in a series over several years of dramatic terrorist attacks. There were attacks against Israel but there are also attacks against the international air travel and on and on European soil and the effect of this wave of terrorism was to simply intimidate the Europeans.

Perhaps not the dramatic high point of this wave of terror were the events of the 1972 Munich Olympic Games where a PLO terror squad, operating out of the name Black September but it was all PLO, seized Israeli athletes, killed some right on the spot, and then then nine more were killed in a botched rescue attempt by German authorities. When the when the authorities made this botched attendant, some of the terrorists were killed in the shootout but several others survived and were taken into captivity in under arrest by the German authorities. Some of you may remember what happened to them. They were, in a couple of months, released.

This was the pattern. This was a pattern throughout this period because the European governments were simply afraid to hold terrorists in their prisons because this would make the terrorists, the groups they belong to, angry and would lead to more terrorist attacks against those Europeans and the Europeans were eager to deflect this onto other targets. So, through the 1970s there were a total of 204. This is a count done by the Israel Foreign Ministry but if that’s a biased source, there was a countdown by the New York Times that was earlier and therefore smaller, that said the same things.

But this count by the Israeli Foreign Ministry was at 204 terrorists had been taken under arrest in Europe in different actions and of these three were held and the other 201 were released. And instead, the European adopted a project of appeasement that aim to make them not targets of Palestinian terrorism. And then this was reinforced by the oil boycott of 1973, which left Europe doubly terrified terrorized and led to an open statements by European leaders that they had to change their policies toward the Middle East because of their dependence on Arab oil.

Secretary Kissinger tried subsequently after the boycott was over. He was alarmed that it was a terrible vulnerability on the part of the West that this collection of states, the Arab oil exporting states, could hold this Sword of Damocles over the head of the Western alliance and therefore, he decided that we had to somehow get together with our NATO allies and come up with some plan of some countervailing pressure that would negate this threat against us and so he made a tour of European capitals to try to rally our allies to work together on developing this. And he wrote in his memoirs of the complete stonewall that he met, and he said quote, “Every Minister I consulted was still terrified of possible confrontation with the only producers,” close quote.

So we had this dual intimidation and I think what followed from that was people don’t like to admit they’re acting just because they’re frightened or intimidated and so it paved the way for Europeans to make a new kind of analysis of the Middle East situation that was much less friendly to Israel, much more friendly to the Arabs and, therefore, would justify Europe adopting a stance that they felt would help to protect it. They would protect themselves from further oil boycotts or further Palestinian terrorist attacks on their soil.

And also in the realm of raw pressure that was brought to bear to change the equation of views toward Israel, the Arabs learn how to use the fact of their tremendous advantage in numbers over the Israelis. They had failed miserably to translate their numerical advantage into success on the battlefield, but they learned to use it politically, most dramatically in the United Nations, and the numbers are in fact quite overwhelming. And as they’re 22 member states of the Arab League, there are 56, say 56 or 57 member states of the Islamic Conference or used to be call the Islamic Conference, now it’s called the Organization of Islamic Cooperation.

There are also 100 Muslims in the world for every Jew, and this all adds up to a tremendous amount of economic or, perhaps even more important, diplomatic pressure that you can see most dramatically at the UN, which, excuse me, which spends an amazing proportion of its time in the General Assembly and the Human Rights Council and in a variety of bodies that should have nothing to do with the Middle East Conference, adopting resolutions that one-sidedly denounced Israel. They’re also in the United Nations no fewer than three special bodies devoted exclusively to excoriating Israel and promoting the Palestinian cause. There’s no similar single special body for any other conflict or any other country but there are two committees and most important, there’s a division of the UN Secretariat.

You are probably not familiar with this mumbo-jumbo but committees are just what they sound like. They meet every once in a while and do a lot of palaver, but a division means a group of employees with the offices and in this case a multi-million dollar budget and in the UN Secretariat that’s just devoted to lacerating Israel and promoting the Palestinians. It was this division, the so-called division of Palestinian rights, by the way, that was the platform for the launching of the so-called BDS movement to boycott, divest, and sanction against Israel, so there was this variety of pressures that the raw intimidation and the Arabs learning to make effective political use of their numbers that put different kinds of pressure on governments and on opinion in the various countries of the world.

But there’s something else that I alluded to and now would like to explain, which is no less important. Maybe more important was a kind of a global shift of paradigm, if you’ll forgive that word, or an intellectual change that came about after World War Two, and was not specific to Israel and the Arabs, but deeply affected them, and that was a shift in the main paradigm or trope or image of social justice.

There are people everywhere who consider social justice very important to them and the dominant idea of what constitutes social justice had been for a very long time associated with the struggles of the poor against the rich. That took many forms. The most dramatic, a widely influential one, was the form given to it by Marx and Engels: class struggle, the workers against the owners or against the capitalists. But this idea has also taken other forms. But the idea that the poor deserve not only our sympathy of our support and that their redemption has to do somehow was their struggling against the rich for their fair share of the whatever it may be.

What I believe is that this central idea of this or other image of social justice started to give way in the second half of the 20th century to another idea and that was a division of people based on nationality, race, ethnicity rather than economic status, that this grew out of the post-World War II struggles of the peoples of Asia and Africa for their national independence and to be free from European colonialism, and superimposed on this was another different dramatic struggle that took place starting in the 1950s.

But I think also what caught the attention of the whole world was the civil rights struggle in the United States of blacks for equal rights from the Montgomery bus boycott on through Little Rock and the marches of the 1960s. That was something very different and yet I think it tended all this tended to get rolled into one ball of wax. The struggle of it was sometimes called the rest against the West or the people of color against the white man and the people of color were those who had been colonized and oppressed and downtrodden and the white man, meaning Europeans or white Americans, had held the upper hand, and now the people of color were rising up to get their fair share, their day in the Sun.

And I think some sense of this as an ongoing struggle, as the most important ongoing struggle, it’s kind of a passion play. Embodying the goal of social justice became dominant and when people who felt themselves called to the cause of social justice turned and looked at the Middle East through this lens, then Israel appeared to be the best in of the Western white folks and the Arabs of the Palestinians as the long-suffering people of color, and automatically the former are wrong or the bad guys, and the latter or right or the good guys.

You don’t need to look at the details to to know which side you should identify with and in your heart and I can recall myself. I was active in a young socialist organization when I was young and I, in that era, had a lot of sense of the importance of the struggle of poor against the rich, the worker against the capitalists, and seeing the world that way. If there was a strike somewhere, which there always was somewhere and it never occurred to me to ask the question, well, what exactly are the workers seeking in this strike and what exactly are the owners offering? Though it was completely irrelevant. There was just a template that the struggle of the workers was something good and noble, and I didn’t have any interest in the specifics of this strike or that strike. And the owners were inherently the rich plutocrats who deserved anything bad that happened to them.

And I think in the same sense people who view social justice today through that ethnic lens that I’ve just described are really not interested in the concrete details because they know which side is anointed by history as the good guys.

The irony in this is that if you were to take really seriously the idea of social justice and try to say, well, what are the humanitarian ideals that people have in mind when they use this phrase social justice? I think you probably couldn’t do much better than the slogan of the French Revolution, liberté, égalité, fraternité. And if you took that as your measuring stick, well, Israel is a very free country. None of its enemies are. In fact, they are toward the extreme end of unfree countries.

There’s a degree of social equality in Israel between different classes of people, between men and women, between straight people and gay people, between even between Jews and Arabs that is much more far-reaching than what you see in the Arab countries that are extremely stratified in all these respects. And there’s a degree of fraternity that Israel is one of the few post-World War II-born countries that gives foreign aid to others, gives medical aid around the world, you know, that of red has set up field hospitals on the border of Syria now and has treated thousands of those harmed in the Syrian war.

And for example, offers medical care to the Palestinians. I don’t mean the Palestinian Arabs who are citizens of Israel. I mean the Palestinians who reside in Gaza and the West Bank. Anyone have any idea of the number of Palestinians who go into Israel despite the security difficulties that Israel has and letting conversations across the borders? How many [are] going to Israel to receive medical treatment? The number is and now in recent years above 100,000 a year and thought that many Palestinians when they are seriously ill, they seek treatment in Israel and Israel facilitates that ,so I think if our contemporary social justice advocates took really seriously whether the substance of what might be understood to mean social justice, they would have to see that Israel is the paragon of those values in the Middle East, and its enemies are anything but.

And yet, somehow this image or this trope with this passion play of the virtuous wretched of the earth rising up against the Westerners, Trump’s all of that and so, we have this tremendous anti-Israel sentiment that’s particularly widespread among those areas that hold social justice high is their banners and among universities and among intellectuals and among social justice warriors for different causes here as well as in Europe that I think is the heart of the explanation of the question that I began, that I started out by trying to answer, which is this immense change in these 50 years in the world’s treatment of Israel.

And thank you for listening to me at such great length, I’m sorry if I was a bit long but I will stop at last and give you a chance to ask me questions or argue with me or make comments as you wish.