Why does George Will hate Israelis so much?

A couple of months ago on the Ibishblog, I had the pleasure of describing John Mearsheimer as “the Kevorkian of Palestine” because of the dreadful, destructive advice he was offering to the Palestinian people, and now it’s incumbent on me to point out that George Will is working overtime to become the Kevorkian of Israel. The politics of assisted suicide is an amazing phenomenon, in which zealots operating out of emotion provide people in other societies the worst possible advice that will inevitably lead to self-destructive outcomes. Will has been on a tear on the pages of the Washington Post and elsewhere during his apparently ongoing visit to Israel, taking policy positions and presenting tendentious, self-contradictory and even fabricated versions of history that would make even the most jaded settlers blush. This is beyond being a friend who lets friends drive drunk. This is a "friend" distributing a steady stream of tainted smack and frequently used needles all over the neighborhood.

In the fourth installment of his seemingly endless anti-peace campaign, today Will dismisses the prospect of Israel ever withdrawing from the West Bank because without it, he claims, Israel would supposedly lack strategic depth (this argument could be made about any territory in almost any context, of course — all it takes is a simple assertion). He assumes, without making any argument to defend this idea, that a Palestinian state centered in the West Bank would inevitably be Islamist and launch violent attacks against Israel. The only thing he can come up with to defend this assertion are totally invalid analogies to Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from southern Lebanon and unilateral redeployment in Gaza. It’s true that both yielded instability and violence in both directions, although much more violence from the Israeli side than the Palestinian or Lebanese ones, which of course he does not acknowledge. He even bizarrely compares the stupid and counterproductive but almost entirely ineffective projectiles launched from Gaza in the general direction of southern Israel to the Nazi bombardment of London, which gives a strong indication of his nonexistent sense of proportion and reliance on preposterous hyperbole. What Will and all his extremist Israeli friends who are addicted to the occupation are deliberately eliding in these wildly inaccurate analogies is that these unilateral actions were taken strictly for Israeli interests and out of Israeli strategic concerns, and were not pursuant to any agreement whatsoever with any Palestinians or Lebanese, and that the other side, including extremist groups, therefore had no vested interest in any resulting arrangement.

What Will doesn’t acknowledge is that a wise and workable Israeli withdrawal from the occupied territories would perforce be pursuant to an agreement with the PLO and a Palestinian government which would have a vested interest in making that agreement work. In other words, the correct analogies are not Israeli unilateralism in Gaza and southern Lebanon, but the negotiated peace agreements Israel has already concluded with Arabs, such as the peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan and even the armistice with Syria. When Arab governments have entered into agreements like this with Israel, they have had a vested interest in making them work, and so it would be with a new Palestinian state. In fact, the one scenario that might produce the results Will predicts is a third act of Israeli unilateralism, a withdrawal from the parts of the West Bank it decides it doesn’t want and the de facto annexation of the rest, perhaps more or less along the lines of the West Bank separation barrier or any other new de facto border Israel cares to draw. There are many in Israel who are not only thinking in those terms, but actively preparing for such an eventuality. Will doesn’t seem to understand that unilateralism almost inevitably perpetuates and exacerbates the conflict, whereas agreements end conflicts. The problem is that he simply cannot stretch his fossilized brain to imagine an effective, well functioning and responsible Palestinian state even though the framework for that is being built in the West Bank as we speak — a reality he seems blissfully unaware of — that is most notably characterized by a well-functioning security force that coordinates with Israeli forces in order to contain violence and allow for greater access and mobility on the part Palestinians. He writes as if the entire Palestinian national movement was simply Hamas, and as if the PLO and the PA do not exist.

In the third installment, Will expresses an understandable sensitivity to the number of Israelis who have been killed in the conflict, but does not acknowledge whatsoever the far greater number of Palestinians and other Arabs who have perished or been maimed, and who appear to be of no consequence to him. He offers one of the most tendentious, misleading and self-contradictory narratives of the conflict I have ever read, which boils down to a history of “Arab violence” towards Israel, as if the conflict has been an entirely one-way street and Israel’s actions were always and entirely self-defensive. In numerous instances his dates don’t add up, so he doesn’t even have his own warped chronology correct. Needless to say, he doesn’t mention the occupation, the situation facing the Palestinians living under the occupation, Israel’s occupation policies, the settlements, any of the various wars launched by Israel for its own purposes, or anything of the kind. He does however glibly assert that the creation of Israel did not involve the destruction of a Palestinian state, because such a state did not exist. That’s technically true, but it’s a lawyerly manipulation to avoid recognizing what the creation of Israel did to a Palestinian society that otherwise could and almost certainly would have become a state as the rest of the mandated territories in the Middle East became. It’s a half-truth designed to cover up the reality that in 1948 an existing and thriving Palestinian-majority society was destroyed in the process of the creation of Israel, a fact that haunts the entire region to this day. Anyone who is familiar with my work knows that I do not care to dwell on this and prefer to move forward, yet it is a fact that cannot be denied or papered over with this kind of dishonest technical legal obfuscation.

In his second installment, Will presents the brief, apparently directly from the desk of Netanyahu, for an Israeli attack on Hezbollah and Lebanon, and on Iran, replete with lavish helpings of the moldiest clichés in the back of the Likudnik cupboard. Clearly such actions cannot come too quickly for him, and he doesn’t seem to have the least reservations about the consequences. The opening gambit in this dreadful series was the first installment, a ham-handed attempt to attack the supposedly weak, unpatriotic and cerebral Pres. Obama by comparing him to the idealized caricature of a robust, patriotic and unflinching PM Netanyahu. Will joins the chorus of those who object to Obama’s acknowledgment Palestinian suffering in his Cairo speech, and as far as I can tell Will has never once in his life expressed the least sympathy for the very painful history and even basic humanity of the Palestinian people because he identifies so completely with their rivals in this complex and overdetermined conflict. He seems to be one of the worst examples of the kind of dangerous outsiders who are more Israeli than the Israelis or more Palestinian than the Palestinians, seeing the other side entirely as villains and their own friends entirely as victims or heroes. It’s not only stupid, it’s unworthy of small children.

Will is also deeply impressed with a 2000-year-old artifact Netanyahu famously keeps in his office bearing the name "Netanyahu." That’s very interesting, and even though no one in their right mind would deny the deep Jewish history in and ties to the land, Netanyahu’s name was adopted by his father sometime in the 20s or 30s (originally it was a pen name), and the actual family name is Mileikowsky, which makes sense for a family whose traceable history appears to be largely in Warsaw and other parts of Poland. I do not raise this point to challenge Jewish history in or attachment to the land, but frankly the connection between the Mileikowsky family of which the Prime Minister is a part and this 2000 year old seal with the name they adopted for political reasons in the 1920s is, to be polite, somewhat forced. I agree with Will that the correlation is impressive, but it’s impressive as a prop for political theater and doesn’t prove or suggest anything about present realities other than something everyone already knows, which is that there is a deep Jewish history in ancient Palestine. On the other hand, I’ve never seen Will acknowledge Palestinian history, presence in, and attachment to the land of Palestine, and he spends a great deal of time and effort implicitly denying that they have any political rights in it.

To sum up Will’s four-part rant (assuming there isn’t going to be a fifth installment): the Jewish Israelis have a deep history in Palestine which grants them exclusive political rights in the territory, and that this, combined with glib arguments about strategic depth and fatuous analogies based on unilateral actions rather than agreements, mandates that there be no agreement providing for an independent Palestinian state to live alongside Israel in peace and security. Instead, the occupation must continue indefinitely. He also advocates attacks against Lebanon and Iran, and the sooner the better. All of this is backed up with some of the most embarrassingly tendentious and misleading, not to say dishonest, historical narratives I’ve read in quite some time, much worse than one would get in most of the mainstream Israeli press.

Will ends his first installment of the series with the following quote from Netanyahu, supposedly delivered to an unnamed US diplomat 10 years ago: “You live in Chevy Chase. Don’t play with our future." Well, it just so happens that Will himself does in fact live in Chevy Chase, and his relentless cheerleading and incitement of the extreme Israeli right couldn’t be a better example of playing, recklessly, fast and loose with Israel’s future. He never offers any alternative to his vision of an endless occupation. He never acknowledges the millions of Palestinians who live in the occupied territories, or what to do with them, or how he expects them to react to this permanent occupation with which he is so enamored. He seems to share the bizarre attitude of the most extreme part of the Israeli right wing that Palestinians are simply not a strategic problem for Israel and can be managed through brute force (a proposition, I think, thoroughly disproven by this stage to even the most bloody-minded thug), that Israel’s security must be based entirely on military force and not diplomacy or reaching any kind of modus vivedi with its neighbors (who he regards as "perpetual enemies" in spite of the peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan, the ongoing security cooperation in the West Bank, the Arab Peace Initiative, etc.), and that Israel’s military superiority is a permanent fact of life that obviates any need for concessions on the Israeli part in order to make peace with any of its neighbors, especially the Palestinians.

Like the Israeli extremists whose views he shares and whose attitudes he seems to admire so much, Will doesn’t seem to be able to imagine how dangerously this conflict can evolve or the obvious fact that long-term security ultimately comes not only from military force but creating stable, tenable political relationships with other forces in the region. There is almost no question that if Israelis follow Will’s advice and perspectives, they will find themselves sooner or later embroiled in a holy war with forces beyond their control and, I daresay, both their comprehension and his. George Will and others like him in the United States are indeed the Kevorkians of Israel, pushing it down a suicidal path of self-destruction by living permanently in bitter enmity with almost all who surround it and refusing to make the painful, difficult compromises that all parties will be required make in order to end the conflict and achieve actual security. Sitting safely in his home in Chevy Chase, and indulging in his childish and frankly stupid Disneyland imaginary version of Middle Eastern history and realities, he’s wishing on this and many future generations of Israelis nothing but warfare, occupation, conflict and probably eventual calamity. The only question is, why does he hate them so much?