Diatribes of Jay

This is a blog of essays on public policy. It shuns ideology and applies facts, logic and math to economic, social and political problems. It has a subject-matter index, a list of recent posts, and permalinks at the ends of posts. Comments are moderated and may take time to appear. Note: Profile updated 4/7/12

18 April 2008

Carter and Hamas


Let me begin by establishing my credentials. I’m a Jew. I’m not particularly religious, but I’m proud of my heritage and wouldn’t be here if the Nazis had won World War II. Insofar as ethnic identity is concerned, that’s all that really matters.

It’s sad to have to tout my ethnic background to make a point, but that’s the way it is. On subjects that touch religion or Israel, many Jews won’t listen to someone who is not a “member of the Tribe.” I cannot judge them, for many have families that suffered far more than mine. But I can try to speak reason and hope that my ethnic identity will give my ideas a fair hearing.

Jimmy Carter can’t do that. As a Christian Southerner with a soft accent, he can never overcome the subconscious suspicion that bigotry lies beneath the placid surface of his almost ethereal spirituality. His problem with Northeast Jews is even greater: a chasm in culture, values and upbringing as deep as any inside our diverse nation. Many American Jews simply can’t believe he has their best interests at heart.

But Carter is right. The only way for the State of Israel to survive—let alone as a Jewish state—is for it to cut a deal with its enemies, the sooner the better. The longer it waits the worse the deal will be. The path Israel is on today is the path to catastrophe.

Here’s why:

1. There are 1.3 billion Muslims in the world. There are 5 million Jews in Israel. There are maybe four times that many Jews in the entire world. How long will the numberless host stay patient?

2. Half a millennium ago, in Islam’s golden age, art, science, commerce and, yes, religious freedom, flourished in Islamic lands. One of humanity’s great unfinished tasks is bringing Muslims back into the community of nations and restoring their confidence, prosperity and freedom of thought. As that process unfolds—which it must do, if humanity is to survive in the nuclear age—Muslims will get stronger politically, economically and, yes, militarily. Some Islamic nations, Iran included, may get stronger militarily before they get wiser.

3. The State of Israel will not always enjoy the same strong support from non-Jews in the United States that it does today. For college-age Americans, the War in Vietnam is a thing of textbooks. The Holocaust is ancient history. More important, if the United States is to survive, it must succeed as a multi-ethnic nation. At it develops and grows, the claims of new ethnic immigrant groups—Latinos, Asians, non-Jewish Eastern Europeans and, yes, Muslims—will take precedence. As the war in Iraq winds down, Muslim immigration to the United States will increase, altering the balance of internal lobbying power. If things go badly in Iraq, Americans’ sense of guilt, responsibility and mercy will overwhelm any attempt to stop the flow.

4. Non-Jews in America support Israel primarily for three reasons: (1) guilt over the Holocaust; (2) admiration for Israelis’ pluck, democracy and determination; and (3) the need for a strong, stable, reliable ally in the part of the world that holds over half of all oil reserves. Which of these reasons do you think most sways policy makers?

But the times they are a-changin.’ We Americans are beginning to get serious about shaking our oil addiction. We have to; we have no alternative. As the importance of oil wanes, what will happen to the strategic importance of Israel, a tiny country in a big world?

5. Regrettably, keeping Iran and other Islamic nations from getting the Bomb is not a sure thing. Pakistan already has it. Iran may soon. Perhaps diplomacy and massive, unmanned air power can keep Iran from developing a Bomb. I hope so. But does anyone really think the United States will mount a ground invasion or nuclear attack on Iran just to keep it from enriching uranium? If Iran wants to pay the price and take the risk of going nuclear, it can have the Bomb and join the club of mutually assured destruction.

Thus every trend of history points to the need for a peace deal soon, whatever concessions Israel must make.

But is all hopeless? I don’t think so. People don’t engage in suicidal battle unless they think they have nothing to live for. The Jews of the Warsaw Ghetto understood that. If modern Jews could apply that terrible lesson to Gaza, there might be a way out.

Imagine a prosperous Gaza, with thriving businesses, free commerce with the outside world, and a robust, modern standard of living. Imagine its political leaders and intellectuals engaged in business and cultural exchange with the rest of the world. Imagine its youth getting trained for rewarding, lucrative careers in the United States, Europe, India, Japan, Russia and China. How many of them would blow themselves up then?

Even today, polls show that about two-thirds of Gazans want peace. But they have a hard time convincing their hotheads when Gaza has no electricity, no gas, no jobs (that don’t require carrying a weapon), no imports or exports, no ability to travel, no raw materials for business, and no control over its economic destiny.

Gaza is a big prison. The recent breach of the wall into Egypt was just the latest prison break. There will be more breaks, more prison riots and more fallout over Israel unless the inmates get some relief.

Ariel Sharon understood that. So did Yitzhak Rabin. Unfortunately, both of these strong leaders died before their understanding could work some good. The current Israeli leadership is too weak and too lacking in imagination and moral courage to do what must be done. Meanwhile, the United States continues to suffer under a lame duck with a mallard’s sense of history and an avian brain.

Into this vacuum of leadership steps Jimmy Carter, where angels fear to tread. Jews everywhere should bless him and wish him well. You don’t have to wear a yarmulke to have a sense of history or to be a good man.

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