Chemi Shalev
Haaretz (Opinion)
February 23, 2012 - 1:00am

The New York Times reported this week that Russian President Dmitri Medvedev has bestowed a prestigious Pushkin Medal on Ali Ukla Ursan, a Syrian poet who has praised the 9/11 terrorist attacks and depicted Jews as “Nazi racists”.

This is the same Russia that has been aiding and abetting mass murderers in Damascus. The same Russia that has been serving as a defensive shield for the nuclearmongers in Tehran. The same Russia that Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman would like to see as Israel’s new “strategic partner”.

India, on the other hand, is a country with which Israel already has a “strategic relationship”: it is the largest customer in the world for Israeli military equipment, a major trading partner and a barely under-the-radar ally in combatting Islamic terrorism. But when India was asked to curtail its oil purchases from Iran, a country seeking to destroy its so-called strategic partner, it responded with a resounding “no”. As former US Ambassador Nicholas Burns wrote this week, the Indian refusal to cooperate was “a slap in the face” for Washington, and for Jerusalem, of course, as well.

The same goes for China, with which Israel also maintains a strong military and economic relationship. But the much-ballyhooed Chinese admiration for Jews and Israel only goes so far: China too is actively preventing any significant international steps against Syria, and is also a stalwart protector of the Ayatollahs in Tehran.

All three of these countries have been mentioned in what is a recurring theme in Israel’s foreign policy discourse in recent years: the quest for “alternative options” for Israeli alliances in the world. With America “in decline” and its president “hostile”, with Europe “stagnating” and its people both “decadent” and “anti-Semitic”, Israel has no choice, so this thinking goes, but to “go east”, to the rising superpowers of the 21st century. If America is distant, cozy up to China; if London is critical, make friends in Moscow; if Paris condemns, make your case in New Delhi.

But these alternative alliances that some Israeli politicians like to dream of are exactly that: a pipe dream, and an immature one at that. Because as far as Israel is concerned. China, India or Russia may be here today but they will definitely be gone tomorrow. These countries will never truly commit themselves to Israel’s security or wellbeing and they have no emotional attachment or historic obligation to the survival of the Jews or to the security of their national homeland. When push comes to shove and crunch time arrives. China or Russia or India will pursue their own self-interest, something that definitely cannot be said of the United States but also - gasp, shock, horror – of Western Europe.

Because the “shared values” that Israel proudly boasts of exist only with America and the countries of Western Europe, if at all. It is only with them that Israel shares what Americans describe as a “Judeo-Christian” tradition. It is only in these countries that the Holocaust remains a powerful presence in the national psyche: India and China know nothing and feel nothing about the Nazi extermination of 6 million Jews and the Russians have devoted 70 years of propaganda to convincing themselves of the ridiculous proposition that the Jews of the Soviet Union were murdered as Russians and that Stalin’s valiant battle against Germany absolves them in any case of the need for any soul-searching or guilt.

It’s no coincidence that America and Western Europe have taken the lead, however reluctantly – and some would say impotently – in Libya, Iran and Syria. Ask yourself this: if Israel’s existence were to truly hang in the balance one day, God forbid - who might come to its defense? Countries for which Israel’s right to exist was never in doubt or those – like China. Russia and India – who only three decades ago equated Zionism with racism? Countries in which memories of the Holocaust hang heavy or those where they simply don’t exist? Countries in which public opinion can sway the government of the day or those in which it plays no role whatsoever? Countries in which a moral value system of right and wrong, good and evil, is a factor in the formulation of foreign policy or those for whom cynical self-interest is their only guide?

Who are they deceiving, these proponents of “alternatives” – themselves or the others? In the case of Turkey, for example, Israelis have convinced themselves that a so-called “Balkan bloc” comprised of bankrupt Greece, mighty Cyprus and such regional powers as Romania and Bulgaria can somehow make up for the void that Turkey left behind when it decided to sever its strategic ties to Israel. Just as in mid-2009, Lieberman went on a tour of South America in order to secure a pro-Israeli bloc at the UN, only to have these same countries lead the way in last year’s Palestinian campaign to achieve unilateral independence.

There is a direct line that connects this Israeli flight from reality in its international relations to the growing intolerance among Israelis and Jews alike towards those who do not toe the current “party line”. Though we go through the motions of reciting that being critical of Israel does not mean that one is an anti-Semitic, we are increasingly incapable or unwilling to differentiate between the two. So opposition to settlements, for all intents and purposes, is now tantamount to delegitimization; advocating a peace agreement based on the 1967 borders is like “throwing Israel under the bus”, as Israeli sloganeers dictated to Republican candidates; and sympathy for the Palestinians is, let’s face it, no different than same sympathy for the devil. And it is through this distorted and disturbed prism that President Obama can be cast as a Muslim collaborator bent on destroying Israel and Western European countries depicted as hotbeds of Jew-haters only once or twice removed from Mussolini’s Italy and Hitler’s Third Reich.

The same mindset that governs the Jewish world is at play in its view of the external arena. The same refusal to countenance criticism that causes Jews to push other Jews “out of the tent” and into the arms of true anti-Zionists also leads Israeli politicians and academics who should know better to “reject” America and Western European countries and to invent a fantasy world in which Israel can pick and choose its allies at will. Politicians from Washington to London, from Paris to Madrid may be more critical of Israeli policies than their colleagues from non-Western countries, but that’s mainly because the latter couldn’t care less one way or another. Casting Western countries as enemies of Israel and of the Jewish people, and treating them accordingly, runs the risk, in the long run, of becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy.


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