Of all the charges leveled against Israel in recent years, the one that the state’s most strident critics like to repeat ad nauseam is that Israel is a “terrorist state” or that Israel is isolated from the world community.
Tony Judt, writing in the July 1 online edition of the The Nation depicts contemporary Israel as friendless and isolated:
“Israel is utterly dependent on the United States for money, arms and diplomatic support. One or two states share common enemies with Israel; a handful of countries buy its weapons; a few others are its de facto accomplices in ignoring international treaties and secretly manufacturing nuclear weapons. But outside Washington, Israel has no friends--at the United Nations it cannot even count on the support of America's staunchest allies. Despite the political and diplomatic incompetence of the PLO (well documented in Said's writings); despite the manifest shortcomings of the Arab world at large ("lingering outside the main march of humanity"); despite Israel's own sophisticated efforts to publicize its case, the Jewish state today is widely regarded as a--the--leading threat to world peace.”
It is of course true that Israel is lacking friends among the readers of The Nation. Nor does Israel have many friends among the leftist elites of Western Europe and, for that matter, North America. One would not expect to find many champions of Israel’s case in the offices of left-wing European political parties or in the halls of academia like University of California-Berkeley.
Nevertheless, contrary to what academics at New York University like Judt may think, Israel is far from isolated and has, despite great obstacles, been able to maintain positive ties with the world’s democracies. While supporters of Israel must forever be ready to respond to the most extreme defamation of Israel’s right to exist and its right to self-defense, they must also be open to the fact that, in the past year or so, Israel has scored some important, if quiet, diplomatic victories that totally undermine the notion that Israel is the pariah state that Judt portrays it to be.
Although Israel’s political relationship with the European Union remains tainted by mutual suspicion, this has not stopped economic and scientific cooperation. Within the past week, Israel signed a major agreement with the EU regarding Israel’s investment in Galileo, which Reuters describes as “a multi-billion dollar project due to come on line in 2008, rivaling the U.S. Global Positioning System (GPS) whose uses vary from landing military aircraft to helping car drivers with an electronic map on their dashboard.”
Indeed, despite strong differences on the resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict, the EU has even held low-level discussions with Israel about the possibility of Israel one day entering the Euro currency zone. Despite the rising anti-Semitism in France and widely regarded French hostility to Israel, French mayors recently took part in a burgeoning movement to partner their towns with Israeli counterparts.
Even in the political arena, Israel is far from isolated. The recent decision by NATO to include Israel (and noticeably not Syria nor the Palestinian Authority) in a Mediterranean partnership speaks volumes as to whether, despite their sometime incendiary rhetoric, European political elites truly see Israel as a threat to world peace. If this were the case, would NATO – an organization whose decisions are consensus-based – offer to include the Israeli Navy in counter-proliferation initiatives? Not a single NATO member state tried to block Israel’s inclusion into the NATO-Mediterranean partnership.
Outside of Europe, Israel has, over the past several years, been successful in reaching a wide range of agreements with various states. Israel’s strengthening ties with India, the world’s most populous democracy, are not to be underestimated, particularly given the fact that India is an emerging economic powerhouse that has a large, and increasingly political, lobby in the United States.
Despite their decision to vote against Israel in the United Nations General Assembly – where votes are ‘expressions of sentiment’ and carry no legal weight whatsoever, the Central Asian republics remain on good terms with Israel. And these republics, it must be stressed, are predominantly Muslim. Despite rising Islamism in East Asia, Israel has a friend in the former president of Indonesia, Abdurrahman Wahid, who recently told Israelis, through an interview with Ha’aretz, that “Israel has a reputation as a nation with a high regard for God and religion [and]…. there is then no reason we have to be against Israel.”
Israel has also recently upgraded its relationships with two important East African nations, both of which have substantial Muslim populations. While Eritrea, an observer in the Arab League, recently announced its intention to open an embassy in Tel Aviv, Ethiopia recently signed a series of cultural and scientific agreements. This was in tandem with Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi’s June visit to Israel. In North Africa, Israel has full diplomatic ties with Mauritania, a full member of the Arab League and maintains cordial, but quiet ties, with Morocco and has done so for the past several decades. It should also be noted that Albania and Bosnia-Herzegovina, both majority Muslim states, voted against the United Nations General Assembly resolution that referred Israel’s anti-terrorism fence to the International Court of Justice.
It has long been a staple of pro-Palestinian activism to portray Israel as far more isolated internationally than it really is. This is in line with the hard-left Marxist discourse that, despite the rising tide of Islamism in the West Bank and Gaza, remains an important component of the anti-Zionist discourse. This is not to say that Israel doesn’t have many enemies in the world or to diminish the anti-Semitic and anti-Zionist mood that has long dominated the United Nations General Assembly, dominated it is by non-democratic regimes. It is simply to point out that the hysterical rhetoric employed by Judt is more wishful thinking on his part (and on the part of many isolated academics who have no influence in the corridors of power, be it in Washington or London) than reality. It is this thinking, blinded by hate, that has long been the Achilles’ heel of the Palestinians. They want to believe that Israel is as hated by the rest of the world as it is by the fringe leftist readers of The Nation. The Galileo GPS and President Wahid indicate otherwise.