Was Sept. 11 about Israel?
This is a difficult question to discuss with someone who either hates Israel or is viscerally opposed to America's support for the Jewish state. I know this because almost every day since the attack, I have tried to converse, via e-mail, with such folks. Invariably, I get accused of bias and, just as often, "dual loyalty" because I'm Jewish.
I think our support for Israel would make sense even if it directly caused the attack. Supporting our friends and fellow democracies is an ends, not a means. If the IRA had blown up the World Trade Center, I would not say, "This just proves we need to rethink our friendship with the British." So, I don't think this is about Israel, at least not directly.
David Gelernter disagrees. In the Oct. 8 Wall Street Journal, Gelernter, a brilliant Yale computer scientist and wide-ranging author, argues that the "Israel-connection" is the primary if not sole cause of the attack.
Gelernter, unlike most people who make this argument, agrees with America's support of the Jewish state. Indeed, Gelernter argues, "We ought to be proud of having earned the terrorists' hatred." I agree we should be proud of their hatred, but I don't think our support of Israel is what earned it.
Now, no one in their right mind can argue that Israel plays no role in fomenting Muslim rage against America. After all, every Arab journalist, public opinion poll and man in the street says that Israel is their chief gripe with America.
One reason for such vocal hatred, offered by scholars across the political spectrum, is that Arab dictatorships permit no criticism of the government. In these closed, failed and corrupt societies, popular anger is channeled to a convenient, official scapegoat: Israel.
Still, the question is, would the Mideast hate America even if we didn't support Israel? And the answer is, yes.
In 1948, the Soviet Union and its satellites offered immediate recognition and military support of the new Jewish state, while America hung back. Arab states didn't denounce the Soviet Union for helping Israel and they didn't praise us for ignoring it. In 1956, President Eisenhower twisted Israel's arm into abandoning the Sinai peninsula like the Arabs wanted. Syria, Egypt and Iraq still kissed up to the Soviets. Prior to 1967, France, not America, was Israel's biggest source of military goodies. France, former ruler of Algeria, is, arguably, the most popular European
nation in the Arab world.
As for Osama bin Laden, it wasn't until this week - when he released a videotape after the first round of allied bombings - that bin Laden showed much interest in the Palestinians. Previously, he always listed the presence of American troops in Saudi Arabia as his biggest peeve. Second came our bombing of Iraq. The Palestinians came last. As the Economist magazine points out, bin Laden's previous assault on the United States - the destruction of our embassies in Africa - came when prospects for peace between Israel and the Palestinians looked good.
Meanwhile, bin Laden never put his money where his mouth is.
While he snubbed the Palestinian cause, he gave money and men to Islamic radicals in Indonesia, Chechnya and, of course, Afghanistan. Hard to see how Israel is a top priority. Johns Hopkins professor Fouad Ajami suggests that bin Laden may be picking up the Palestinian cause now because it will help him draw Muslims to his side.
More importantly, the top two items on bin Laden's gripe list - U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia and the bombing of Iraq - have nothing to do with America's support of Israel and everything to do with saving Kuwait from Saddam Hussein. We even ordered Israel not to defend itself when Iraq lobbed Scud missiles at it.
Gelernter says Arabs hate America because we don't hate Israel. OK. But how does that explain hatred of America across the globe? Do militants in Chiapas, Mexico, hate America because of Israel? How about in Haiti or South Korea? Are McDonald's restaurants attacked dozens of times a year throughout Europe and Asia because of Israel? Surely anti-American books don't become regular best-sellers in France just because of Israel?
Israel is merely just one example some people use against us. Even if Israel disappeared tomorrow, this resentment and hatred toward America would still exist, though it would simply shift to some other grievance. Meanwhile, America would have lost an ally that doesn't hate America.