Every few years at around this time the Monitor reflects on how perceptions have changed so drastically regarding Israel’s massive victory in the 1967 Six-Day War.
Revisionists whose initial attempts at recasting Israel’s image from David to Goliath were focused on events surrounding Israel’s creation began, in the early 1980s, to characterize the Six-Day War – which for the first decade or so after its occurrence was widely seen as a case of Israel’s justified response to Arab threats and mobilization of forces – as an act of premeditated Israeli aggression.
Not that there weren’t critics of Israel ready to pounce on the Jewish state even in the immediate aftermath of the war. On July 7, 1967, the executive committee of the liberal National Council of Churches released a statement lambasting Israel for the “unilateral retention of lands she has occupied since June 5.”
Also on July 7, 1967, a remarkable letter in The New York Times made the equation between Israelis and Nazis that in later years would become all too familiar:
“All persons who seek to view the Middle East problem with honesty and objectivity will stand aghast at Israel’s onslaught, the most violent, ruthless (and successful) aggression since Hitler’s blitzkrieg across Western Europe in the summer of 1940, aiming not at victory but at annihilation,” wrote Dr. Henry P. Van Dusen, a former president of Union Theological Seminary, the academic centerpiece of liberal Protestantism in America.
By and large, however, most Americans – and Europeans, for that matter – cheered Israel’s triumph in the Six-Day War. But as Israel over the years came to lose favor among liberal and leftist academics and journalists, there was a significant shift in the way the war was portrayed.
Post-Zionist Israeli academics played no small role in the recasting of Israeli officials as opportunistic warmongers who used the supposedly empty threats of bellicose Arab leaders as an excuse to gobble up vast expanses of Arab territory.
By the late 1980s this remarkably dishonest narrative had become the accepted wisdom in liberal academic and media precincts and has remained so ever since. When the English translation of Israeli journalist (and pioneering post-Zionist) Tom Segev’s book on the Six-Day War was published in 2007, reviewers in liberal newspapers and magazines fell all over themselves in praising the book’s Israel-as-aggressor theme.
Every now and then, however, an article or a column will appear – invariably from a conservative writer – reminding readers about what really happened in 1967. The military historian and New York Post columnist Ralph Peters wrote just such a piece in 2007, on the 40th anniversary of the war.
Reading the revisionists, he wrote, one would think that “prior to June 1967, Israelis had lived in an Age of Aquarius, eating lotus blossoms amid friendly Bedouin neighbors who tucked them in at night. The critics also imply that, by some unexplained magic, Israel might have avoided war and its consequences.”
Contrary to the doomsayers, “June 1967 announced Israel as a regional great power – less than 20 years after the state’s desperate founding . In the real world, outcomes aren’t perfect. There are no wars to end all wars. The proper question is, ‘Are you better off than before the shooting started?’ Judged by that common-sense standard, Israel is vastly better off than it was on the eve of the Six-Day War. Thanks to the heroes of June 1967, Israel survived. Miracle enough.”
Peters’s words echoed the spirit of a column written two decades earlier by George F. Will.
“It has been 20 years since those six days that shook the world,” Will wrote. “Because of what happened then, a united Jerusalem is capital of Israel, and Israel never again will be 12 miles wide at the waist. Because of the war the West Bank, which Jordan seized militarily and held for 19 years, is rightfully Israel’s to dispose of as it deems prudent.
“And, because of the echoing thunderclap from Israel 20 Junes ago, the security of Israel and hence the spiritual well-being of world Jewry have been enhanced. The Holocaust ended in 1945, but the Holocaust as aspiration was not destroyed until June 1967, when Israel smashed encircling armies that had the inescapably genocidal mission of obliterating the national gathering of Jews.”
Jason Maoz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org