I fear that what could happen is if Congress were to overturn [the Iran Deal], our friends in Israel could actually wind up being more isolated and more blamed.
Israel’s Operation Guardian of the Walls has come to a close, assuming that the ceasefire with Hamas terrorists in Gaza holds.
For over a week, Israel fought to defend itself against 4,300 rockets fired against unarmed Israeli civilians, who were then forced to run with their children to the nearest bunker…So as usual, it was Israel that faced condemnation.
But in one place this is becoming more difficult.
Last week, the EU’s foreign policy head, Josep Borrell, convened a special videoconference of ministers in a demonstration of EU unity. The idea was for the EU to both ask Hamas to stop firing rockets at Israeli civilians and to urge Israel to be “proportionate” in its response and avoid civilian casualties — thus equating Hamas terrorists committing war crimes with a democracy defending itself once again against the attacks.
But EU countries have long been ferociously divided over the Israel-Palestine question, as was clear on Sunday when the EU ambassador to the United Nations, Olof Skoog, delivered a statement to the Security Council condemning the violence but was prevented from speaking “on behalf of its member states.” Hungary, an ally of Israel, blocked the statement.
Borrell, similarly, is often forced to issue statements on the Israel-Palestine conflict without the unanimous endorsement of the 27 member countries, effectively leaving him to speak for himself. Without national capitals on board, the EU is impotent on foreign policy.
This is a theme I have touched upon before — that far from being isolated, Israel has many allies and has formed alliances that have helped to prevent one-sided condemnation of Israel from the European Union.
o Hungary, which abstained when the United Nations General Assembly voted overwhelmingly to reject the US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, joined the Czech Republic and Romania in blocking a European Union statement criticizing Washington’s decision to move its Israeli embassy to Jerusalem.
o Hungary blocked the EU effort to issue a joint statement condemning the US decision to no longer consider Israeli settlements as illegal
o In response to the ICC announcement that it would investigate Israel for war crimes, Australia, Brazil, Hungary, Austria, Germany, and the Czech Republic asked the court to let them file “amicus brief” opinions on Israel’s behalf.
After decades of watching the Arab countries in the UN create alliances with third-world countries to pass all kinds of anti-Israel resolutions, this is a welcome change of pace.
And what these European states are doing in Israel’s defense is not some kind of attempt to win the Jewish vote in their respective countries. According to the Pew Research Center, the total Jewish population of Europe is only a little over 1 million, which is far, far less than the growing Muslim population:
Nevertheless, there are critics of Netanyahu’s policy of creating alliances with the right-wing, and possibly antisemitic, leaders of East European countries. Efraim Zuroff, Israeli historian and Nazi Hunter, is critical of Netanyahu’s friendship with Viktor Orban, the Prime Minister of Hungary.
This realpolitik of Netanyahu is reminiscent of Theodor Herzl’s own brand of practical diplomacy, when he negotiated for the creation of a Jewish state with some decidedly antisemitic leaders.
Alex Ryvchin, the author of Zionism: The Concise History, explained in an interview how Herzl deliberately tried to win over antisemitic leaders to the idea that creating a Jewish state would be to their benefit:
Herzl dealt with a lot of ardent antisemites like the Kaiser and the Russian Foreign Minister. He felt a cold synergy between the interests of Zionism and these rabid antisemites. Herzl thought that for the Jews to achieve the return to their ancestral land, these antisemites who are so keen to purge their countries of Jews would be accommodating. And indeed, many of them saw a benefit in a movement that could absorb a large number of Jews.
In any political campaign such as Zionism, there has to be a dose of realpolitik–to think not only about the idealism, but also how to practically achieve your goal. That means creating alliances with those you find unsavory.
The danger, Ryvchin says, is to see such temporary alliances as good faith, long-term alliances.
In order to gauge whether Herzl had any success, here is a letter he received from the antisemitic Kaiser in 1898, describing how he considered the possibility of supporting a Jewish protectorate in Palestine. It is quoted from Yoram Hazony’s The Jewish State: The Struggle for Israel’s Soul. In his letter, the Kaiser describes
the energy, creative power and productivity of the tribe of Shem…addicted to social democracy and busy inciting the opposition will move off to the East, where more rewarding work awaits him…Now I realize that nine-tenths of Germans will be horrified and shun me if they find out at some later date that I am in sympathy with the Zionists and might even place them under my protection if they call upon me to do so [the Kaiser then rambles on how Jews don’t deserve further punishment for killing Jesus]…And from the viewpoint of secular realpolitik we cannot ignore the fact that, given the enormous and dangerous power represented by international Jewish capital, it would surely be a tremendous achievement for Germany if the world of the Hebrews would look up to our country with gratitude. [p.131-132]
Meeting with the Kaiser, Herzl had no illusions about converting him into a lover of Jews, but did get a commitment of support for a Jewish state.
Similarly, here is a letter from Wjatscheslaw Plehwe, the Russian czar’s interior minister — and the man believed responsible for the Kishinev massacre in which 49 Jews were murdered, Jewish women were raped and 1,500 Jewish homes were damaged. Plehwe describes the degree to which the Russian government would support Zionism:
I had the occasion of explaining to you the point of view of the Russian government regarding the implementation of Zionism…The government of Russia will look upon you with favor so long as Zionism consists of the desire to create an independent state in Palestine, and organizing the emigration from Russia of a certain number of its Jewish subjects. However, the government of Russia will not agree that Zionism be transformed into propaganda for Jewish nationalism in Russia. Zionism of this type will only result in the establishment of a separate national group which will endanger the integrity of the country. [Hazony, p. 136]
It was the possibility of saving Russian Jews, who lived with the perpetual threat of pogroms, that drove Hertzl to look into potential territories other than then-Palestine, in the short term.
Eventually, Herzl realized that he was not making the necessary progress with leaders who were fundamentally hostile to Jews, and changed the focus of his efforts to Great Britain, where he found allies who were driven by Christian ideals and had a genuine passion for Jews returning to their ancestral land.
The success that Herzl was ultimately able to achieve diplomaticall rivals Chaim Weizmann’s own success which culminated in the Balfour Declaration. The British offered Herzl a Jewish settlement in East Africa (erroneously referred to as Uganda), leading to the following letter from Lord Lansdowne, the British foreign secretary:
If a site can be found which the Trust and His Majesty’s Commissioner consider suitable and which commends itself to His Majesty’s Government, Lord Lansdowne will be prepared to entertain favorably proposals for the establishment of a Jewish colony or settlement on conditions which will enable the members to observe their National customs. For this purpose he would be prepared to discuss…the details of a scheme comprising as its main features: the grant of a considerable area of land, the appointment of a Jewish Official as chief of the local administration, and permission to the Colony to have a free hand in regard to municipal legislation and as to the management of religious and purely domestic matters, such Local Autonomy being conditional upon the right of His Majesty’s Government to exercise a general control. [emphasis added]
Hazony explains that the Landsdowne Letter surpasses the Balfour Declaration because the letter expressed Great Britain’s willingness to agree on Herzl’s own terms that the land would be chartered with the understanding that it would be governed as a Jewish territory, by the Jews themselves. [p.135]
The alliances Israel has formed with some right-wing leaders are not in the same category as the leaders of Russia and Germany that Herzl had to deal with. Still, some do question their motives. But such alliances, as we have seen, have helped Israel.
Ryvchin makes the point:
Today, Israel has formed alliances with some nations that might really see a short-term alignment of interests, but don’t harbor any great feeling of warmth towards the Jewish people. That is dangerous, but it is also the world that we live in. And as long as the Netanyahu government and the successive governments go into this with their eyes open, I think it is something that can and needs to be done.
Ryvchin is referring to countries like Hungary.
The same could apply to Russia, with whom Netanyahu has an understanding (so far) that allows it to fly into Syrian airspace to challenge Iran.
We hope that the same reason for caution does not apply to the UAE and other Arab parties to the Abraham Accords as well.