Monday, May 5, 2008

Theo Caldwell: Israel's real friends are on the right

As the world watched former U.S. president Jimmy Carter, a Democrat, embrace terrorists from Hamas and lay a wreath at the grave of Yasser Arafat recently, it is worth considering which side of the ideological divide includes Israel's real friends.

For more than a generation, even before Republican president Richard Nixon prevented the Soviets from entering the 1973 Yom Kippur War, Israel's allies and defenders have most commonly been found on the right, among the ranks of conservatives and Christians.

On the left, meanwhile, it is received wisdom that Israel is an oppressor, and the country is often likened to the worst regimes in history.

Consider the title of Carter's recent book, Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid, and its implicit equivalence between Israel and segregated South Africa. It speaks volumes that the most frequent foreign visitor to Democrat Bill Clinton's White House was, in fact, Arafat. Whatever his other foreign policy shortcomings, Republican President George W. Bush declined to host or meet with the PLO terrorist even once.

The affinity of folks on the right for Israel ranges from religious to political to purely practical.

For Christian communities, Israel and the Jewish people are revered as a nation favoured by God, and out of which came the Messiah, Jesus. For conservatives, Israel stands as an isolated democratic state, surrounded by hostile regimes in a vital region, and its defence makes strategic sense. Finally, if none of these rationales appeals to a would-be Republican leader, the very fact that Israel's cause matters deeply to his voting base should be sufficient to secure his support.

In 2003, expanding upon Bush's treatment of Arafat, David Frum observed, "Why did Bush take the stance he did? Not -- as the European press insinuated -- because of the 'Jewish lobby' ... He would not need Jewish votes in 2004, and he certainly would not need Jewish political donations ... If Bush had a political worry, it was his own political base: conservatives, both religious and secular."

Of course, Bush and other conservatives have for years advocated the creation of a Palestinian state. This position is perfectly consistent with a staunch defence of Israel, and serves to advocate a practical, humane step toward peace in the Middle East. Corralled and contained by Israelis and fellow Arabs, the Palestinian people live in poverty and fall prey to indoctrination. A state of their own, founded and maintained on the condition of Israel's right to exist, would give these unfortunate folks a shot at a proper life and, one hopes, dispel much of the hatred and misinformation that spurs their young people to terrorism.

But the will and the means to make this happen has come more from conservatives and Republicans than from Democrats, international intellectuals or even the Palestinians' own leadership. While his people languished in poverty, Arafat presided over a personal fortune in the billions of dollars, the residue of which provides his widow, Suha, a lavish life to this day.

This is the same Suha Arafat who, during a panel discussion in Gaza in 1999, accused Israeli forces of daily and extensive use of poison gas against Palestinian women and children. Sharing the platform with Ms. Arafat when she made these remarks was then-first lady and current Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. Ms. Clinton's reaction was to embrace and kiss Ms. Arafat right there on the stage.

Even when Israel takes upon itself hard tasks to the benefit of other free nations, such as destroying Iraq's Osirak nuclear reactor in 1981 or eliminating the Syrian-North Korean nuclear project this past September, elite opinion invariably lines up against the Jewish state. Jay Nordlinger of National Review aptly notes that when Mohamed El-Baradei, Egyptian Nobel Peace Prize winner and head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, blasted Israel for the September strikes, he neglected to utter any criticism of Syria or North Korea.

Israel, like any nation, is imperfect, and its allies are not altruists above reproach. But 60 years in the most dangerous part of a dangerous world have shown Israel who its true friends are.

National Post: May 05, 2008, 12:13 PM by Marni Soupcoff