The Middle East: How to Save Israel in Spite of Herself

Most Americans approach the problems of the Middle East with a pro-Israeli bias - and rightly so. The desire of a dispersed people for a homeland cannot help but enlist the sympathy even of those with no Jewish roots, nor can any sensitive man or woman fail to be moved by the countless tales of valor and self-sacrifice in the years both preceding and following the creation of Israel. The brave Beauharnais with its desperate human cargo challenging the British destroyers, the poignant sage of the Exodus-47 - these and many similar incidents must recall for all Americans proud chapters from our own earlier history. Set against the grim background of the Holocaust, the story of Israel is a continuing chronicle of grit and enterprise, in which the Entebbe foray is only the most recent footnote. Yet the wonder of it all is that, while engaged in a seemingly endless struggle, the Israelis have managed to turn a desert into a garden.

Not only must Americans admire Israel, there can be no doubt that we have an interest in, and special responsibility for, that valiant nation. The first country to recognize the new state, we have been her champion over the intervening nearly three decades. Out of our national budget we have provided huge economic and military assistance, while many of our private citizens have donated their personal savings on a scale of generosity without precedent in history. The question is no longer whether the United States should contribute to assuring Israel's survival and prosperity; that goes without saying. It is rather how we Americans, in approaching the problems of the Middle East, can best fulfill our responsibilities not only to Israel and to ourselves but also to peoples all over the world whose well-being could be seriously endangered by further conflict.

Unfortunately, for a subject deserving our most critical attention, civilized forthright debate has so far been meager. Because many articulate Americans are passionately committed to Israel, the slightest challenge to any aspect of current Israeli policy is likely to provoke a shrill ad hominem response. To suggest that America should take a stronger and more assertive line in the search for Middle East peace is to risk being attacked as a servant either of Arab interests or of the oil companies, or being denounced as anti-Israel, or, by a careless confusion of language, even condemned as anti-Semitic.

Register for free to continue reading.
Registered users get access to two free articles every month.

Or subscribe now and save 55 percent.

Subscription benefits include:
  • Full access to
  • Six issues of the magazine
  • Foreign Affairs iPad app privileges
  • Special editorial collections

Latest Commentary & News analysis