- Making David into Goliath: How the World Turned against Israel by Joshua Muravchik
In these partisan times almost any statement one makes concerning the Middle East is bound to be provocative. Yet there is one small area in which even the most passionate agree: public opinion in Western Europe and American academia has drifted notably from admiring Israel to being antagonistic. Joshua Muravchik, a fellow at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, asks the questions that are in every Middle East specialist’s and modern politician’s mind: Why? How do these things happen? Muravchik gives us a detailed, analytic answer that is worth following not only because of what it tells us about the Middle East but also because of what it tells us about the styles of thinking, their evolution, and their eventual replacement in the modern world. Nothing—least of all popularity—is permanent. Everything changes, even modes of thinking.
Muravchik views his subject from a historical point of view, traces how the course of events affected Israel’s narrative, and starts, logically, by examining why Israel was so popular to begin with. Israel’s existence began only three years after the conclusion of World War II. A significant percentage of its population was made up of formerly displaced persons from concentration camps in Europe. Arabs in the nascent country included the mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al Husseini, who was a self-proclaimed admirer of Adolph Hitler and had even ventured to Bosnia during the war to recruit Muslim troops for the Nazi SS. With the sole exception of Lebanon, all Arab states—Israel’s neighbors—were either monarchies or autocracies. For the Europeans struggling to recover from the ravages of war, the Arab world was not viewed as a model to follow. [End Page 128]
The 1948 Arab-Israeli War, from which Israel emerged as a nation, occurred after Arab countries unanimously rejected a United Nations plan for the future of the Palestine. At the end of the conflict, the Arab entity that the UN plan had envisioned did not exist. Egypt occupied the Gaza Strip, and Transjordan, soon to be called Jordan, occupied parts of the ancient provinces of Judea and Samaria in the present-day West Bank. Israel occupied slightly more territory than originally allocated to it by the United Nations. The Israeli home militia, which had been forbidden when the British ruled the Mandate of Palestine, had defeated four professional armies. It was a clear-cut military victory—the Arabs called it the nahka, or the catastrophe—and Israel was showered with compliments from many in the international community.
For the next two decades Israel’s relations with Western Europe were positive. When Egypt nationalized the Suez Canal in 1956, Britain and France even colluded with Israel in a failed attempt to overthrow Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser. In 1967 events took a more perilous turn when Nasser closed the Straits of Tiran to Israeli shipping, a clear violation of UN agreements and an act of war. When it became evident that neither the UN nor any of its members could organize an effective counteraction, the Israeli executive cabinet gave the signal to embark on war. The result was a military offensive by the Israelis that gave them control of the entire former Palestinian mandate, the Egyptian province of Sinai up to the edge of the Suez Canal, and the Golan Heights in Syria, from which Syrian artillery had bombarded Israeli farms in Galilee. The Israeli victory brought changes not only in Arab foreign policy but also in Arab governance. The Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO, or Fatah) was completely reorganized with Yasser Arafat emerging as its head. The adjective Palestinian, an old Roman term adopted by the British because of its anodyne nature and once used by the Jews of the Mandate to distinguish themselves from other Jews but dropped in favor of Israeli when Israel became a state, became the chosen term for the Arabs living in...