Editor’s Notes: Say goodbye to The Three ‘I’s

By David Horovitz June 3, 2005

Israel is bracketed with Iraq and Iran today as a source of tension between the US and Europe. Now’s the time to change that, argues a leading Republican foreign policy strategist

There were only a couple of television sets in the Resnick dorms on the Hebrew University’s Mount Scopus campus when I was studying there in the early 1980s. And since there wasn’t much to watch in those days, that didn’t really matter.

But a few times a year, for events of particular moment, we’d gather around the TV in the ‘club’ on the basement floor of one of the Resnick buildings. And few events drew bigger TV crowds than the Eurovision Song Contest. This annual exhibition of generally trite songwriting and frequently outrageously camp performance was, nonetheless, an opportunity to cheer for our heroic performers in a rare appearance on the international stage. Most years, we hailed them for striving so valiantly when the participating European juries’ voting patterns, influenced by realpolitik we were convinced, meant they had no chance of actually prevailing. And some years, incredibly – and rather denting our paranoia – Israel actually won.

Every year, though, at one stage or another of the absurdly elongated proceedings, I found myself wondering what Israel, not noticeably part of Europe, was actually doing in the competition in the first place.

I’d be surprised if Bruce Jackson, the president of the Project on Transitional Democracies, has ever watched the Eurovision Song Contest. But on a visit to Israel this week, Jackson, a longtime key player in Republican foreign policy strategizing, suggested that Israel, rather than an unlikely presence in a dubious Euro songfest, might want to become an integral European player. In short, that it might reconsider its relatively isolationist policy with regard to the European Union and, for that matter, to other weighty international institutions like NATO.

Along with the presumption that the EU is inimically hostile to Israel, other Israeli concerns over formal membership in such organizations include some of the same arguments that preclude more formal security and defense agreements with our single reliable ally, the United States. Full pacts and memberships, while potentially offering greater support and security, come at the cost of constrained independence and freedom of action.

The quintessential Republican insider, founder of the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq and member of the US’s Council on Foreign Relations, Jackson is also emphatic in his support for Israel, and in seeking to guarantee the well-being of the Jewish state.

And he lists a whole register of arguments as to why that cause might best be served by a reassessment of Israeli attitudes to the likes of the EU and NATO, why that reassessment should be mutual, and why the time for it might well be now.

IN TWO lengthy conversations this week, Jackson fondly recalled how the Israel of the late 1960s and early 1970s was regarded with beloved awe by US governments, how doors opened and presidents melted when Golda Meir came to town, and how Israeli interests were automatically taken into account at any forum, or in any discussion, where they might be impacted.

He contrasted that with today’s reality. Israel is barely a player, he said, in a Washington where the relationship with Europe is paramount, and where Britain, France and Germany are the heavyweights.

This sorry state of affairs, said Jackson, is partly a reflection of Israel’s familiar and pitiful inability to effectively promote its interests – as currently evidenced in the pathetic imbroglio pitching our foreign minister against his own US ambassador. And whereas, until recently, Israel could at least rely on the professionalism of the AIPAC juggernaut for its essential lobbying, AIPAC is hamstrung today by the Larry Franklin affair and its long- term clout potentially reduced.

Aside from all this, however, Jackson makes the unarguable point that Israel suffers greatly from being a subject not, as might reasonably be expected, of US- European consensus, but rather of frequently bitter dispute.

It should be axiomatic that the US and Europe would be encouraging – even pleading – with Israel to join their various international country clubs in a natural alliance of democracies with shared trade and security interests and shared values. As arguably the world’s gutsiest democracy, in the single region on earth that has proved stubbornly unsusceptible to democratization, it belongs in a place of honor at the head table, its protection and development a consensual assumption for those clubs’ other admiring and less threatened democratic regimes.

Instead, says Jackson, ‘Israel is the only democracy laboring in diplomatic isolation,’ blackballed at the clubs. And along the world’s key US-European power axis, Israel is something of a sore point. ‘There’s no intimacy between the US and Europe on Israel,’ says Jackson. ‘It’s one of The Three ‘I’s, along with Iran and Iraq. A subject of mistrust. And that’s deeply unhealthy.

‘This Israel suspicion violates the US-EU marriage. If the EU shared the same commitment to the defense of Israel as the US, valued Israel in the same way, that would remove a huge obstacle to the American-European relationship’ – to Israel’s immense benefit.

Much of old Europe regards Israel as an irritant to Arab regimes and thus a cause of fundamentalist terror. President Bush tends to the view of Israel as prime victim of Islamic extremism, and the American alliance with Israel is holding firm; but a significant body of American public opinion argues that it was this alliance that exposed the US to 9/11.

Jackson’s argument is that now is the moment for Israel to try to change some of the adverse dynamics, by deepening its relationship with US-European institutions and thus widening its existential insurance policy.

WHY NOW? Because Bush is declaring himself increasingly committed to the spread of democracy, especially in the Middle East. Because Bush rejects the old Europe argument that posits progress toward Middle East democracy as contingent on first solving the Israeli- Palestinian dispute, regarding this as an excuse raised by Arab tyrannical regimes. Because Europe, more torn than ever this week in the wake of French and Dutch rejection of the EU constitution, has little desire to pick a fight with Washington over the best path to democracy. And because the expansion of the EU, to include Eastern European nations, is shifting that forum to one fundamentally more sympathetic than in the past to Israeli concerns.

Since the EU is continually widening its reach in this direction anyway, with Turkey a central case in point, Jackson argues that Israel would do well to strive for a more significant associate role in it rather than remaining a relative EU outsider subject to attempted dictates.

And the same goes for NATO – an organization increasingly active in the Middle East, potentially more so, and eminently wooable by Israel. Jackson says Israel can help itself by determining the nature of any future relationship with NATO today, widening the scope of its current associate ties, or risk having to defend itself from unwelcome, even if well-intentioned, attentions tomorrow. Tellingly, the Palestinians have assiduously sought to boost their NATO standing, and were this week rewarded with observer status.

Presented effectively, Israel’s democratic credentials should enable it to campaign for the access it seeks on acceptable terms. Moreover, Jackson suggests, as an insider in these forums Israel could help formulate the standards for other regimes in the region aspiring to attain international legitimacy. As an outsider, by contrast, it is acutely vulnerable to other players misrepresenting and skewing its values, and seeking to impose untenable change.

‘Israel is just not in the room,’ says Jackson, while other international players are taking decisions that affect it all the time. ‘I’d like to hear those players saying, ‘We can’t do this. Israel doesn’t approve.’ That’s what they’re saying in the EU about Turkey.’

Incidentally, Jackson adds, an Israel following this non-isolationist route would also chart a course for nascent would-be Middle Eastern democracies. Where, otherwise, he asks, are the forums for would-be democratizers in Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan, Syria and elsewhere to aspire to join? Where are their avuncular support groups?

Jackson’s is an intriguing vision, and one which elicited interested murmuring when I put it to a senior Foreign Ministry official. This diplomat stressed again the constraints of overly formal relationships, but saw possible merit in trying to set viable terms for the kinds of deepened associate partnerships Jackson recommends.

At the very least, Israel’s participation in the Eurovision Song Contest might be less perplexing. Rather more ambitiously and symbolically, Lebanon, which this year withdrew from that contest rather than have its entrant perform alongside our own Shiri Maimon, could be there too.

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