Monday, June 27, 2011

A Surprisingly Lucid Statement about Israel from Michelle Bachmann

When I first heard Republican Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann's name during the rise of the Tea Party in 2009, it was only because she was being relentlessly mocked on cable news and the internet for the crazy things she said. (Example:
"I find it interesting that it was was back in the 1970's that the swine flu broke out then under another Democrat president Jimmy Carter.")

Michelle Bachmann is now running for president. And if you still know Michelle Bachmann as "that crazy lady from Minnesota," then you REALLY need to watch this video:

Reserve all your judgments on the content of her talk for the moment. Wasn't she really...eloquent? Poised? Warm? Logical? Sophisticated even? I even found myself nodding along when she talked about the dangers of Middle Eastern populism. Her defense of our mindless alliance with Israel was not completely mindless! I don't think I've heard anyone defend it better.

I dooubt she'll get the nomination, but I think she's in the race for the long haul. Time will tell.

Ok. Time to unleash our judgments.

For me, the key to this whole video is when she tells us about her summer volunteering in Israel in 1974. This was less than a year after the October 1973 war, the closest Israel ever came to losing a war to the Arabs. By all accounts, the Israeli public was deeply shaken by the war. In his amazing book The Accidental Empire, Israeli historian Gershom Gorenberg writes, "By the war's end, 2,656 Israeli soldiers had fallen, equivalent to the United States losing 165,000 men in nineteen days. Israel was a country of bereaved parents, widows, orphans too young to remember fathers. ...The Israelis...suffered World war I-level losses..." (p. 258-259). No doubt the Israelis Bachmann encountered that summer when she was eighteen years old felt extremely vulnerable, and were extremely security-minded.

Perhaps this explains Bachmann's extremely dated attitude towards the Israel question, which she sums up for us at the end of her video:

"We must ensure that Israel is strong, and gets stronger, so that it remains capable of defending itself at all times and under all circumstances."

Strong and gets stronger? How could Israel possibly be stronger?

Israel is a country that bombs other countries at will. In 2007, when they discovered Syria was building a secret nuclear reactor, they flew planes all the way across Syria to bomb it. No one tried to stop them. It was not a unique occurence. Israel has bombed Syria with impunity several times in the last decade, for various reasons. During the 2006 Lebanon War, Israeli planes buzzed the Syrian president's house.

What would the United States do if someone bombed one of our nuclear reactors? If foreign planes flew low over the White House to scare President Obama out of his bed?

I'm not criticizing these actions by Israel - I'm just using them to illustrate the fact that, militarily speaking, Israel can do pretty much whatever it wants. It can do things no other Middle Eastern country even dreams of.

In short, we are WAY past the "drive the Jews into the sea" portion of our program. There is no military threat to the state of Israel today.

This misunderstanding of Israel's security situation also shows up in Bachmann's description of Obama's call for Israel to withdraw from the Palestinian territories:

"But shockingly and frankly unforgivably, at this time of unprecendented flux and rising dangers, President Obama just told Israel that Israel has to give up its right to defensible borders in order to appease the Palestinians. That would be the same Palestinians who don't even recognize Israel's right to exist!"

That would also be the same Palestinians who have no independent state, no army, no navy, no air force, no currency of their own, no seat at the UN, no borders at all (much less "defensible" ones), no right to travel from one Palestinian town to another twenty kilometers away without waiting for hours or days at an Israeli military checkpoint. The same Palestinians who live as exiles by the millions in refugee camps throughout the region.

(By the way, in spite of all this, and contra Bachmann, the Palestinian leadership DOES recognize Israel's right to exist - and has for eighteen years.)

Appeasement is letting Hitler take over Czechoslovakia because he promises you he won't invade France if you let him have it. (Pinky swear!) Letting the Palestinians have their own country, the one they were promised sixty-three years ago when their homeland was torn in two to make way for the Jewish state, is not "appeasement." It's mere justice.

Which brings us to the real threat to Israel.

Israel is the Jewish state. The majority of the people living under Israel's rule are Palestinians. The Palestinian birthrate is double the Jewish birthrate. Within the next few decades, Israel will face a choice: 1) permanently disenfranchise the Palestinians and enshrine Jewish minority rule in law somehow (in South Africa they called this apartheid), 2) move all the Palestinians into Egypt and Jordan by force (in the Balkans they called this "ethnic cleansing"), 3) give the Palestinian majority equal rights, or...4) withdraw from the Palestinian territories so that an independent Palestinian country can come into existence.

Choice three would end the Jewish state forever. Choice two would kill the Jewish state's soul. Choice one would provoke a new Palestinian struggle for freedom which would one day, inevitably, succeed. (Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert: "As soon as that happens, the State of Israel is finished.") Only choice four keeps the dream of a Jewish state alive. Nothing can protect Israel from this choice - not its nuclear arsenal, not its military aid from the U.S., not its omnipotent military, not the support of American evangelicals. The debate about "defensible borders" for Israel is hopelessly old-fashioned. The only way Israel can save itself from destruction is by giving up its defensible borders.

It's long past time for lovers of the Jewish state to wake up and smell the the hummus.


  1. Isn't odd that the defensible borders Israel supposedly needs are one of the main reasons (because of what they contain and what they mean) that it needs to be defended? Good analysis in this post, especially your list of Israel's four options. I sometimes think that Israel's dependence upon the US is one of the worst strategies it could have: contra mundum looks much less successful as the policy of Israel than as the policy of the US, whose geographical, military, and economic power enables it to pull that off.

    A postscript: That Michelle Bachmann is not completely lost in front of a camera talking about policy does not necessarily undermine the possibility that she's a crazy lady from Minnesota. Only in a Post-Palin world could we applaud someone for the typically political double negative of not not being what they're supposed to be like, which is what warming to Bachmann because she looks like she might actually be able to name a newspaper she reads amounts to.

  2. Great analysis, Joel. I still think that Bachmann is less than thoughtful, and occasionally crazy. She was poised though. You watch her in the NH Debates?