Israel makes gains in unexpected places
By Shoshana Bryen
WASHINGTON, D.C. — The “delegitimization” of Israel is not to be taken lightly – professional agitators make the case that while Israel may have some theoretical “right to exist,” nothing that Israel does to protect itself, advance itself or enhance itself is legitimate.
The Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA) long ago rejected begging the Arabs to give Israel what no other country requires – permission. Israel is legitimate by its history, the circumstances of its birth as a modern country and its defense of its territory and people. But, while the problem is real, two incidents remind us that there are circles and cycles to international affairs as there are to everything else; one made us smile.
1. Fidel Castro’s comments to Jonah Goldberg of Atlantic Monthly have now been widely circulated. Castro criticized Ahmadinejad for denying the Holocaust and talked about the “unique” history of anti-Semitism. “I don’t think anyone has been slandered more than the Jews. I would say much more than the Muslims. They have been slandered much more than the Muslims because they are blamed and slandered for everything. No one blames the Muslims for anything… The Jews have lived an existence that is much harder than ours. There is nothing that compares to the Holocaust.”
Castro is an old dictator and a liar – and he’s already recanted his comments on Cuban economics. But, in fact, in the early days he was far from an enemy of Israel or Jews. In the journal Cuban Studies 23 (University of Pittsburgh press), Jorge Perez-Lopez relates that Jews who left Cuba for Israel in 1961 were called “repatriados” (people returning to their native lands) although, he notes, most were of Eastern European origin. Other Cubans fleeing the revolution were called “gusanos” (anti-revolutionary worms). Israeli agricultural workers were common in Cuba and when Israeli president Yitzhak Ben Zvi died in 1963, Castro declared three days of official mourning. Algerian dictator Ahmed Ben Bella subsequently canceled his trip to Havana. Castro said he didn’t care.
Only in 1974, when seeking leadership of the Non-Aligned Movement did Castro break relations with Israel. Which itself is a reminder that “delegitimization” is an old art form: after the Yom Kippur War, 29 African states severed diplomatic relations with Israel under severe pressure from the Arab states. And only two brave countries – Costa Rica and El Salvador – maintain embassies in Jerusalem, the capital of Israel. Israel is the only country the United States considers unable to determine its own capital.
2. Click here to watch “Red Square Moscow with IDF Band” Large screens behind the band show band members, the Israeli flag and – hold on here – the Knesset, the Western Wall and broad views of Jerusalem. The band chose Fiddler on the Roof, Machar (“Tomorrow”) a modern Israeli favorite, “Hava Nagila” and “Shalom Aleichem” (with which the Russians were clearly familiar).
The faces of the Israeli soldiers are extraordinary – they understand the moment. For those of us old enough to have grandfathers who fled Russia to escape the Czar’s Army, not to mention “duck and cover” in school in fear of the Soviets, watching a large and enthusiastic Russian audience clap in time to the IDF Band on Red Square with the Kremlin lit up in the background is eye-popping.
Coincidentally (?), Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak was in Russia last week to sign a military cooperation agreement, declaring Israel “ready to continue sharing experience with the Russian military on fighting terrorism and ensuring security, including by using air drones.” The Russian Defense Minister said Moscow was “studying seriously and attentively” the experiences and practices of the IDF. Barak met with Vladimir Putin as well to discuss proposed Russian arms sales to Syria.
It doesn’t make us at all comfortable to watch Israel and Russia cooperate at what surely will be the expense of Georgia. And it doesn’t let Castro off the hook for policies that have made Cuba one of the poorest and most repressive places in our hemisphere – and we are not overlooking the Cuban government’s treatment of Alan Gross, a Jewish American imprisoned while on a humanitarian mission.
But there are things we thought we would never see. The IDF Band being cheered in Red Square is one.
Bryen is senior director of security policy of the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs. Her column is sponsored by Waxie Sanitary Supply in memory of Morris Wax, longtime JINSA supporter and national board member.