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Israel, America, and the Lessons of 9/11

Two heads belonging to the same monster: This is the way a significant portion of the world saw America and Israel on September 11, 2001. On television that day, we watched people jump to their deaths to escape the flames engulfing the World Trade Center.  But if you switched channels, you could watch a very different scene: Palestinians of both sexes and all ages dancing in the streets to celebrate al-Qaeda's killing of almost 3,000 human beings.  For the celebrants, the attack was first and foremost a blow to Israel's most important ally.  And Palestinians were not the only ones celebrating.

Relevant Links
The Spread of Anti-Americanism  Pew Research Center. Post-9/11 sympathy for America was short-lived; anti-Americanism is deeper and broader now than at any time in modern history.  (PDF, 2005)
Overcoming Revisionism  Eric Trager, New Republic. So long as conspiracy theories persist, Arabs will continue to view American policies aimed at preventing “another 9/11” as illegitimate.
The Destruction of Liberal Zionism  Noah Pollak, Commentary. How the failure of the liberal vision has been transformed from a verdict on liberalism to a verdict on Israel.

Ten years later, the Obama White House has issued "guidelines" setting a tone for the American government's commemoration of September 11 at home and abroad.  This tone, administration officials told the New York Times, "should be shaped by a recognition that the outpouring of worldwide support for the United States in the weeks after the attacks turned to anger at some American policies adopted in the name of fighting terror—on detention, on interrogation, and the decision to invade Iraq."  To assuage this anger, U.S. officials would emphasize America's kinship with "all victims of terrorism, in every nation of the world, . . . whether in New York or Nairobi, Bali or Belfast, Mumbai or Manila, Lahore or London."

But there was no "outpouring of worldwide support for America" in the wake of September 11.  A Pew Research Center poll conducted soon after the attack produced data that still shock.  Fully 70 percent of non-U.S. citizens said it was "good for the U.S. to feel vulnerable." This sentiment did not come from Arab or Muslim countries alone: it was endorsed by 66 percent of Western Europeans, 71 percent of Latin Americans, and 76 percent of Asians.

Why did these respondents feel good about America's trouble?  The most popular reason, given by 88 percent of those polled, was "resentment of U.S. power."  The second most popular, given by 70 percent, was "U.S. support of Israel."

In the decade since September 11, poll after poll has shown the combined hatred of America and Israel becoming still more widespread and intense.  Barack Obama's 2008 election triggered a modest uptick for America, but it was soon erased.  Theories placing direct responsibility for September 11 with America or Israel rather than with al-Qaeda continue to circulate, even among the non-Islamist reformers of the Arab Spring. Writing in the New Republic, Eric Trager notes that in a recent Pew survey asking about al-Qaeda's role in the September 11 attack, the "same revolutionary Arab Street that toppled Mubarak in Egypt also registered the highest level of denial among all the countries surveyed," with "a full 75 percent of respondents recording their disbelief" in al-Qaeda guilt.

Anti-Americanism and anti-Zionism reinforce one another.  American intervention in the Arab world is seen as an extension of Zionist aggression.  Israel's military operations in Gaza, Lebanon, or Syria are understood in part as imperialist legwork delegated by Big Satan to its smaller regional franchise. In the fantastic universe of such conspiracy theories, there are no contradictions: September 11 was both a righteous blow against Zionist America and the fruit of a U.S.-Zionist plot.

The joining of anti-Semitism with anti-Americanism has produced some complicated alliances among America's enemies—Iran with Venezuela, Syria with North Korea.  Hugo Chavez may have no use for Iran's Khomeinist Shiism.  But any enemy of Washington (and democratic capitalism) is a friend of his, and making life unpleasant for Venezuela's Jewish community endears him that much more to his partners in Tehran. Kim Jong Il probably does not lose much sleep over Israel's existence, but helping the Jewish state's Syrian enemy build a nuclear reactor is a profitable way to make things more precarious for an American ally.  The North Koreans and Chinese support Palestinian statehood.  The Russians provide nuclear and military assistance to Iran.  Such marriages of convenience and ideology, in areas from trade to energy and defense, contribute to Israel's increased isolation.

The isolation has also intensified in the realm of ideas, where the erosion of Zionism's good name has continued since September 11.  Increasingly, the word is taken to denote not Jewish national self-determination but Jewish chauvinism.  In academic and diplomatic circles, the decades-long campaign to place Zionism alongside imperialism, fascism, and colonialism has moved from the far left to the political center. Young American Jews now shy away from a term and an identity whose actual definition they will never know.

The great myth about this growing hatred is that public diplomacy can fix it—that greater attention to "optics" will lead antagonists of America and Israel to rethink their prejudices.  We have now had nearly three years of an extremely optics-rich Obama foreign policy, of which the September 11 anniversary guidelines are just one example.  Yet, despite serial apologies for American power and dogged appeals for global cooperation, anti-Americanism is more intense today than it was when the President took office.

This does not stop the public diplomacy-advocates from scolding Israelis for insensitivity.  Thus, Jerusalem is expected to place security second to public relations and express regret over the problematic symbolism of security checkpoints, the West Bank wall, and the response to the Mavi Marmara flotilla.  Such counsel might be tolerable in a country like the United States, which can absorb its critics' vitriol as one more tribute to its global supremacy.  Israel is not big enough, or safe enough, to afford the luxury of symbolism as statecraft.

After September 11, America placed long-term foreign policy bets on democracy in the Middle East.  And it is undoubtedly true that the emergence of a genuinely democratic order there would diminish the appeal of Islamist hate.  But for Israel, there is no such thing as long-term foreign policy. For the foreseeable future, sacrificing support for Washington's closest Middle Eastern ally in an attempt to pacify anti-Americanism and anti-Semitism is not only destined to fail, it is a willful refusal to learn anything from the events of September 11, 2001.

Abe Greenwald is senior editor of Commentary.

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Ephraim on September 9, 2011 at 8:58 am (Reply)
Thank you, Abe Greenwald, for giving readers something very special: Sheer perfection in eleven paragraphs. Had I written it, I wouldn't have changed a word.
James More on September 9, 2011 at 9:44 am (Reply)
Because I am an American blend of many with my claim to pedigree in diversity and that includes Jewish in Diaspora too and American Indian I am told, so I feel lucky that I can learn about the Jewish religion and practice at least a reform Jewish religion. The Jewish influence is a lifeline for me.
Jacob L. Wright on September 9, 2011 at 10:47 am (Reply)
Mr. Greenwald,

Please! You have distorted a fact, and done it in such a way that all your readers to see. You say that "Fully 70 percent of non-U.S. citizens said it was 'good for the U.S. to feel vulnerable.' " And then in next paragraph you ask: "Why did these respondents feel good about America's trouble?" This is a non sequitur. The 70% thought it was good that America felt vulnerable as everyone else did, that Americans finally relinquished its sense of complete invulnerability. At the same time, the world mourned with us. The reaction from Palestinians was not even representative for the Middle East. Age-old enemies, like Fidel Castro, expressed his sorrow. On that day, Europeans proclaimed on the streets: "today we are all Americans." I remember the atmosphere very well. I had been living in Europe for ten years. Your larger point about the aggression against Israel is a valid one, but it goes without saying - at least for the readership of JID. But let's not distort the facts. It's simply insulting.
Rabbi Felix on September 9, 2011 at 4:43 pm (Reply)
Mr. Greenwald's post is inaccurate. If you go to the Pew Research web site, you will see that "there was a global outpouring of sympathy for the United States, but it was short-lived. As the Bush Administration pivoted from Afghanistan to Iraq, and as American anti-terrorism efforts expanded, many around the world turned against the U.S. Widespread anti-Americanism remained a key feature of international public opinion throughout the Bush years, before fading significantly following the election of Barack Obama."

These facts are opposed to the story Mr Greenwald weaves in his article. It does not help Israel to distort reality to fit a right-wing agenda.
Abe Greenwald on September 9, 2011 at 5:38 pm (Reply)
Rabbi Felix,
The statement you quote from the Pew site is editorializing. There is not one shred of polling data on the site to support the claim. In fact, their data demonstrates broad anti-American sentiment predating 9/11 altogether. The poll I site was conducted in December of 2001, more than a year before the Iraq war. It was the first one of its kind after 9/11 and it demonstrated the majority anti-American opinion that was already in place.
Kot Uchoney on September 10, 2011 at 8:18 am (Reply)
There is no war between civilizations; there is only a war between civilization and primitivism. History will acknowledge that America chose civilization when the rest of the world (notably, the ever-craven Europeans) chose to support or acquiesce to primitivism.
PiNews on September 11, 2011 at 10:59 am (Reply)
It had nothing to do with USA, Israel, Muslims or Jews. Those are categories which are assigned by the polls to that event. Obviously it was not about states or religions, else it would not be attack on WTC, the "World Trade Center", part of IMF, the "International Monetary Fund". When this targeting is acknowledged, one knows without doubt, that--if it was not a "false flag" event--it was simply political attack, saying: "Look at this institution, this is the problem of the world". All that Bush and polls and even Palestinians talk about when speaking of WTC attack has definitely nothing to do with reality. This was a political attack, demonstration, and its reasons are understandable, if not its results.
Ellen on September 11, 2011 at 4:07 pm (Reply)
Rabbi Felix,
You must not be reading the newspapers lately, because anti-Americanism is now far worse in Afghanistan and Pakistan than it ever was under the presidency of GWB, and Obama's standing in Arab public opinion likewise is worse than Bush's. The Arabs didn't like Bush for many reasons, but they had some respect for him. For the weak-willed Obama who doesn't seem to have any idea what policy is in American self-interest in any region of the world, they have contempt. Weakness invites contempt everywhere, but nowhere more than in the Muslim world, where the strong horse attracts followers, even if his policies lead to ruin.

As for supposed "right wing opinion", let us see whether Barack Obama's political party can win New York's 9th congressional district, where 80% of registered voters are Democratic but the Republican challenger seems to be ahead in the public opinion polls. The issue here is not right wing or left wing, but leadership from someone who has a clue what the world is like outside of the South Side of Chicago.
James More on September 12, 2011 at 8:53 am (Reply)
President Obama is the most traveled president we have, and although Rahm Emanuel has moved on to the job of Mayor of Chicago--which is a most difficult job, as you can imagine, with many religious and ethnic backgrounds merging together--Barrack has a capable and diversified staff.

In Afghanistan, we need to take command and do it or leave it behind us.

Certain Muslims (I guess they wish to be called Muslims and they think they are fighting for Muslim freedoms, although I hear other Muslims dismiss them as misfits too) hold a bitter hatred for Jews, for Christians, for anyone other than themselves and they may hate themselve worst of all, because look at what they do to their fellow Muslims by making wars.

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