I write to you knowing you have greater insight into the Arab-Israeli conflict than most members of the current US administration. As such, I am hoping that you will appreciate the sentiments expressed in this letter.
Like yourself, I am an American citizen living in Israel. Like yourself, part of my academic background is in international relations. I sympathized with your predicament as you attempted to explicate American policy to like-minded Jews at the Edah conference in Jerusalem a few weeks ago. I believe that now the time has come for you to explicate Israeli policy to your superiors in Washington.
The fact that those of us in Israel see compelling similarities between US actions in Afghanistan and Israeli actions in the territories is not really the point. One could refer back to US statements about not differentiating between terrorists and those that harbor them. One could also point out that the PA has no more intention of handing over terrorists to Israel than have the Taleban of handing over bin Laden to the US and therefore in both cases, it has become necessary to encroach on foreign territory. Finally, one could point out that the scores of Afghan civilians killed and wounded in US operations are at least as blameless as their Palestinian counterparts. You know as well as I, that the reason the US defends its own actions while decrying those of Israel has everything to do with national interest. US actions are obviously aimed at achieving the national interest, whereas Israeli actions, no matter how similar, are viewed as damaging US efforts against its enemies. In fact, I would surmise that the very similarity of the campaigns is what is causing the US so much concern, fearing that the comparison would not be lost on potential US allies who view themselves as foes of Israel. However, none of that is the point. The point is the sovereignty of nations. The point is the right of Israel to determine its own best interest.
Why does the Bush administration expect Israeli national interest to be subservient to that of the United States? Granted, Israel also has what to gain in the fight against bin Laden, but it is not bin Laden who has massacred Israelis at restaurants, at discotheques and on local roads. It is as natural for Israel to fight back against those who attack its citizens as it is for the US to do the same. Yet, even if Israel is wrong in pursuing local enemies at the hypothetical risk of jeopardizing the campaign against bin Laden, does Israel not have the right to make its own decisions? Recent American rhetoric makes us believe that the answer to this question should be "no". Such an answer can only be attributed to the arrogance of power. One is reminded of the big bully who pushes everyone else aside in his zeal for vengeance against the one fool who steps on his feet.
When Prime Minister Sharon, in his controversial statement, warned the US not to turn Israel into another Czechoslovakia, he was relating to the crux of this very issue. He was referring to the arrogance of a more powerful state imposing its own agenda on a dependent ally. Sharon was simply stating that Israel will not allow anyone, not even its most important ally, to determine its own interests. Unfortunately, this message has still not been understood in Washington.
As someone familiar with Zionist ideology, you will certainly know that one of the cornerstones of mainstream Zionism is self-reliance. It was posited that Jews had suffered too long relying on the protection of others. It follows, that even more than other sovereign states, Israel will never subordinate itself to another nation. Pushing Israel to do so will simply move it towards a more nationalistic orientation, ultimately moving its policy further from that desired by the US.
While the current tension puts you in a very delicate situation, you can only help the US government by getting its officers to truly understand how their positions are being perceived in this part of the world. Not only will this be beneficial for ties between the two nations, it will be beneficial for the world as a whole.
I look forward to your response.
Rabbi Francis Nataf