With Israel battling both terrorists in the Gaza Strip and a sea of public opinion that more often than not casts the Jewish state as the aggressor in its conflict with the Palestinians, Joshua Muravchik’s new book couldn’t come at a more prescient time.
A fellow at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies, Muravchik traces the international community’s about-face in a span of little more than 40 years, noting that after the Six Day War in 1967, the world largely viewed Israel as the biblical David opposing a regional Goliath in the surrounding Arab states. But several factors, including economic self-interest on the part of the European powers and the United States and the adoption of the Palestinian narrative in the corridors of academia, have led to Israel being castigated instead of lauded.
On the whole, this work is a refreshing dose of criticism against those who choose to ignore the existential threats Israel faces on a daily basis. That he’s no big fan of late Palestinian academic Edward Said is clear — and his attributing to Said a new academic narrative is plausible — but the dozens of pages devoted to what amounts to an academic critique of Said’s work is a bit unnecessary in a larger historical depiction of changing world attitudes to Israel.
His chapter on the election of Prime Minister Menachem Begin seems to criticize Israel for taking matters into its own hands by distancing itself from years of Labor Party rule. This is particularly odd, given that he spends the first half of the book cataloguing the dramatic shift in the west’s thinking in the years prior to Begin’s election.
Ultimately, King David showed himself in the years that followed his improbably defeat of Goliath to be much more than a pipsqueak shepherd. He was a strategist and a politician par excellence. Perhaps the best takeaway from Muravchik’s book is that, just as worldwide pro-Israel sentiment reached a crescendo in 1967 before turning inexorably toward the Arab side, the pendulum may indeed swing back. There has already been evidence of this in media reports and diplomatic embraces of Israel’s “right to self-defense” over the past several weeks.
But world attitudes, as this book demonstrates, are fickle. While not stated — Muravchik in fact seems to endorse the view that Israel ultimately needs the world on its side — one reading of the past four decades would conclude that at the end of the day, Israel must control its own destiny.