Israel and Vietnam


The threat to Israel’s survival compels democratic socialists to reconsider their attitude toward American foreign policy in the face of unabated Communist expansionism in the Near East as well as Southeast Asia. One such effort is Irving Howe’s “Vietnam and Israel” (September-October 1970), which poignantly reveals the moral dilemma, but which unfortunately leaves the necessary questions unanswered.

(1) The first question is, “Why is it our duty to support Israel?” Is it in the interest of the survival of the State of Israel qua Israel? In defense of a democratic state? In defense of valid American interests? In the interest of socialism? Or, is it possibly in defense of the principle that every state, without regard to its internal structure or government, has the inherent right to exist free of foreign aggression, direct and indirect, and that it is a proper exercise of American foreign policy to come to the aid of a nation so threatened? The only affirmative reason advanced for justifying American and world support is that Israel is a democratic state. Is this inserted to logically exclude the right of survival of non-democratic states (such as Vietnam, for example)?

(2) “Are Israel and Vietnam the same or different in principle?” Howe, like many socialists, raises the differences to the level of principle, thus overlooking the underlying identity: —that the enemy is the same, to wit, Communist expansion (a la Brezhnev or Mao), —and that therefore the problem is the same in principle, although, of course, it will differ in practice for each case. In my view, the correct and principled position is to support our basic Vietnam commitment, but to vigorously oppose at every step the various strategies short of a political settlement expressing the will of the Vietnamese people. Already we see emerging the first outlines of a Far East settlement, including also Red China. Only American and non-Communist resistance there, as in Europe and in the Near East, will have averted World War III and will have made this possible. Therefore, despite the differences, it is all one struggle.