Response to Jerome Slater: The Lebanon War

Response to Jerome Slater: The Lebanon War

Jerry Slater’s polemic is notable most of all for its exaggerations. I am indeed a supporter of Israel, and only wish that I was as eminent, authoritative, prominent, well known, and influential as he says I am—for then I would be a far more useful supporter than I have been. I would also be a more useful critic. Israel needs its supporters, because it is the only state in the world whose legitimacy is widely denied and whose destruction is publicly advocated and threatened. And it needs its critics so that its response to those denials and threats is held within the necessary moral limits. But the critics, if they are to be useful, must get the denials and threats right. Slater minimizes them throughout his piece, as when he says that Hezbollah is committed to Israel’s destruction “at least on the ideological level”—by which he means, it’s really just talk; the commitment doesn’t affect political practice. But I am afraid that Islamic militants give every sign of believing in the old left maxim about the unity of theory and practice.

(Just for the record, here is an example of Hezbollah “ideology” from its leader, Hassan Nasrallah: “Israel . . . is an aggressive, illegal, and illegitimate entity, which has no future . . . Its destiny is manifest in our motto, Death to Israel.”)

But then at the end of his piece, Slater overestimates the threat to Israel’s existence, blaming it on the Lebanon War, which greatly “increased the risks of an ultimate, unthinkable catastrophe.” What the war did in fact was to confirm the risks; the demonstrations on the Arab street this time around were no different from earlier and equally extravagant displays of hatred for Israel. But there was something new in the Lebanon case: the extent of Sunni and secular Arab support for Israel at the beginning of the war, which continued until it became clear that Israel was not going to win the decisive victory for which many Arabs hoped.

So here is my first disagreement with Slater: I think that Israel faces an existential threat that is not of its own making. The threat arises in large part from transformations in the Islamic world, manifest in places like Algeria, Pakistan, and Iran, where religious ferment and fanaticism cannot be attributed to Zionist crimes or even to “the political power of the American Jewish community.” Hezbollah’s rockets came from Iran, which did not invest hundreds of millions, perhaps billions, of dollars in the network of fortifications across South Lebanon in order to deter an Israeli attack. Imagine that the same amount of money had been invested in economic development and education: what would have happened then? Slater writes that I must look at things from a Lebanese perspective. But Lebanon is a divided country; there are many Lebanese perspectives. From some of them, surely, though not from the Hezbollah perspective that Slater privileges, peace, prosperity, and co-existence wit...

Socialist thought provides us with an imaginative and moral horizon.

For insights and analysis from the longest-running democratic socialist magazine in the United States, sign up for our newsletter: