Tuesday, July 18, 2006

israel and hezbollah: round two

The war between Israel and Hezbollah heads into its second week with no clear end in sight, although there are signs that the international community is beginning to lose patience. As predicted here earlier, the European countries have proposed a multinational force to patrol the Israel-Lebanon border, with the Italian Foreign Minister suggesting that this might be a model for a similar arrangement in the Gaza Strip. Israel has predictably opposed this suggestion, preferring the Lebanese Army to take over the security arrangements and (one suspects) stalling for time to permit its destruction of Hezbollah's arsenal to proceed apace. The Israelis position is however not without flexiblity, and one suspects that--given the paucity of the available alternatives--some form of international force may eventually be on its way.

The war, and the international response to it, provided the occasion for one of President Bush's famous "accidental" remarks, when he was overheard telling British Prime Minister Tony Blair that Hezbollah should "stop doing this shit and it's over." Although less than poetic, Bush's gaffe accurately stated the American position: there is no moral equivalence between Israel and Hezbollah and the defeat of the latter, rather than some kind of enforced compromise, should be the primary goal of American policy. It is perhaps the strongest pro-Israel position ever taken by an American president, markedly different from that taken by the Reagan and other Republican administrations in similar circumstances.

Given Bush's strong support for Israel, it is hard to fathom the widespread dislike/distrust for the President in the Jewish community. This is sometimes explained on the basis of Bush's conservatism on domestic issues, which is alleged to contradict Jewish "values" of liberalism, social action, etc. But Nixon and Reagan were about as conservative and had more support, if not always votes, in the Jewish community. I suspect the real reason has to do with Bush's strident Christianity, which has always made Jews uncomfortable although it is hard to see exactly what threat it poses at this point. (How abortion and gay rights became Jewish causes is equally hard to fathom, but that's another matter.) As Democrats become more and more identified with isolationism--witness the rude treatment of Joe Lieberman--and Bush with support of an embattled Israel, it will be interesting to see if this arrangement maintains itself in the future.


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