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America’s culture war could threaten Israel from within



Frans Cronje, the chief executive of the Institute of Race Relations, wrote a penetrating critique – “Ramaphosa woefully misreading the Israeli-Palestinian conflict”, News24, 20 May – which referred to President Cyril Ramaphosa’s 17 May letter to South Africans, titled “From the desk of the president”. Cronje talks about his motivation for writing the response, and why challenging the narrative of the president’s letter is important.

Why write a response to Ramaphosa?

The key points made by Ramaphosa were incorrect, and so we wrote as much in defence of the truth as in defence of Israel. He argued that Israel’s occupation was the root cause of the current conflict and that Israel was evicting Arabs from East Jerusalem in a manner akin to apartheid-era forced removals. He also said that Israeli security forces had launched assaults on Muslim worshippers, that Israel’s strikes on Gaza were “senseless”, and that Israel had bombed journalists. We were able to demonstrate that those claims were either misleading or baseless in that Israel was under attack, had a right to self-defence, and that South Africa should be standing with Israel.

What is your take on the consequences of the conflict?

A positive of sorts is that Hamas’ ability to target Israel has been degraded. A second is that the Abraham Accords held up in the face of a determined Iranian effort to fracture them. A third is that American support for Israel held across the Democratic Party, in spite of an attempt from within that party to isolate Israel. A fourth is that several central European states were bold in their support of Israel.

And what were the negatives?

There are a number, but let’s deal with two big ones. A first is the extent to which Arab-Jewish relations within Israel may have fractured. If the damage is serious, it potentially opens an internal front of conflict that must be added to the external fronts that Israel has always fought on.

Iran knows that a military assault on Israel from without is, in a sense, futile, because Israel’s military defence is too strong. If you cannot attack it successfully from outside, you might have better luck trying to do so from within. That few Israelis saw the tie between America’s culture war and their own internal security worries me.

The second negative is that Western opinion on Israel has, I think, been altered over the past week. Coming on the back of America’s culture war inspired by the spectacular rise of critical race theory in the West, Israel is now more vulnerable than ever to American public opinion turning sufficiently far that a future White House might limit support for Israel. The effect would be to weaken its external defences. Should Israel’s enemies succeed in fomenting an internal front while also weakening external defences, Israel becomes very vulnerable.

You’ve spoken a lot about the role of Iran.

Yes, indeed, this is critical to understanding what transpired over the past week. The Iranians, after the setback of the Abraham Accords last year, have, I think, regrouped. Iran is emboldened by what I read as the Biden administration’s naivete on Iranian nuclear ambitions. It’s a lesson of history that you cannot placate or appease revolutionary ideologues. I also suspect that the Iranians have astutely perceived that the rise of critical race theory in the West presents them with the opportunity to apply the theory to the Israeli/Palestinian question in order to undo American support for Israel.

You’ve spoken a lot about critical race theory – what is it?

The potential influence of this theory is now the greatest threat to the survival of Israel. Critical race theory underpinned the culture wars that spurred the Black Lives Matter and QAnon movements in America to exploit that country’s existing racial divides to cleave a great chasm across which America’s damaging social and political contestations now rage. It’s an ideology designed to foment conflict given that its theoretical point of departure is to cast societies into unbridgeable racial camps of victim and perpetrator. Usually the theory holds that the perpetrators are white and the victims black, with whites using their influence over Western societies to become rich by keeping blacks down. The only way to liberate the victims is to destroy the institutions of Western democracy and the “wars” to do so are culture wars. Jews have featured prominently on the periphery of critical race theory debates. Ellie Krasne of the Heritage Foundation put it well:

“According to the theory’s perverse logic, Jews are first and foremost members of the oppressor class, bearing guilt for any wrong done to any non-white group by any white people. Simply put, critical race theory repeatedly casts Jews as having outsized economic success, even relative to other white people, and this supposed success makes them the worst of the … oppressors. Antisemitism has long depicted Jews as racially inferior and extremely clever puppet masters who surreptitiously control banks, politicians, and the media. Modern-day critical race theory does much of the same. This, coupled with antisemitism, targets Jews and blames them for perceived societal ills. But the goal isn’t simply hatred of the Jewish people; it’s to upend the civic order. Jews are just the scapegoat.”

Iranians will try to exploit the theory to “upend” Israel via fomenting a culture war against “Israeli apartheid” that will incite Arab Israelis to turn against their Jewish neighbours while turning Western opinion against Israel to cut off American support.

How well positioned is Israel to counter these threats?

Israel may have a problem here. General William Westmoreland, the commander of United States forces in Vietnam, would later agree with the lament “[that] we lost the war not in the jungles of South East Asia, but on the streets of Washington and in the living rooms of America”.

This is very much the evidence of the past week – that Israel might have been dominant on the physical battlefield, but it doesn’t possess strategic understanding or resources to contest the culture-war battlefield.

How could that danger play out?

In five steps. First, Israel remains so confident in its military defensive capacity and never develops an equally strong strategic capacity to confront the far greater and more insidious danger of culture wars.

Second, America stays soft on Iran, allowing the latter to better resource its proxies in Gaza, the West Bank, Lebanon, and Syria.

Third, every few years, Iran incites rocket attacks against Israel in order to present Israel’s response as genocidal Israeli aggression.

Fourth, that message gets traction in the West because it resonates well with critical race theory and the idea of “Israeli apartheid”.

Fifth, reading the public mood, a future Democratic administration in Washington gradually cuts Israel off. This may take 10 to 15 years, but Israel would be a sitting duck, and its Jews forced out of the Middle East into a great new global diaspora.

Some Jews and Israelis will say this cannot happen.

I’m afraid the things that cannot happen do happen more often than they should.

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  1. Jaco Snyman

    May 28, 2021 at 3:06 pm

    I pray for Israel. South Africa was toppled the same way by the ANC riding on white guilt.

  2. Geoff Hainebach

    May 29, 2021 at 5:14 pm

    A brilliant and perceptive article, one of the best I have read on the subject.

    We Jews are whistling against the wind if we think that even our well-founded arguments will influence the majority of our critics. Furthermore no one but we Jews will have to solve the “Palestinian” problem. The West won’t, the Russians won’t, the Chinese won’t, the Arab and Muslim nations won’t and who else can. Neither a one-state solution, which would eventually end up with an Arab majority, due to the difference in fertility rates, nor a two-state solution, which would continue the the present tensions because of the juxta-position of a wealthy successful Jewish state alongside an over-crowded, poverty stricken state, would succeed.

    Perhaps the solution requires some creative thinking. Distribution of the 8 million Palestinian refugees among the 1,5 billion Muslims or 21 Arab states world-wide or the creation of a new state in a different area which can be developed with the help of Israeli technology and international Jewish finance and would be attractive to the existing owners (e.g. Azerbaijan?) are ideas to be explored. While the politicians and leaders who benefit by the conflict may reject such ideas out of hand, possibly a majority of the population could be incentivised by the promise of a more comfortable and opportunity filled life with both short and long term prospects.

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