How Israel went from ‘David’ to ‘Goliath’

How Israel went from ‘David’ to ‘Goliath’

Making David into Goliath: How the World Turned Against Israel by Joshua Muravchik
Making David into Goliath: How the World Turned Against Israel by Joshua Muravchik

Once an “underdog” enjoying widespread support throughout much of the world, in just a matter of decades — and despite its democratic ideals — Israel became a pariah among nations.

“So far as I can think, there has never been another case in history in which a country has had such a dramatic reversal of opinion as this,” said Joshua Muravchik, a fellow at the Foreign Policy Institute of Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies.

Speaking April 11 at Anshe Emeth Memorial Temple in New Brunswick, Muravchik said the dramatic turnaround — which is felt far less in America than in other parts of the world — can be traced to several factors.

A foreign policy and human rights expert, Muravchik studied the matter extensively for his book, Making David into Goliath: How the World Turned Against Israel

Muravchik said Israel’s remarkable victory in the 1967 Six-Day War triggered a number of changes that had a negative impact on views of the country.

Before the war, polls showed that people regarded the country as “little Israel,” forced to defend itself in endless conflicts with its aggressive — and numerous — Arab neighbors. But because of its swift and decisive victory, it was no longer seen as besieged by and vulnerable to its enemies. 

Muravchik also noted that those enemies in the years following the Six-Day War “learned to mobilize public opinion very effectively.”

He said that a post-World War II movement sympathizing with people of color suffering oppression at the hands of white Europeans in Asia and Africa was used to paint Israel as a colonial occupier, with Palestinians casting themselves among “the oppressed dark-skinned people” — despite Israel’s having “one of the best records in the world for social justice.”

The struggle against oppression of people of color, said Muravchik, “has become even more powerful in our culture and literature.” In this view, he said, “the Jews are the white oppressors, which is an irony because no one group has been more oppressed by white Europeans than the Jews.” Exploiting this approach, nations disguise their anti-Israel disdain as a moral stance in alliance with the Palestinians.

The Six-Day War also proved to be the death knell for “Pan-Arabism,” whose primary champion was Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser, who, “when he led the Arabs into this disastrous war, he lost his prestige and all the air went out of Pan-Arabism,” said Muravchik.

In the wake of the war, Arab leaders, most notably Yasser Arafat, seized upon the idea of Palestinian nationalism. Arafat transformed Fatah into the Palestine Liberation Organization, “selling Palestinians on seeing themselves as a nation” and portraying Israel as “an occupier” in Gaza and the West Bank.

Still, Muravchik said, these factors “were not enough to explain what happened and the intense anger and hostility Israel faces” on college campuses and elsewhere.

“The occupation of Tibet has been going on much longer than the occupation of Palestine and is much more brutal, with the Chinese government trying to erase the culture of the Tibetans,” Muravchik said. “Yet no one seems to give a darn. If the Chinese government were to offer something akin to what the Israelis have offered several times to the Palestinians, the Dalai Lama would dance with joy.”

Additional pressure was brought to bear on many countries through the “raw intimidation” of a series of plane hijackings and bombings in Europe carried out by terrorists in support of the Palestinian cause, said Muravchik, culminating in the massacre of 11 Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics. Some of the terrorists were killed in a shootout with German authorities, but several were captured and later released in a deal similar to many secretly struck by governments that agreed to not go after terrorists in exchange for their countries’ not being targeted.

“You would think people would be disgusted,” said Muravchik. “Instead, people were intimidated and the response was appeasement. European countries that had once been very pro-Israel shifted their policies to one of ‘even-handedness.’”

Exacerbating the situation, Muravchik said, was the oil embargo of 1973, which had a “truly intimidating” effect on European leaders dependent on Arab oil. 

The Arab states have also used “the UN as a battering ram against Israel,” where three separate bodies work to support the Palestinian cause and “denigrate Israel.”

In fact, Muravchik said, the Boycott, Sanctions, and Divestment campaign against Israel was launched by the UN Division of Palestinian Rights. 

He said the Jewish community needs to do its part to encourage pro-Israel activism, particularly on college campuses.

Additionally, he said, “the Jewish community ought to take a friendlier attitude toward the evangelicals,” whose pro-Israel support is 85 percent, roughly the same as among Jews.

Many Jews are turned off by their conservative views, Muravchik said, adding that the distrust is also based on centuries of persecution by religious Christians.

“We have to accept that on some level they scare us,” he added. “But how long do you think these people will be our friends if we continue to snub them and treat them with contempt? We don’t have to agree with their position on gay rights or abortion, but we need to treat them more civilly than we do.”

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