For my sins, I was seated lat a dinner last night next to Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart, a stalwart of the Cuban-American community, who apparently doesn't like Fidel Castro very much, and thinks I'm soft on the old man (more on this later). I was also seated with Jose Maria Aznar, the former prime minister of Spain, who was hosting the dinner on behalf of his new organization, the Friends of Israel Initiative. I am a friend of Israel (I know many Israelis personally, and I even like some of them), which is why I was there.
The organization Aznar has founded is a worthy one. It is dedicated to the proposition that Israel has a right to exist. Here is a brief excerpt of what he said:
Israel is under a new kind of attack. Not conventional war as in 1948, 56, 67 or 73. Not terrorism as we saw in the 70s, 80s and 90s. But a new kind of attack - an attack on Israel legitimacy, on her right to exist. A "soft-war", where many of its adversaries are employing legal tricks, multinational bodies, and an army of dubious NGO's to present internationally Israel as an illegitimate state, as a barbarian state, a state that should be isolated and converted into a pariah state.
We think this is intolerable. It is unjust, morally wrong, and a strategic risk -- not only for Israel and its people -- but for all of us.
The group, which just recruited one of my heroes, Vaclav Havel, to its board, is meant to be non-partisan -- it will not take a stand on particular Israeli governments or policies, but it will simply argue that Israel has a right to membership in the community of nations.
Which is why I found the event so depressing. What other country, sixty-two years after its birth (rebirth, actually) requires advocates to argue that it should continue to exist? Why is it that the world's only Jewish country is the only country to persistently face questions about its own legitimacy? In my brief remarks at the dinner, I mentioned a prime strategy of the Israel-denial movement, which is to convince self-defined liberals and leftists that Zionism is incompatible with their understanding of the world. I hope Aznar's group does a more vigorous job of recruiting pro-Israel leftists to its ranks (one of the organization's high muckety-mucks jokingly suggested Fidel Castro as a board member), because this is a prime worry of mine, that the most liberal country in the Middle East is being abandoned by people who should be its natural allies. Of course, as I've mentioned before, I believe Israel could do a much better job of being liberal -- liberal in the broadest (and American, not European) sense of the term, but Israel's many flaws have not (yet, at least) overwhelmed the fundamental truth that it is the safest and best place in the Middle East to be, among other things, a woman, a gay person, a journalist, and a dissident.