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With the possible exception of Winston Churchill, I can think of no other leader of a foreign nation who was quite so familiar to Americans, and familiar with America, on assuming power as was (and likely will be) Benjamin Netanyahu. Israel and America have an especially close relationship anyway, but during Netanyahu's years at the Israeli Embassy in Washington and his stint at the United Nations, and even once he became Prime Minister, he was a ubiquitous guest on American talk shows, using this frequently proffered forum to help shape American opinion about Israel and the Middle East and to weigh in on the general topic of terrorism. Nor does his concern for U. S. opinion seem to have abated in the intervening years; in a remarkable gesture just last week, he actually wrote an op-ed piece for the Wall Street Journal explaining why he is sitting out the current election campaign in Israel. Try to imagine any circumstances under which a leading American political figure would feel compelled to explain to the populace of another country, no matter how closely allied with us they might be, his decision not to run for President; the relationship between Netanyahu and America really is unique.
In this 1995 book on how democracies generally, but the U. S. specifically, should respond to the threat of terrorism--written prior to the assassination of Yitzahk Rabin and Netanyahu's subsequent election as his successor--he displays a finely nuanced understanding of American politics and, more surprisingly, of American civil liberties concerns. Netanyahu perceives incidents like the Oklahoma City bombing and the attack on the World Trade Center as representing a new wave of post-Cold War terrorism, requiring just as concerted and ferocious a response as did the state sponsored terrorism of the 70's and 80's. The book is particularly useful, as here, in fleshing out the historical record on terrorism. For instance, his discussion of how terrorism in this earlier era became a function not of the specific grievances of discrete ethnic or political groups, but rather a generalized anti-Western violence, is a point too seldom made. The collapse of the Soviet Union has deprived terrorist organizations of money, weapons, intelligence, training bases, and support networks. This represents an important victory for the Western democracies.
Unfortunately, as a consequence of the resulting decentralization of terror : the new threat is more diverse; more diffused; in many ways, more ideologically motivated; and much more likely to be domestic in origin. This means that defeating this round of terrorism will require an entirely new set of tools and responses, and many of them may impinge, really for the first time, on the freedoms that we as Americans take for granted. Among Netanyahu's suggestions are several that would directly impact our regime of civil liberties :
* Easing warrant requirements in cases involving suspected terrorists.
* Tightening immigration laws, coupled with the threat of deportation.
* Surveillance of groups preaching the violent overthrow of the government.
* Restricting gun ownership.
Here again, his command of U. S. history serves him well, as he cites previous curtailments of absolute liberty in the face of imminent danger--episodes like Lincoln's suspension of habeas corpus during the Civil War, sweeping anti-Klan laws of the 1870's, and even FDR's internment of Japanese-Americans during WWII. He also cites the quite drastic ways in which Israel and Western Europeans nations have responded to past, and current, threats, as evidence that the measures taken need not permanently cripple democratic safeguards--thus, he argues, anti-IRA measures by the British, anti-ETA by the Spanish, etc., have been temporary steps taken only in order to meet a crisis. In so arguing, he demonstrates his understanding of just how extraordinary the proposals he is making are, especially in light of America's tradition of jealously guarding our freedoms :
It is natural that a society of free citizens should
shrink before a path which inevitably involves
Though he's speaking there specifically about the restrictions on liberty that may be necessary to fight terrorism, this passage reflects an understanding of the central dilemma of democracy--balancing freedom and security--that one wishes we heard more often from our own political leaders.
Ultimately, all of us would strike that balance at different points, and so it's impossible to agree with everything that Netanyahu proposes. The idea of cracking down on groups advocating the overthrow of the government does not trouble me, nor did it when similar actions were taken against American Communists. In fact, I savor the irony of the American Left's support for a crackdown on militia groups, which oppose the government, despite a ninety year record of opposition to crack downs on radical groups of the Left who were no less subversive or violent. Nor do stricter controls on immigration seem unreasonable, though I would like to see quotas on immigration lifted at the same time that we install a system of closer scrutiny of who we allow to immigrate. It's fine to keep out criminals and political extremists, so long as we do not use such regulations to further limit legitimate immigration.
On the other hand, to be perfectly blunt, I would consider even a successful attack on the World Trade Center to be a small price to pay for the hard won right to bear arms. In this regard, at least, I am a civil liberties extremist. It surprises me that the leader of a nation which rose out of the ashes of the Holocaust would not be more hesitant to propose measures restricting gun rights. The Jewish vow of the past sixty years, "Never again," at least implies that Jews would take action before ever allowing something like the Holocaust to happen again. One wonders what they, or any other group or citizen, could possibly do if they allow themselves to be disarmed. Here we butt into the balance of which Netanyahu speaks; we must be careful not to get so focussed on tackling one discrete and transitory problem that we give up, possibly permanently, the rights which undergird our freedoms.
Though he does deal briefly with militia-type terror, Netanyahu, as one would expect, devotes most of his time to the threat that is posed to the West by Islamic fundamentalist terrorism. The events of the past year have proven once again just how difficult it will be to establish a lasting peace in the Middle East and even after some kind of armed peace is achieved between Israel and a Palestine State, which seems to me to be the most probable outcome, the relationship between Israel and the U. S. dictates that we will continue to be targeted by Islamic extremists. In addition to the obvious contention over the very existence of Israel, Netanyahu makes a convincing case that there are elements in the Islamic world who are dedicated to the eventual destruction of both Judaism and Christianity. As he points out :
The soldiers of militant Islam and Pan-Arabism do
not hate the West because of Israel; they hate
We're in this together and we need to work together, to the greatest extent possible, to protect ourselves. This will undoubtedly require us to take some potentially dangerous steps, dangerous because they will effect those of us who are law-abiding citizens, no matter how narrowly they are tailored to strike at evildoers.
As I say, I don't agree with all of Netanyahu's recommendations, but the book is an invaluable starting point for a debate on what steps we should take, and it sounds an important warning signal about what could well be the most formidable long term threat to our national security, the struggle between the Judeo-Christian West and the Islamic world. It's well worth reading and the coherence and thoughtfulness of the book leave you thankful that Mr. Netanyahu's political star is again on the rise. Should his career in Israel hit another pothole, he's welcome to move here permanently; our politics can certainly use more folks with the analytical and persuasive skills he displays here.
-ESSAY: The Case for Toppling Saddam: The longer America waits, the more dangerous he becomes.( BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, September 20, 2002, Wall Street Journal)
Book-related and General Links:
-ENCYCLOPAEDIA BRITANNICA : "benjamin netanyahu"
-ESSAY : Three principles for victory (Binyamin Netanyahu, January 4, 2002, Jerusalem Post)
-ESSAY : How to Stop the Terror (BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, November 2001, New Perspectives Quarterly)
-ESSAY : TODAY WE ARE ALL AMERICANS (BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, September 21, 2001, NY Post)
-ESSAY : Barak Thwarts the Will of Israel's People : Why I'm Sitting Out Barak's Pointless Election (Benjamin Netanyahu, Wall Street Journal)
-BIO : Benjamin Netanyahu (us-israel.org)
-PROFILE : Netanyahu ? the next 'comeback kid'? : Former Israeli prime minister gains respect as terrorism expert (Ali David, November 2001 WorldNetDaily.com)
-ARTICLE : Netanyahu says West sent wrong message (Andrew Sparrow, 01/11/2001, Daily Telegraph)
-ARCHIVE : Benjamin Netanyahu (Salon)
-ARCHIVE : netanyahu (NY Review of Books)
-ESSAY : Hebrew for Swingers (Noga Tarnopolsky, NY Times, June 13, 1999)
-REVIEW : of FIGHTING TERRORISM How Democracies Can Defeat Domestic and International Terrorists By Benjamin Netanyahu (RICHARD BERNSTEIN, NY Times)
-REVIEW : of FIGHTING TERRORISM How Democracies Can Defeat Domestic and International Terrorists. By Benjamin Netanyahu (Peter Grose, NY Times Book Review)
-REVIEW : of Fighting Terrorism: How Democracies Can Defeat Domestic and International Terrorists. (Steve Martinovich, Enter Stage Right)
-REVIEW : of TERRORISM: How the West Can Win. Edited by Benjamin Netanyahu (John Gross, NY Times)
-REVIEW : of TERRORISM How the West Can Win. Edited by Benjamin Netanyahu (Marvin Zonis, NY Times Book Review)
-REVIEW : of A PLACE AMONG THE NATIONS Israel and the World. By Benjamin Netanyahu (Conor Cruise O'Brien, NY Times Book Review)