Learning the Georgian Lesson

This article was published as my regular "Promised Land" column in Viewpoint, the English language newsletter of Mapam -- the United Workers Party in Israel, in April 1987. My knowledge of the subject and my views on some issues addressed here have changed in the last three decades, but I am leaving the text as it was.

She was a small, proud republic, besieged on all sides by hostile neighbors. Her government, comprised of moderate social democrats, who shared power with extreme nationalists, was widely respected in Western European circles, especially on the democratic Left. In the East-West conflict, she sought to steer a neutral course. But the Russians viewed her as an enemy, giving aid to her adversaries, arming her neighbors, and fermenting [sic] trouble within her borders.

Eventually, she was invaded from the south, the east and the north. Her armies were crushed in the field and the battle for the capital city was heroic, if brief. Constant messages were dispatched to London, to Paris, to international organizations -- but to no avail. No one came to her assistance. The British Prime Minister sent regrets that nothing more than sympathy could be expected from London. In the end, her independence was crushed an [sic] her government fled to exile. That independence has never been regained.

In 1921, the leaders of the three-million strong Georgian nation had no reason to suspect that British and French pledges of support would not be worth anything in a moment of crisis. When Georgia was invaded, the naively thought that the West would rush to their rescue, and that their own army, poorly equipped, badly organized, would only have to hold out until they were saved. They were only the first example, and by no means the last, of such naivete among nations which trusted in the West in this century.

In 1956, Hungarian freedom fighters desperately climbed to rooftops to search the skies for signs of "United Nations" air support for their struggle. In 1975, Vietnamese who had collaborated with the United States were left behind by the thousands to the hands of vengeful Communists. Even here, in recent Israeli experience, we need only look at the fate of the Lebanese who dared collaborate with the Israeli invaders -- and later fell into the hands of hostile Shi'ite militiamen.

I write these words in the wake of the Iran-Contras scandal, which reveals as no other episode has in recent years the ugly side of the Israeli-American "partnership." And I write as one who has consistently supported -- and continues to support -- an alliance between our two countries.

But there is a difference between alliance and reliance, between working with America and working for America. There are times when Israeli-American interests overlap, and in those cases I support Israel coming to America's aid. In my personal opinion, contrary to the position taken by MAPAM, I think a case can be made that Israel profits directly from its support of the American Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) or allowing Voice of America to broadcast to the Soviet Union from Israeli soil.

There are times when it is forbidden for Israel to do what the United States asks of us. Releasing imprisoned terrorists in exchange for Americans held hostage in Beirut is such an example. Or giving arms to the Iranian fascist regime whose entire foreign policy revolves around the shortest route to Jerusalem. Or using Israel's resources to funnel arms to Central America as a way of getting around American law, thwarting the wishes of Congress -- and getting involved in a struggle between the President and Congress.

These are "red lines" (as they are known in Hebrew) which it should be forbidden for Israel to cross. When Israel crosses them, she behaves like a client state rather than like an ally.

The United States is Israel's best -- and maybe only -- friend in the world. Nevertheless, Israelis should learn the Georgian lesson.