In 1977, George Ball wrote an article in Foreign Affairs in which he changed the way many Israel-haters in America go about their business. Previously, this crowd baldly displayed its hostility to the Jewish state and apologized for Arab trespasses. Ball, a former undersecretary of state and eminent foreign policy practitioner, virtually reversed these practices. Far from seeking Israel's destruction, he came up with the notion of helping to "save Israel in spite of herself" and referred to Israel as "that valiant nation." He criticized Arabs. Then, only after he'd established these premises, did he tear into Israel.
Ball's praise for Israel was hypocritical, even deceptive, but it brought him two important advantages. First, it imbued his attacks on Israel with a constructive quality, thereby protecting him from charges of anti-Semitism. Second, saving Israel in spite of herself implied (anti-democratically) that State Department officials could better judge Israel's interest than its own electorate. This justified overriding Israel's leaders and imposing a solution on them.
Recognizing the benefits of ostensible concern for Israel, others followed George Ball's lead. In 1989, Helena Cobban, a passionate advocate of the PLO and its cause, endorsed Secretary of State James Baker's Middle East policy on the grounds that it
should help put the U.S. relationship with Israel on a more healthy footing. . . . What Israel needs from the U.S. is not to have more policy disputes swept under the carpet. It's in Israel's long-term interest that it receive firm and realistic support, in which U.S. interests are clearly defined and acted upon.
John Bryant, a congressman from Dallas, proposed withholding funds from Israel two years later unless Jewish settlements on the West Bank were halted. Justifying his bill, Bryant claimed he wanted "to protect the people of Israel from the extreme policies" of the Likud government. Ball's creativity helped bring anti-Israel polemics from the periphery of the U.S. debate to the mainstream.
In The Passionate Attachment, Ball amplifies and refines his 1977 argument. Aided by his son Douglas, he argues that U.S. ties to Israel have hurt both sides. Not only has Washington's support for Jerusalem "distorted America's policies and imposed an enormous burden on the nation's economy," but it has equally harmed Israel.
To establish these points, the authors analyze the politics and economics of U.S.-Israel relations.
On politics, once they've gotten the perfunctory admiration for American Jews and Israel out of the way, they vilify both, making one questionable or intemperate assertion after another. Leon Uris' The Exodus "acquired a degree of authority comparable to holy writ" among American Jews? The Six Day War of 1967 "made [Israel] an empire"? The tendency of American Jews not to contribute to politicians unfriendly to Israel is a "venomous tactic"? Hardly, but these notions give an idea of the book's tone. In one very curious passage, the Balls present the United States as a female who lost her virginity at the U.N. Security Council, then enjoyed the pleasures of a promiscuous relationship with Israel. (The reader is on his own to figure out the meaning of this metaphor.)
As in 1977, the Ball approach includes scathing references to Arab politics, and these duly appear here too ("fatuous," "lamentable," "scandalous and unforgivable"). But they merely decorate the real message, which is to excuse Arab behavior toward Israel. The authors neatly reverse reality when they contend that "In contrast to Israel, the Arabs have sometimes tried, timidly and usually under pressure, to make some concessions." The Arab cause is so unpopular in the United States, they say, because Arabs traditionally neglected "to try even to elucidate their position to Americans." Just look up "Arab" in the D.C. phonebook and you'll see the falsity of that statement.
Turning to economics, sober-looking tables assert Israel's cost to the United States during 1948-91 to be $169 billion (and they note that the sum would be far larger if computed in the constant dollars of today). The authors produce this astonishing figure by listing unsubstantiated sums; $8.45 billion for "losses on non-Saudi arms sales and civilian goods through activities of AIPAC [the pro-Israel lobby]," they say, without explanation or justification. While charging Israel with being "monstrously costly" to the U.S., the Balls ignore Israel's well-documented and considerable benefits to this country. Looking at just the military angle, Steven Spiegel has demonstrated that Israel's intelligence capabilities, combat experience, technical innovations, and battlefield successes have saved or earned American forces many billions. Or, in the words of Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney, "We do not consider our relationship with Israel to flow in only one direction. The U.S. provides aid and assistance to Israel, but we also get national security benefits in return."
The Passionate Attachment is not only bad in substance; it also suffers from major defects in presentation. Innocent of organization, it lurches from subject to subject. Coverage almost ends in 1988, suggesting that most of the study was completed years ago, then hastily updated. Obvious sloppiness (sourcing 1990 figures to a 1981 publication) shakes one's faith in the authors' reliability. And we've heard it all before. The book summarizes the work of anti-Israel polemicists, adding very little by way of information or interpretation. If you want this point of view, skip the Balls' dilution and go for the unadulterated stuff by the likes of Noam Chomsky, Andrew and Leslie Cockburn, James M. Ennes, Jr., Paul Findley, Thomas and Sally Mallison, Cheryl Rubenberg, and Israel Shahak.
The Balls' professed affection for the Jewish state is a clever ruse, but it doesn't fool. Wading through the anti-Israel swamp, they spray air-freshener. Who will be surprised that the stench remains?