Saturday, February 09, 2008

Arab Belligerence, Israeli Self-Abasement

First published in The Jewish Press

"... Hand in hand, arm in arm, we will protect your land, Palestine...
"The land is Arab in history and identity
"Palestine is Arab in history and identity...
"From Jerusalem and Acre, from Haifa and Jericho and Gaza and Ramallah
"From Bethlehem and Jaffa, from Beersheva and Ramla,
"From Nablus to the Galilee, from Tiberias to Hebron."

These lines, translated by Palestinian Media Watch, are some lyrics of a song played many times daily on Fatah-TV, the television outlet of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s party, beginning about six weeks before the Annapolis conference in late November.

The song, in declaring Israeli cities, and by implication all of Israel, to be properly "Arab" and "Palestinian," repeats the message drummed out incessantly by Palestinian Authority media, mosques and schools, whether under the presidency of Yasir Arafat or Abbas.

That message asserts Jews have no historical connection with the land of Israel, are merely alien usurpers, that their state and their presence in the land is a crime, and that it is the duty of every Palestinian to kill or expel the intruders and destroy their state.

For almost an entire generation of Palestinians, exposure to media, mosques and schools has meant indoctrination in these claims.

Surely, an Israeli leader meeting with Palestinian counterparts has no higher responsibility than to challenge them publicly on their sponsorship of hate-education and incitement. It is the Israeli government’s duty to unmask the murderous hypocrisy of Palestinian leaders talking "two-state solution" and "mutual recognition" in speeches to Western audiences while militating for a single, Arab, state in all the land when talking in Arabic, through their organs of indoctrination, to their own people.

One would expect an Israeli leader to recognize the obvious: that only by bringing the pressure of public exposure to bear on Palestinian promotion of hatred and mass murder can there be any possibility of curbing the incitement.

Only if Palestinian leaders are prepared to encourage reconciliation rather than a war of extermination in their messages to their people can there be any hope of movement toward genuine peace.

And yet Israeli leaders are virtually silent. In his speech at Annapolis, Prime Minister Olmert demanded "an end to the terror, incitement and hatred." But he named no party as responsible for incitement, referred to President Abbas only as "my friend" and said nothing of indoctrination by Abbas’s own party organs, indoctrination that is hardly a sign of "friendship" but serves rather to assure a future of more war, not peace.

Not once did Olmert say what must be said, something of the order of: "President Abbas, we would like nothing more than to be able to negotiate with you a settlement that assures peace and prosperity for both our peoples as they go their separate political ways. But that goal will remain beyond reach as long as you continue to urge on your people to pursue our annihilation."

Similarly, much was made by Israeli officials of the attendance at Annapolis of Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal, as though this were an indication of Saudi movement toward recognition of Israel’s legitimacy. In his speech in Maryland, Olmert said of the Saudis only, "I value [the 2002 Saudi] initiative, acknowledge its importance and highly appreciate its contribution."

But Saudi government media are likewise filled with demonization of Jews in the crudest terms, with children praised for parroting anti-Jewish aspersions and Saudi audiences taught the necessity of expunging Israel. Why did not one Israeli leader at Annapolis state the obvious to those Saudis present: that, again, there cannot be peace when you are indoctrinating your people, including your children, to believe that Jews are evil, an infestation that must be eradicated?

Why did Foreign Minister Livni choose to criticize the Arab potentates at Annapolis primarily for their refusal to shake her hand? Why did she choose to address the personal insult, and its indirect slap at Israel, but did not see fit to challenge them on the more profound and dangerous insult of those leaders inciting their publics to rejection and murderous hatred of Jews?

Likewise, Egypt was once more cast by Israel’s representatives as a model peace partner. Olmert declared, "The peace signed between Israel and Egypt... is a solid foundation of stability and hope in our region. This peace is an example and a model of the relations which we can build with Arab states."

Yet since the signing of the Camp David peace accords between Israel and Egypt nearly three decades ago, the government in Cairo has increased the anti-Israel and indeed anti-Semitic message of its official media. For example, earlier this year Israel’s peace partner broadcast on government-controlled television an interview with a "scholar" who affirmed that Jews do indeed use the blood of gentile children in the preparation of Passover matzah.

Some months prior to the broadcast, an article written by the chief Mufti of Egypt and published in Egypt’s major government newspaper, Al-Ahram, made the same assertion. Is it not obvious that Israeli leaders have both a moral and pragmatic obligation not to let such vile demonization of Jews pass when they meet with Egyptian officials?

The pattern of Israeli leaders skirting this essential issue, or alluding to it only in broad generalities while holding no one responsible for anti-Israel and anti-Jewish indoctrination, was repeated by Foreign Minister Livni in her speech at December’s Paris Donors Conference organized to raise funds for the Palestinians.

On the same day as the Paris conference and the following day, the IDF struck at terrorist groups in Gaza involved in rocket and mortar attacks into Israel. Abbas, through his spokesman, condemned the Israeli strikes, which reportedly killed eleven terrorists, as a "terrible crime." Terms he has used to characterize similar actions by Israel over the past two years include "heinous massacre," "crime against humanity," and "barbarous slaughter."

While criticizing Hamas and other Gaza groups, particularly to Western audiences, for their incessant bombardment of Israel, his message to his own people is largely vilification of Israeli responses against those perpetrating the cross-border terror and virtual silence about the terrorist provocations.

Why has not the Israeli prime minister or foreign minister publicly confronted Abbas and told him it is hard to take seriously his condemnations of anti-Israel terror and commitment to end it, or his insistence that he desires genuine peace, when he is telling his fellow Palestinians essentially that those targeted by Israel for their cross-border attacks are innocent victims of Israeli aggression?

Does Israel’s becoming a normal state mean today’s Israeli leaders simply accepting their people’s defamation and denigration, letting the inflammatory rhetoric pass in silence, out of gratitude for Arab leaders deigning to sit in the same room with them? Does it mean emulating the behavior of Jewish leaders when Jews were at best tolerated inferiors in Europe and the Arab world?

Beyond the demonization, the anti-Jewish indoctrination, the words, are the deeds. In the days leading up to Annapolis, members of Abbas’s police plotted to kill Prime Minister Olmert and succeeded in murdering an Israeli in a drive-by shooting. Egyptian forces continued to allow Hamas to smuggle arms and explosives into Gaza and to send its members for terrorist training in Iran and return to ply their new-learned skills against the Jewish state. And the Saudis continued to both finance Islamist forces targeting Israel and boycott the Jewish state, even though they pledged to end the boycott as a condition for their being admitted in 2005 to the World Trade Organization. But nothing of this passed the lips of Israel’s leaders at Annapolis.

To the contrary, Olmert’s administration reportedly withheld from the media, until after the Maryland meeting, the news that the drive-by killing a few days earlier was the work of PA police. Israel’s leaders were apparently concerned that revealing the truth about the murderers would spoil the atmosphere in Annapolis.

In a similar vein, according to recent news accounts, the Olmert government has refused, despite the urging of the IDF, to share with key members of Congress videotapes of Egyptian forces helping Hamas terrorists cross into Gaza and smuggle arms and explosives across the Sinai-Gaza border. Israeli leaders are said to be worried about offending Egypt. They have embraced this stance even though such Egyptian collusion with Hamas is a violation of numerous agreements between Egypt and Israel and greatly increases the threats to Israel.

In late December, Foreign Minister Livni, who had come under sharp criticism for Israel’s withholding the tapes from Congress, finally made a public statement criticizing Egyptian failure to stop Hamas smuggling as "dismal and problematic." But Livni did not point out that Egypt’s behavior is a contravention of its Camp David treaty obligations to Israel as well as of specific agreements that accompanied Israel’s permitting additional Egyptian forces along the Gaza border for policing duties.

Nor did she note that the Egyptian violations represent a grave danger to Israel. Rather, she explained the problem with Egypt’s behavior as its "detract[ing] from the ability of the pragmatic forces in the Gaza Strip and Judea and Samaria [her ludicrous characterization of Mahmoud Abbas and his Fatah party] to control the territory."

When Egyptian officials subsequently slammed Livni for not knowing what she was talking about, and even accused Israel of fabricating the tapes showing Egyptian forces aiding Hamas smuggling, the Israeli response was, once more, virtual silence.

Such behavior by Israeli leaders, particularly silence in the face of Arab defamation and incitement, is nothing new. Illustrative are the responses of Defense Minister Ehud Barak to various events during his premiership.

In the Austrian elections of October 1999, Joerg Haider’s far right Freedom Party did unexpectedly well, and Barak expressed concern and called for a struggle against fascism and neo-Nazism. Four months later, when Austria’s president agreed to the formation of a coalition government that would include Haider’s party, Israel recalled its ambassador from Vienna.

During these same months, Syria’s state-controlled media ran several stories with anti-Semitic themes. One such, in late November, regurgitated the blood libel, the claim that Jews use the blood of gentiles for their religious rituals, which was also the theme of a popular book by Syria’s defense minister, Mustafa Tlas (The Matzah of Zion, 1984). Two months later, in late January, 2000, an editorial in Syria’s leading newspaper, Tishreen, a mouthpiece for the Assad regime, focused on denial of the Holocaust while insisting that Israeli policies are worse than those of the Nazis.

By any measure, Arab anti-Semitism is a much greater threat to Israel, and to Jews generally, than the Freedom Party in Austria. Yet Barak remained silent on the Syrian libels. His most notable comments regarding the Syrian government during this period was his characterization of Syrian strongman Hafez al-Assad as "a courageous leader."

Israeli writer Yossi Klein Halevi, contrasting Barak’s responses to events in Austria and in Syria, observed: "[Barak] is afraid of reminding the Israeli public about the nature of the regime to which he proposes yielding the strategic Golan Heights in exchange for a peace likely to be as trustworthy as Tishreen’s sense of history."

Obviously, many Israeli leaders delude themselves into believing that the defamation, the incitement, the hate-indoctrination are not really all that important. They prefer to believe that Israel can negotiate agreements and that peace can ensue despite Arab governments teaching their people that their faith and their honor oblige them to pursue defeat of the Jews and the annihilation of their state.

These Israeli leaders choose to construe the proper path, in the interest of pursuing peace, to be gratitude for any sign of recognition from the Arab side, and avoidance of broaching unpleasant facts when speaking with Arab interlocutors, especially in public, even as those interlocutors almost invariably slander Israel on such occasions.

How absurd, and dangerous, that there are Israeli leaders who choose to believe, despite everything the other side says, and does, and inculcates in its young, that sufficient Israeli concessions will turn reality on its head and win "peace."

How absurd, and self-destructive, that they refuse to acknowledge the truth that presently, and for the foreseeable future, the Palestinians and most of the Arab world are not prepared to recognize Israel’s legitimacy and give it genuine peace, whatever Israel’s concessions. Indeed, the Arab world does not recognize the rights of any minorities within its midst, whether religious or ethnic.

Genocidal campaigns that have taken the lives of two million Christian and animist blacks in the southern Sudan and tens of thousands of Muslim blacks in Darfur and some two hundred thousand Kurds – a Muslim but non-Arab people – in Iraq, have all proceeded with broad support from Arab regimes and their populations. So, too, has the suppression of the language and culture of Berbers in Algeria and Kurds in Syria.

The Arab world is not about to make an exception for, of all people, the Jews, recognizing their right to a state in however small a part of that vast territory – stretching from the Atlantic to the Persian Gulf – that Muslim Arabs consider exclusively theirs.

Israel cannot oblige the Arabs to give it peace. To be sure, this truth is unpleasant. But it does not serve Israel’s interests to pretend the reality is otherwise.

It does not advance the nation’s well being when its leaders genuflect to the other side’s hypocritical expressions of interest in peace, averments made mainly for the sake of Western consumption and indeed to increase Western pressure on Israel.

Rather, it serves the state to have its leaders explicitly acknowledge, and confront, Arab demonization, incitement, and hate-indoctrination – that is, Arab dedication to the opposite of peace.

One might retort that insisting on recognition of unpleasant truths will not serve to moderate Arab policies.

But only by doing so can Israel convey to the world the true challenges posed by its enemies – challenges that preclude for the present any possibility of genuine peace. Only by doing so can it cast the light of public scrutiny on the steps necessary from the other side if there is to be movement toward an end to the conflict. And only by doing so will Israel be acting like a normal nation.