2

Letters

July 2006
Part 3 -- Part 2 -- Part 1

July 21

No hope, no chance, and no future, unless...

In response to Siamak Kiarostami's's "Israel's steely resolve has only served to further harden and radicalize enemies ":

Thanks for the thoughtful response. Here are my thoughts on the matter -- admittedly way longer than I intended, but hopefully sensible nonetheless.

= Solutions =

Your proposal that Israel return to the '67 borders is a sound one -- albeit unrealistic without certain qualifications. Still, that must be the basis for discussions. But the problem is that before that can happen, there MUST be elementary steps taken by Arab societies, primarily those involved in the immediate conflict, including Hamas and Hizbullah, to recognize Israel. Otherwise, there's no hope, no chance, and no future. No progress can be made realistically before that happens, and the only way it will happen is for moderate Muslims such as yourself to speak in a louder voice to those who don't yet understand this.

Arab and Muslim societies in the ME must declare unequivocally to their populations, and to educate their youth accordingly, that Jews have a right to live in their own state in the Middle East; to recognize that Jews have a long history in the region, who have legitimate grievances against their Arab neighbors; to unequivocally denounce as most vulgar and hateful those portrayals of Jews as blood-lovers, baby-killers, devilish monsters, monkeys, pigs, cockroaches, snakes, and all other manner of dehumanization; and to demand that extremist Muslim preachers cease preaching hatred and praising violence against the "perfidious Jews".

Arafat committed to this during the Oslo accords, but didn't see to its fulfillment. That, I believe, is the primary fault for the failure of the peace process.

Arab hatred of Israel existed way before Israel occupied the West Bank and Gaza in 1967, and it is that hatred, and the utter intolerance for a non-Muslim entity on Middle Eastern land that has fueled the violence ever since. Still today, many Middle Eastern Muslims embrace a culture of indoctrinating their youth from birth on the evils of the Jewish state, leaving little room for tolerance and acceptance of other viewpoints. If that hatred isn't abolished, no withdrawals or peace negotiations will make any difference. Until that time, Israel will be forced to respond to violence with more violence. Despite the obvious implications, the inflaming of passions, and the unfortunate increase in aggrieved feelings, Israel is left with no choice but to respond the way it does, if its neighbors cannot offer hope by refusing to counteract the hate.

= Anti-semitism =

I didn't respond to your point about charges of anti-semitism, taking it as a secondary issue in the overall argument. You certainly wouldn't have a problem voicing any opinion to me. But, as you indicated, it's important as a broader issue as well, so let's talk about it.

First, I don't believe that one side is effectively banned from speaking. Many have criticized Israel with reasoned arguments in respectable and thoughtful public discourse, but have not been labeled anti-semitic. U.S. publications (The Nation, The Village Voice, etc.), individual opinion-makers (Pat Buchanan, Tony Judt), international dignitaries (Kofi Annan, Mary Robinson, Jacque Chirac, Jack Straw, Mahmoud Abbas, King Abdullah of Jordan,etc.), and many, many others have harshly criticized Israel, but I haven't seen them called anti-semitic. Unfair, perhaps, or one-sided. But that's an opinion one is entitled to. Even John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, who published "The Israel Lobby" and had much criticism thrown their way for shoddy scholarship and one-sidedness, weren't accused of anti-semitism -- at least not that I've heard.

The anti-semitism label does arise when some critics of Israel -- driven by their idealism for a better world, let's assume -- lose focus and paint Israel as a country and population dedicated to the killing of innocents, and to the submission and degradation of the Arabs living in their midst. Completely ignored are the all-important context of Israel being under attack since its inception, whose leaders and population have, in the course of living in an untenable situation, been forced to try every recourse, both peaceful and forceful, to address the security concerns of its citizens. Completely ignored by these critics are some of the most important facts about Israel and its society: Israel's genuine desire for peace; the open and free society with its intense debate on all public matters; the passionate commitment of the majority toward equality for all its citizens, Jew and Arab alike; the courageous efforts for peace by Yitzchak Rabin, Shimon Peres, and Ehud Barak; the Palestinian rejection of all peace initiatives by terming them "humiliating" (as if that's an excuse for allowing killings to go on), and the subsequent armed uprising; the fanatical indoctrination and hatred against Jews and Israelis in many Arab and Muslim countries; the racist policies of many Arab countries, in which a Jew may not freely practice his religion; the persecution and degradation of Jewish citizens in Arab countries in the early years of Israel's existence, forcing almost a million Jews to flee, abandoning home and property, creating "the other refugees," those nobody talks about; the unusual efforts the Israeli army expends on minimizing civilian casualties in its punitive and preventive actions; and of course the frequent and horrible terrorist atrocities committed against its civilian population, blowing up children in pizza parlors, teenagers in nightclubs, and innocent mothers and babies in cafes and on public buses.

It is when all such factors are ignored, that one must call certain motives into suspicion. Comparisons to Nazis and calling Israel a "racist" and "Apartheid" state don't help the debate. At the Durban conference in 2001, where the invective and hyperbole flowed freely, often making no distinction between Jews and Israel, with some even calling for killing Jews, there was nary a cry of protest from all those anti-Israel critics so opposed to "racism". Such events, and there are many such examples, only serve to paint Israel's vociferous critics with suspicion.

I see similar phenomena on this very site (iranian.com), as well as on countless message boards all over the Internet. In many debates on the Israel/Palestine issue, seemingly reasonable people resort to charges of "Zionism" (taking for granted its distorted meaning implying an immoral endeavor, a subject for a whole other discussion), "war-mongering", and "fanatical extremism" for any defense of Israel's actions. Is that any less offensive? Of course not. Is it understandable? Well, when people are "outraged", instead of examining the *facts* and seeing the humanity in all sides, they'll often resort to hyperbole and smearing of the other, which will in turn just lead to more and more antagonism and distrust.

The problems you claim with Campus Watch are no different from -- actually a direct response to -- the anti-Israel climate among academics, largely a result of Edward Said's influence, in which a culture of intimidation has fostered and supporters of Israel are often accused of supporting colonialism and subjugation of native populations. It is quite common to find many professors, particularly in the departments of Middle Eastern studies, with outright anti-Israel bias, who unquestioningly accept all Arab and Muslim grievances against Israel. Intimidation by professors against students with pro-Israel views is a well-documented and oft occurring phenomenon in many colleges and universities. Campus Watch counteracts such climates, and performs a legitimate service. Of course, they're clearly opinionated. But we aren't against having opinions now, are we?

To be sure, the U.S. is indeed overwhelmingly pro-Israel, in the same way, though, that Europe is overwhelmingly pro-Palestinian. It is in direct correlation to the number of Jews or Muslims in each. It's a function of humanity; those more disposed to one side of an argument will invariably see that argument as stronger. To the extent that one might hesitate voicing an anti-Israel opinion in the U.S., pro-Israel advocates experience the same hesitation in Europe.

It is natural that one making an argument against popular opinion will be open to scorn if one's argument isn't sound, and especially if it makes outrageous and inflammatory accusations. Arguments in Europe in favor of Israel are routinely shouted down as being in support of racist and aggressive behavior. That isn't any less lamentable, but unfortunately a fact of life when it comes to matters of heated opinions. Back and forth labeling isn't the offense of one side, not by a long stretch. But if one tries dispassionate reasoning, one will almost always be met with the respect it so naturally deserves.

== Where anti-semitism is a legitimate accusation ==

We need to examine the term anti-semitism, to understand both its meaning and why it's so offensive to those who are labeled so. What is it about anti-semitism that has earned it universal recognition as an evil?

The question of anti-semitism might more naturally be posed when one criticizes Jews, not Israel. Can one criticize Jews without being an anti-semite? The answer of course is, yes. All will agree that there are faults for which the organized Jewish community might be criticized, and pointing them out should be legitimate, if they can be expressed without prejudice.

Anti-semitism, therefore, must describe not legitimate criticism but something more insidious. It describes imagined and exaggerated claims of Jewish offenses, accusations made throughout history, driven by a fanatical hatred. Jews conspire for world domination, they're cunning and dishonest, all they care for is money, all they care for is power, they're hidden Communists, they're hidden Capitalists, they have dual loyalties, they introduced morality into society, they undermine morality of society, they seek to undermine their host population, they control the government, the entertainment industry, the media, the economy, and the corner candy store, they kill Christian babies to drink their blood, they poison the wells, etc., etc., etc.

The problem with all these accusations is not that they criticize Jews. It is the fact that they're made with the intention of provoking outrage, and they are often lies and exaggerations. An accusation might even contain some truth to it, but it becomes anti-semitic when it 1) portrays an offense as an organized Jewish effort when it really is not, and/or 2) grossly distorts and exaggerates the offense in order to prove Jewish culpability.

Unfortunately, it is not infrequent to witness a parallel of the above characteristics in an anti-Israel strain. Some critics of Israel, specifically in Muslim countries, but often on campus demonstrations in the U.S., on Internet discussion groups, and in alternative media, will resort to slanderous lies and exaggerations about Israel's actions. Strictly speaking, it isn't anti-semitism, because those who commit these acts are careful not to mention Jews, only Israel/Israelis/Zionism/etc.

But the offensive characteristics of anti-semitism still exist in the gross exaggeration of offenses and the distortion of events so that Israel is seen to be so grossly at fault that no sensible person can feel anything but outrage. It is this phenomena that finds itself being accused of anti-semitism. Of course, technically, anti-Israelism would be the proper term. But then it's simply an issue of semantics. In this case, the meaning and intent of both terms are the same, and understood by all. Why its proponents would prefer a different term, simply for being more technically correct, is beyond me, being that it would still imply a fanatical hatred.

Again, I reiterate, this has nothing to do with legitimate criticism of Israel that takes into account the full reality on the ground. Neither does that mean that those critics can't be criticized in turn if their arguments aren't sound. But when certain critics of Israel so blatantly disregard important facts, or use lies and gross exaggerations in order to provoke misplaced outrage against Israel, that is indeed an egregious offense that should be called out.

Hopefully these comments will be seen in the spirit of peaceful dialogue. Since it's so easy to inflame passions, I apologize if anything I've written is offensive, and I invite any and all comments for further discussion.

Sholom Deen

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