All at once everyone is talking about Saudi Arabia as the new Israeli-Palestinian peacemaker. What the United States could not do, what Europe could not do, what the Quartet could not do, the Saudis, we are being told, having just brokered an agreement between Fatah and Hamas, are the ones to do.
To take one of the many commentators in whose thinking this idea has crystallized, here is David Makovsky, a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, writing in an op-ed in the February 13 International Herald Tribune:
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is heading for the Middle East next week to meet with Israeli and Palestinian leaders in a new effort to pursue peace through informal negotiations. . . . If there is one hope for the Rice idea, it is in Saudi Arabia. . . . The fact that the Palestinian talks between Abbas and Hamas during the last few days took place in Saudi Arabia demonstrates that Riyadh now recognizes that it cannot continue to stand aside, that diplomacy must be energized [in order to meet] Arab concern over the ascendance of Iran and other Islamist radicals in the region.
But with all due respect to the Saudis, all that the (in all likelihood very temporary) “success” of the Fatah-Hamas talks in Mecca demonstrates is how limited the Saudis’ ability to affect Palestinian attitudes toward Israel is. If after first banging Mahmoud Abbas and Ismail Haniyeh’s heads together and then parading them in décollete around the Kaaba, all they could get out of the two was Abbas’s accession to Haniyeh’s agreement to “honor” past PLO-Israel agreements while continuing to declare that Hamas would never recognize Israel (some way of “honoring” the Oslo Declaration of Principles!)—well, David Makovsky and all the others may as well forget it.
What Yasser Arafat was not willing to put his name to at Camp David and Taba in 2000 without Hamas—i.e., the most concessionary of all possible Israeli positions—Mahmoud Abbas will not by any stretch of the imagination put his name to now that the Saudis have yoked him to Hamas. And should he ever seek to unyoke himself, he will be a wagon without a horse. Whistling in the dark is never very effective, but this whistle doesn’t even carry the tune of peace.
The oldest hatred never ceases to astonish us with its ability to rejuvenate itself. Anti-Semitism—nowadays invariably focused on Israel and repackaged as “anti-Zionism”—is once again ubiquitous in western countries. In some quarters, it is even considered respectable. Just as this salon anti-Semitism served the Nazis in the 1930′s by denying the threat to the very existence of the Jewish people in Europe, so today the re-emergence of anti-Semitism in the West serves the Islamists by denying the existential threat to the Jews of Israel.
To see how history is repeating itself, it is useful to compare the tactics used by the new anti-Semites with those of one of the most notorious anti-Semites in the history of the English-speaking world: the pre-war leader of the British Union of Fascists, Sir Oswald Mosley.
One of the commonest arguments used by the new anti-Semites is that nobody is allowed to criticize or even mention the “Israel lobby”—which amounts to claiming that Jews are above criticism. In their scurrilous polemic “The Israel Lobby,” John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, professors at the University of Chicago and Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government respectively, claim that “the Lobby’s campaign to quash debate about Israel is unhealthy for democracy.” (Gabriel Schoenfeld wrote about Walt and Mearsheimer in the November 2006 issue of COMMENTARY.)
Besides being wholly untrue—there are few subjects on which debate is livelier than Israel—this argument has a thoroughly disreputable pedigree. Here is Sir Oswald Mosley, even after the Holocaust, making exactly the same complaint: “If you wanted to stop some Jews profiteering, you were accused of wanting to destroy all Jews. If you objected to the way some of them treated their labor, you were accused of seeking to deny all of then the right to live. If you dared to criticise anything that any Jew did, you were accused of seeking to crucify the whole race.”
This morning my cleaning lady E., expecting an affirmative response, asked me whether I was pleased by the appointment of a woman to the presidency of Harvard University (where I am a professor). A year ago her English was not good enough for such a question. College-educated in São Paolo, with what I believe was a major in government, she tells me a female president will be able to smooth over the troubles of the previous administration. Evidently, she perceives the ascendancy of Drew Gilpin Faust as a boost for her own chances of advancement in America. Apparently, Brazilian women gained fully equal legal rights only in 1988.
Just a day earlier I was reading Heather Mac Donald’s post at City Journal‘s Eye on the News, in which she remarks that “The feminist takeover of Harvard is imminent.” Her warning struck a nerve. When the Women’s Lib movement started up in America in the 1960′s, I predicted it would do as much damage here as Bolshevism had done in Russia. I felt almost vindicated in my fears when I watched the feminist culture of grievance at Harvard help to topple President Lawrence Summers (a controversy I wrote about in the pages of COMMENTARY)—who tried to pacify the aggrieved women by appointing none other than Drew Faust to head a Task Force on Women Faculty. That Task Force won a $50 million commitment to increase faculty “diversity efforts” at Harvard. In the past, the call for such “diversity” has been a code name for greater ideological conformism, since those appointed through it are expected to share the ideological premise that brought them the job.
My Portuguese is not up to E.’s English, so I cannot explain to her the difference between a woman and a Women’s Libber. She is still fighting the original feminist battle for equal rights and opportunity; I oppose the demand for preferential group advancement. But E. is keen, and she sees from my hesitation that I am not quite as inspired as she is by this appointment. We will watch events unfold at Harvard with unequal expectations.