Much of the discussion about the Middle East peace process tends to focus almost entirely on what Israelis do and what the implications of more concessions to the Palestinians will be for the Jewish state. Some of this emphasis is justified, as Israel ought to do what is not only right but is in its long-term interest. For some on the left that means ignoring not only the openly stated intentions of the Palestinians and their supporters in the Muslim and Arab worlds but also their long record of rejecting peace. But as difficult as it might be to focus the international press as well as liberal Jews on the historical record of the Palestinians and their political culture that makes peace improbable if not impossible, it may be just as important to broaden the discussion to that of the culture of the entire region. If Palestinians have never found the will to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn it is in no small measure because doing so is viewed as treason to the general anti-Zionist cause.
It is that context an item brought to our attention by the Elder of Ziyon website. In one we are informed that a new blockbuster miniseries slated for broadcast throughout the Muslim world in July as part of the region’s version of sweeps week for the Ramadan holiday may not be aired after all. But rather than “Khaybar” being axed for its widely reported anti-Semitic theme, the series may be in trouble because it portrays some of the Prophet Muhammad’s “companions” and therefore offends the religious sensibilities of Dubai TV and other broadcasters. While I have no position about what Muslims ought to consider taboo, the fact that “Khaybar” is still slated to run in most of the Middle East tells us more about what the contemporary Arab world thinks about Jews than canned statements about peace intended for the Western press that peace advocates rely upon.
Alas, bad news from Indonesia, which otherwise has managed its counter-radicalization program well in recent years. The last synagogue in Java—a historical building that predated Indonesian independence—has been destroyed after having been blockaded for several years by Indonesian Islamists. From the Jakarta Globe:
The last vestige of one Indonesia’s oldest and largest Jewish communities is now just a pile of rubble. Beth Shalom in Surabaya — Java’s one and only synagogue — was demolished in May after being sealed off by Islamic hard-liners in 2009. “It’s not clear when exactly it was demolished and who did it,” Freddy Istanto, the director of the Surabaya Heritage Society (SHS), told the Jakarta Globe. “In mid-May, I was informed by a member of the SHS that the synagogue was destroyed. In disbelief, I went over there and it had been flattened.”
When UN rapporteur Richard Falk blamed the Boston Marathon bombing on Israel and on America’s “global domination project,” it renewed a longstanding debate. Was Falk the worst possible person for the United Nations to put in charge of a special investigating office dedicated solely to Israel’s supposed crimes? Or was Falk, as a conspiracy theorist with a penchant for blaming all the world’s ills on Israel, in fact the perfect representative of the UN in the Middle East?
It certainly depends on how you view whatever is left of the UN’s credibility. One group that does not want to give up quite yet on the UN is UN Watch, an NGO that holds the world body accountable to its own stated values. The organization blasted Falk’s remarks, and Falk responded by trying to force the closure of UN Watch. The U.S. on Friday said enough was enough, and called for Falk’s resignation. Naturally, though Falk has been trying to put his critics out of a job, he is painting himself as the victim. The Times of Israel reports:
Two recent developments show the extent to which the mainstreaming of rabid anti-Israel sentiment in Europe is harming Europe itself. One, a new exhibit glorifying Palestinian suicide bombers at one of France’s most famous museums, undermines France’s security. The other, a British union’s decision to effectively bar members from contact with another British workers’ group because the latter opposes boycotting Israel, undermines Britons’ civil liberties.
The exhibit at the Jeu de Paume Museum, which is funded by the French government, features 68 photos of Palestinian “martyrs” who “lost their lives fighting against the occupation.” For instance, there’s Osama Buchkar, who “committed a martyr mission in Netanya”–aka a 2002 suicide bombing in an open-air market that killed three people and wounded 59.
Pro-Israel activists in Norway, where anti-Israel sentiment is rampant, assuredly don’t have it easy. So it was fascinating to read David Weinberg’s account of the issue they’ve found most successful in making Israel’s case–which, surprisingly, is one American activists generally ignore: the story of Jewish refugees from Arab countries.
Norwegian activist Odd Myrland terms this tale, which most Norwegians have never heard, a “knockout punch” that “evens out the playing field, and forces people to think about justice for Israel.” As Weinberg explained, it reframes the conversation: Instead of being about Palestinian rights versus Israeli security–a nonstarter with many Westerners, for whom rights easily trump security–it “becomes a debate about a balance of rights: about Israeli/Jewish rights and Palestinian/Arab rights.”
Reading the remarks of Ira Forman, the State Department’s newly-appointed special envoy to monitor and combat anti-Semitism, to a Washington D.C. gathering of the American Jewish Committee, I was seized by one heretical thought that was quickly followed by another. Are there any real benefits to be gained from the existence of this position? And does the special envoy help to clarify or obscure the reasons behind the persistence of anti-Semitism in our own time?
The position was created by the Global Anti-Semitism Review Act that was signed into law by President Bush in 2004. The act was authored by the late Democratic congressman Tom Lantos, a Holocaust survivor whose horror at the global upsurge in anti-Semitic beliefs and violence that accompanied the outbreak, in 2000, of the second Palestinian intifada led him to campaign for a dedicated State Department official to stay on top of the problem.
Bush was receptive because he regarded the fight against anti-Semitism as an essential component of promoting the values of liberty around the world. Announcing the act’s passage, Bush declared that “extending freedom also means confronting the evil of anti-Semitism.”
The latest proof of what the U.S. State Department has rightly termed a “rising tide of anti-Semitism” in Europe comes from Norway where a major daily newspaper printed a blatantly anti-Semitic cartoon about circumcision. The cartoon, which depicts Orthodox Jews torturing and mutilating an infant while blood spatters everywhere in the panel, has provoked outrage around the world. But the editors of the Dagbladet are unrepentant.
The image not only seeks to delegitimize a traditional and safe Jewish religious ritual, but also adds to the troubling demonization of Jews at a time when Islamists and European Jew-haters have stepped up their attack. But rather than apologizing, the Dagbladet is doubling down on its slander. They are now claiming protests against a cartoon that was highly reminiscent of the Nazis’ anti-Semitic propaganda are no different than Muslim protests against the cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad published by the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten. This false analogy tells us all we need to know about European elites that are clueless about the difference between the haters and their victims.
Let’s first understand the differences between the Muhammad cartoons and the Dagbladet attack on circumcision.
Last week, Jonathan Tobin used this space to criticize the 92nd Street Y—that “venerable Jewish institution”—for hosting Alice Walker in a dialogue with Vagina Monologues author Eve Ensler. Plenty of artists and celebrities express solidarity with the Palestinian cause. But as Tobin noted, few go as far as Walker, who actually refused to let The Color Purple be translated into Hebrew, and seeks to prevent Israeli performers from visiting the United States.
Tobin argues that defenders of the 92nd Street Y’s event are relying on an intellectual distinction between traditional anti-Semitism and strident anti-Israeli activism–and his May 29 blog post was largely an attack on that premise. But it’s important to note that even if one accepts this intellectual distinction, some of Walker’s recent musings about world-domination plots still serve to disqualify her from the mainstream marketplace of ideas. Indeed, they are stunningly offensive.
Secretary of State John Kerry is still trying to restart Israeli-Palestinian talks, with another visit to the region expected “within days,” according to Jordan’s foreign minister. But nothing better illustrates the folly of this effort than last week’s comments by Israel’s ostensible “peace partner,” Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
At an event marking the 49th anniversary of the PLO’s founding, Abbas (according to a translation by the Palestinian news agency Ma’an) declared that PLO founder Ahmad Shuqueiri “was asked to figure out what the Palestinians wanted, and he returned with the convention for the PLO.” In other words, according to Abbas, the PLO’s founding document is an accurate reflection of what Palestinians want. And lest anyone has forgotten the contents of that 1964 document, still available on the website of the PLO’s UN mission, here are a few choice quotes:
Mainstream Jewish groups are more or less united in their opposition to those who advocate the boycott of Israel. But the question of how to express that opposition is one that continues to divide them. While some rightly label those who advocate discrimination against Israel and its people as anti-Semitism, many refuse to draw the logical conclusion about those who back the BDS (boycott, divest and sanctions against Israel) movement and continue to welcome them into the community and even honor them. Another example of this bizarre disconnect comes to our attention from Lori Lowenthal Marcus who writes today in the Jewish Press that New York City’s 92nd Street Y will be hosting writer Alice Walker tomorrow night in a dialogue with Vagina Monologues author Eve Ensler.
Walker is a Pulitzer Prize-winning author best known for The Color Purple. But for those who follow the anti-Israel activities that are festering in the fever swamps of the American left, Walker is also known as an enthusiastic BDS backer. As I wrote here last year, Walker is so fervent in her antipathy for the Jewish state that she refused to allow The Color Purple to be translated into Hebrew. Walker said she took the action because of her sympathy for the Palestinians. But in taking this step, she wasn’t merely protesting against some Israeli policies. Instead, she was trying to treat Jews and Hebrew, the national language of the Jewish people, as beyond the pale of civilized discourse. That was as rank an act of anti-Semitism as can be imagined, but as Marcus points out, a few months later she actually signed a letter with other leftist artists seeking to bar the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra from performing in New York’s Carnegie Hall. To add to that, she publicly called on singer Alicia Keys to cancel her scheduled July concert in Israel and urged her to visit the Hamas-ruled terrorist state in Gaza instead.
Walker has made her feelings about the rights of Jews and her desire to discriminate against them quite clear. The question is, how is it possible that a venerable Jewish institution like the 92nd Street Y would choose to welcome someone who advocates bias against Jews?
For anyone who still thinks Europe’s widespread anti-Israel sentiment is purely a reaction to Israel’s policies, completely untainted by anti-Semitism, consider the unblushing announcement made by French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius today: France, he said, is now ready to consider listing Hezbollah’s military wing as a terrorist organization, because “the fact that it has fought extremely hard against the Syrian population” has caused Paris to reverse its longstanding opposition to the move.
Naturally, I’m delighted that France has finally seen the light about Hezbollah. But France had no problem with the organization during all the years it was conducting cross-border attacks on the Israeli population. Lest anyone forget, these attacks continued even after Israel’s UN-certified withdrawal from every last inch of Lebanese territory in 2000; it was one such cross-border raid that sparked the Israel-Hezbollah war of 2006. In other words, France has just declared that cross-border incursions to kill Jews in Israel are perfectly fine, but cross-border incursions to kill Muslims in Syria are beyond the pale. If that isn’t an anti-Semitic double standard, I don’t know what is.
In explaining his staunch support for Israel, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper frequently cites the lessons of history: that those who make Jews “a target of racial and religious bigotry will inevitably be a threat to all of us.” The truth of that statement is visible throughout the Islamic world today, where countries that first got rid of their Jews are now turning in vicious fury on their Christians. Yet many Christian churches seem blind to the connection.
Christianity is currently the world’s most persecuted religion, and the heart of that persecution is the Islamic world. Churches have been attacked in Iraq, Egypt and Libya, among other countries; Christian ministers have been assassinated; and thousands of ordinary Christians have been killed. In Iraq, fewer than 500,000 Christians are thought to remain, down from 800,000 to 1.4 million a decade earlier (estimates vary widely). In Egypt, about 100,000 Coptic Christians have fled just in the last few months. This isn’t a new development; scholars estimate that “between a half and two-thirds of Christians in the region have left or been killed over the past century.” But it has accelerated greatly in recent years.
As I read Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s speech to the delegates of the World Jewish Congress, who assembled in Budapest this past weekend, I found myself visualizing the furrowed eyebrows and anxious seat shuffling going on in the audience. For not only was Orban’s speech a chain of platitudes from beginning to end, it was downright dishonest.
The WJC says it held its conference in Budapest as a gesture of solidarity with Hungary’s Jews, who are once again the targets of the kind of vicious anti-Semitism for which Eastern Europe is renowned. The direct source of the poison is the extreme right-wing Jobbik Party, which is these days the third-largest party in the Hungarian parliament, having won 17 per cent of the vote during the April 2010 elections. But several observers of the Hungarian scene have argued that Orban’s ruling Fidesz Party variously ignores, plays down or even encourages the anti-Semitism of Jobbik; Orban’s speech to the WJC, therefore, was his opportunity to clearly explain whether he considers Jobbik a threat, as well as his chance to make amends for his close friendship with Zsolt Bayer, an anti-Semitic writer who has compared Jews to “stinking excrement” and has opined that “a significant part” of the Roma gypsy population are “unfit for existence.”
In the event, neither Jobbik nor Bayer even made it into the speech. Instead, Orban declared that the situation in Hungary isn’t really that disturbing:
Middle East analyst Tom Gross brings to my attention this news snippet from Qatar:
The Egyptian Muslim scholar Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, one of the most respected figures in Sunni Islam, refused to attend the inter-faith dialogue conference that opened in Doha last week on the grounds that Jewish representatives had been invited. “I decided not to participate so I wouldn’t sit at the same platform alongside Jews,” Qaradawi told the “Al-Arab” daily of Qatar.
Al-Qaradawi, a Muslim Brotherhood acolyte, has become one of the most famous clerics in the Sunni world because of his gig as the main religion go-to guy for Al Jazeera. For many in the West, he is a “moderate,” and indeed was once welcomed into the United Kingdom on those grounds, despite his infamous endorsement of suicide attacks in the wake of 9/11.
Having complained frequently about the media’s failure to report anything that might detract from their preferred narrative of Israel-as-villain, I’m delighted to discover that one British paper is bucking this trend. The Telegraph ran two articles this week describing the miserable situation in Hamas-run Gaza. And as reporter Phoebe Greenwood makes clear, the culprit isn’t Israel, but the elected Hamas government.
The first describes how Hamas has introduced military training into the curriculum of Gaza high schools–after having previously excised sports from said curriculum on the grounds that there wasn’t time for it. The mandatory weekly classes include learning how to shoot a Kalashnikov rifle; students who so choose can learn more advanced skills, like throwing grenades, at optional two-week camps. The article also includes video footage of Hamas militants demonstrating their skills for the students on a school playground: They carry out a mock raid on an Israel Defense Forces outpost, killing one soldier and capturing another, then demolish the outpost with a rocket-propelled grenade.
The Islamic world’s rampant Jew-hatred, as I noted last week, is often simply ignored by the journalists and academics who should be bringing it to public attention. But no less troubling is the fact that on the rare occasions when they do report it, they frequently try to explain it away. These “explanations” offer little insight into the actual sources of Muslim Jew-hatred. But they offer a very disturbing insight into opinion leaders’ motives in concealing this hatred.
A good example is an article published by the New York Times in January that described two cases in which Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi made virulently anti-Semitic remarks. In one, he said Egyptians should “nurse our children and our grandchildren on hatred” for Jews and Zionists; in another, he described Zionists as “these bloodsuckers who attack the Palestinians, these warmongers, the descendants of apes and pigs.”
Western opinion leaders too often ignore the Islamic world’s rampant Jew-hatred, argues a new book reviewed recently in The Jerusalem Report. It’s unfortunate that Tibor Krausz’s review is behind a paywall, since it’s a must-read for anyone who doesn’t plan to read the full book: In example after chilling example, it demonstrates the depth and extent of this Jew-hatred, while also showing that it has nothing to do with Israel’s “occupation of Palestine.” In a televised sermon in 2009, for instance, Egyptian cleric Muhammad Hussein Ya’qub said, “If the Jews left Palestine to us, would we start loving them? Of course not … The Jews are infidels not because I say so but because Allah does… They aren’t our enemies because they occupy Palestine; they would be our enemies even if they had not occupied anything.”
But what moved Neil Kressel, a professor of psychology at William Patterson University, to write The Sons of Pigs and Apes wasn’t merely the existence of this hatred; rather, Krausz noted, it was his dismay over “what he sees as a blind spot — ‘a conspiracy of silence’ — among Western academics, policymakers and journalists about the extent of Muslim anti-Semitism.” Policymakers may not actually belong in this list; I suspect many are genuinely ignorant about this hatred. But if they are, it’s because of this “conspiracy of silence”: The journalists and academics whose job it is to inform them consistently fail to do so.
The fight over the nomination of Chuck Hagel to be secretary of defense is long over. The former Nebraska senator’s inept confirmation hearing and the uncovering of damning statements he made concerning his views about Israel and its supporters wasn’t enough to convince the Senate to reject him or for enough of his critics to block the nomination with a filibuster. Since taking office, he has tried to put his problems behind him and is currently in Israel, where he has promised to stand by the Jewish state. Let’s hope he sticks to those pledges.
But for some of those who defended him, victory in that battle wasn’t enough. Yesterday the New Republic published an astonishing piece by Alec MacGillis in which he claimed Wall Street Journal columnist Bret Stephens’s writing about Hagel should have disqualified him for the Pulitzer Prize in Commentary that he was awarded earlier this month. According to MacGillis, Stephens “smeared” Hagel by accusing him of anti-Semitism.
This is false. If there was anything that we learned during the debate about Hagel, it was that it was the nominee who had indulged in smear tactics against supporters of Israel over the years.
We don’t normally pay much attention to what is published in Tikkun magazine, let alone what its editor Michael Lerner disseminates through his email list. But occasionally Lerner’s tirades shine a light on the positions of the far left that illustrate exactly where some of Israel’s critics stand in a way that makes clear how they have made common cause with those who seek the Jewish state’s destruction.
In his latest email to readers, Lerner highlights what he claims is the latest instance of pro-Israel activists seeking to suppress free speech in both academia and the Jewish community. The Tikkun guru cites the protest against the decision of San Jose State University to have an Iranian professor who is a bitter opponent of Israel’s existence to teach a seminar on “Israel/Palestine.” According to Lerner, the attempt to stop Professor Persis Karim from being the sole person in charge of teaching on this subject was unfair since he claims her only goal was to help students see both sides of the issue. But even a cursory examination of the record, which Lerner helpfully provided by including the protest letter organized by the Amcha Initiative, shows that Karim is an advocate for Israel’s destruction and supports the exclusion of Israelis from academic forums as well as the boycott of Israel. Lerner’s backing of Karim gives the lie to his effort to pose as merely a liberal supporter of the Jewish state.
Anyone who regularly follows the translations of the Palestinian media available on Palestinian Media Watch (www.palwatch.org) or www.Memri.org understands that the blithe talk about the possibility of Middle East peace that is heard on the left is utterly unrealistic. But keeping one’s finger on the pulse of a Palestinian culture that continues to foment hatred of Jews and Israel isn’t the only indicator of just how deep this animus runs in Arab culture. Just as informative is a look at the cultures of the two Arab countries that have already made peace with Israel: Egypt and Jordan. The potent anti-Semitism of the Muslim Brotherhood as well as the prejudice that runs throughout the culture of the largest Arab nation is well documented. But the situation in Jordan is less well known.
Jordan’s reputation as a moderate Arab nation stems mostly from the attitude of former King Hussein and his successor King Abdullah. Like his father, the Jordanian monarch is well spoken in English, charming and, despite the criticisms he lobs across the border at Israel in order to maintain his standing as an Arab leader, very much uninterested in conflict with the Jewish state. But his people and even those in his government are a very different manner.
As the Jerusalem Post reports, 110 out of 120 members of the Jordanian parliament have endorsed a petition calling for the release of the former soldier who murdered seven Jewish children in 1997. The shocking incident at the Island of Peace along the border between Israel and Jordan prompted King Hussein to personally apologize to the families of the victims for what he considered a blot on the honor of both his country and its armed services. But to the overwhelming majority of Jordanians, he appears to be a hero. If that doesn’t tell you something about how difficult it is to imagine the end of the Middle East conflict, you aren’t paying attention.