Deaf To Peace

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My daily commute often puts me in the presence of one or another ear bud-wearing young person whose music device’s volume is turned up sufficiently high to be audible (and annoying) to others many feet away. The experience makes me think about the Middle East. No, really.

The tinny noise, surely astoundingly loud to the eardrums mere millimeters away, makes me envision a world twenty years hence in which millions of middle-aged are unable to hear. And unlike the congenitally deaf, the newly hard-of-hearing will find it hard to manage. I wonder about the toll a chronically cranky chunk of the populace might take on society.

And that is what brings me to wonder about a different toll, on Palestinians.

President Obama received much criticism from some Jewish circles for elements of his Cairo speech earlier this month. His every turn of phrase, his juxtaposition of topics, what he said and what he didn’t say – all were subjected to great scrutiny, and found wanting by some.

Others noted that, for goodness’ sake, he was speaking to an Arab audience, seeking to seize an opportunity to win some trust on America’s behalf. If peace between Israel and Palestinian Arabs is possible (a big “if,” they concede), it will require a United States President who is seen by most Palestinians as sympathetic to their cause. The President, moreover, was explicit to his Muslim audience about “America’s strong bonds with Israel,” which he declared “unbreakable.”

The issues are well known. What borders should a Palestinian state have? Should it be independent or confederated with an existing Arab country? Should it be armed or demilitarized? Should it be at all?

Should some or all Israeli communities built on land captured in 1967 be dismantled? Limited in growth? Left alone to grow and thrive as part of the Jewish State? Should Hamas and other murderous groups be included in any peace process directly or indirectly or shunned as incorrigible?

Should Arab refugees and their children and grandchildren be permitted to return to lands where they or their forebears once lived? Compensated in some way? Or absorbed by one of the dozen or so Arab countries?

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in his own recent speech at Bar Ilan University, addressed some of those issues, rejecting limitations on existing communities and accepting in principle the idea of a demilitarized Palestinian state.

What is arguably the most important issue, though, is something else.

It is something President Obama actually broached in his Cairo speech, when he called Holocaust denial “ignorant” and “hateful,” and said that “repeating vile stereotypes about Jews” is “deeply wrong.”

He was even more explicit in an interview after meeting with Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, in which he recounted telling the Arab leader “that it was very important to continue to make progress in reducing the incitement and anti-Israel sentiments that are sometimes expressed in schools and mosques and in the public square,” that “all those things are impediments to peace.”

The President spoke, as always, diplomatically. “Those things,” in fact, are more than impediments; they are nail-packed bombs under the possibility of peace. As long as television programming for Arab children features puppets spewing hatred for Israel and cheerfully committing themselves to jihad; as long as streets in Palestinian-controlled areas are named in honor of vicious murderers of Jews; as long as Palestinian schools teach canards about Israel and use maps of the region that do not indicate the existence of a Jewish State – issues of states and borders and settlements are purely academic. The Talmud teaches (Shabbat 21b) that “the learning of youth” is the most strongly absorbed, remaining indelible into later years.

Decades, even centuries, of hatred do not preclude peace. But neither can peace be built on a foundation of hatred.

Whatever one’s views on a “two state solution,” on “settlements” or on a “right of return” for Palestinian Arabs and their descendants, it should be clear that the President was on target about the need for Arab incitement to cease. If I had his and Mr. Netanyahu’s ears, I would respectfully suggest that they move that issue to the very front and center of the “peace process,” where it belongs; that nothing else even be contemplated until it is fully resolved.

Because a loud, lewd and relentless stream of anti-Israel, anti-Jewish noise pumped into impressionable young Arabs’ brains today will only render yet another generation of adults down the road stone-deaf to any possibility of peace.

© 2009 AM ECHAD RESOURCES

[Rabbi Shafran is director of public affairs for Agudath Israel of America.]

All Am Echad Resources essays are offered without charge for personal use and sharing, and for publication with permission, provided the above copyright notice is appended.

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4 Responses

  1. Raymond says:

    Somebody else thought that by appeasing his country’s hostile enemies by ceding land to them, that it would placate that enemy. That man was Neville Chamberlain, who thought that by giving adolf hitler part of Czechoslovakia, that he would thereby placate the nazis. Of course, it had the exact opposite effect, giving the nazis the exact encouragement they needed to proceed with taking over most of Europe and murdering close to seven million innocent Jews. In a chillingly similar way, whenever Israel hands land over to its islamofascist enemies, it gives our enemies the exact encouragement it has needed to murder more and more Jews. You do not have to take my word for it; ask the Jews living in Sedorot, or the families of the victims who were murdered in reaction to former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak offering Yasar Arafat all the land he claimed to want for the sake of peace.

  2. Garet Benson says:

    Raymond, I don’t think it’s really such chutzpah to tell us not to build homes in Judea and Samaria. According to his job description, Obama’s task is to look out for U.S. interests, and apparently he sincerely believes that appeasing the Arabs is the right path to world peace. I don’t think he really believes a bunch of little Jewish towns is the root cause of the problem. He’s just latching onto this issue to gain favor among the Arab public. That’s why he’s been voicing this demand so loudly and repeatedly.

    Whether his approach is advisable in terms of geopolitical strategy is debatable. But hopefully the U.S. President will soon realize that dealing with issues such as the status of Eretz Yisrael and Jerusalem doesn’t follow the rules of the State Department playbook, but the Will of Our Father in Heaven.

  3. Ori says:

    Raymond, Rabbi Avi Shafran isn’t just a private person. He is the spokesman for a major Jewish organization. As such, he is not going to say anything that will alienate any potential friends. While you and I oppose Obama, there are clearly good people who support him.

  4. Raymond says:

    I not only agree with virtually everything Rabbi Shafran says here, but actually find some solace in his words, as frankly our current President has been absolutely terrifying to me, both in regard to his apparently hostile stance toward Israel, and his animosity toward this country’s largely free-market based economy.

    However, there is still a part of me that thinks Rabbi Shafran is being too kind to Obama. If Obama is really a champion of battling antisemitism, then how could he have the chutzpah to tell us Jews that we cannot build homes in our own Biblical land of Israel? If Obama really wishes us Jews no harm, then why is he forcing Israel to accept either our islamofascist enemies carving out a significant portion of Israel to use as a launchpad to murder more of our people, or a nuclear Iran, or both? Indeed, if Obama really wishes us no harm, then why is he putting pressure on our people at all, while extolling the alleged virtues of the islamofascist world? To me, it is clear that Obama is basically a more likeable incarnation of the notorious antisemite, Jimmy Carter.