In recent weeks, we have been contemplating the pressure and intimidation experienced by Jewish students on university campuses in North America from anti-Israel propaganda. In Part I, we discussed the diverse nature of the intimidation – anti-apartheid weeks, departments of Middle East studies funded by Arab petrodollars – and the potential impact on the Jewish identity of students put in the cross-hairs of political correctness by virtue of their identification with Israel. In Part II, we discussed how poorly served Jewish students have been by precisely those Jewish “defense” organizations from which support might have been expected, and the ways in which the cowed behavior of students in the face of attacks on Israel increasingly mirrors that of mainstream Jewish organizations.
Compounding the tragedy is the fact that the case for Israel is today clearer and easier to make than ever before. Arab Spring, for instance, has exploded one of the central myths advanced by the so-called “realists,” like Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer — i.e., that the Arab-Israeli conflict lies at the center of all the deformities of the Middle East. The turmoil currently roiling the entire Middle East has focused attention on the freedom deficit in Arab countries, and thereby helped refute what was always a highly implausible argument.
Even as existing governments are replaced by new forms of government or new dictators, neither the freedom nor the material well-being of the citizenry are likely to increase dramatically in the near future, and it would not be surprising if the situation becomes worse on one or another count. The current levels of poverty are so grinding, the rates of illiteracy so high, the subjugation of women so endemic, the culture of official corruption so ingrained, as detailed in the 2002 UN-sponsored Arab Human Development Report, prepared by Arab intellectuals, that material progress will be slow in coming. (The only country in which regime change would make an immediate positive difference is Iran, where a relatively well-educated population would greatly benefit from its national wealth not being diverted to Islamist imperial dreams and support for terrorist fiefdoms, like those of Hizbullah and Hamas.)
Arab backwardness has nothing to do with Israel. Arab despots do not rob their national treasuries or oppress their people because of Israel. No Arab ruler ever said, “I won’t increase literacy, stop skimming millions off every major business transaction, or free women from second-class citizenship until Palestine is free.” At the very most, Israel provided a useful means for Middle East dictators to distract their populations from their criminality.
The Arab-Israel conflict has never ranked very high even in terms of Middle East bloodletting. For decades Arabs have murdered one another in numbers that dwarf those killed in the Arab-Israel conflict. None of that bloodletting can be remotely connected to Israel. Saddam Hussein’s decision to invade Iran, at a cost of a million lives on both sides, and subsequently to invade Kuwait had nothing to do with Israel. And the same is true of Hafez al-Assad’s killing of 20,000 of his subjects in Hama, and the brutal, ongoing civil wars in Algeria, Somalia, and Sudan, which have claimed millions of lives.
The current instability in the Middle East also demonstrates the underlying fallacy of Middle East peacemaking since the handshake between Yitzchak Rabin and Yasir Arafat on the White House lawn: the equation of peace with finding an Arab leader prepared to affix his signature to a peace treaty. Natan Sharansky long ago argued that dictatorships are inherently war-like, compared to democracies, because they require outside enemies to distract a subject population. But we are also seeing that dictatorships differ in another important respect: Agreements entered into by democracies are not readily abrogated, but when a dictatorship falls, its successors can plausibly argue that any treaties entered into by the previous government are null and void because they lack the consent of the previously subject population. We are witnessing that already taking place with respect to the Egyptian-Israel peace treaty.
And so it would be with any peace treaty signed by Mahmoud Abbas or any other Palestinian leader ruling under emergency powers. As long as that treaty does not enjoy popular support, it would be subject to being renounced by any successor to the original signatory. Crucially, every poll of Palestinians shows that nowhere near a plurality of the population would support any possible peace deal with Israel. That is certainly not surprising since for nearly two generations under Oslo the Palestinian people have been continually fed a diet of incitement against Israel and had their dreams of eventually reclaiming all of present day Israel fueled by official media and textbooks.
THE PRESENT HIGHLIGHTING of the brutality of Arab dictatorships raises another interesting question: If there is no democracy in any Arab country, with the partial exception of Iraq (courtesy of the U.S. military) how has the self-determination, or lack thereof, of the Palestinians taken center place in the world’s civil rights agenda. The freest Arabs in the world – those most capable of expressing their contempt for the government and choosing their own parliamentary representatives – happen to be Israeli Arabs. How, then, has the lack of a Palestinian state become the central question of political justice in our time, especially in light of the fact that the Palestinians could have had their own state at least twice in the last decade, albeit not in the borders they seek?
Why are the Palestinians entitled to a state, but not the Kurds? The Kurds are a linguistically distinct people, with a long history of national identity and a distinct culture. Palestinian national identity is barely forty years old, and the Palestinians are not linguistically or culturally distinct from the Arabs of Syria. So why are their national aspirations so much more worthy of the world’s attention than those of the Kurds? The same questions can be asked with respect to many other peoples held captive and denied their own nations, such as the Tibetans.
The current strife in Arab lands has demonstrated once again how debased is the currency of Arab lives in their own eyes. Bashar Assad’s troops have already mowed down more than 500 civilian protesters. While still a small number compared to the 20,000 that his father killed in Hama in 1982, that is more than the total number of civilians killed by Israel in Operation Defensive Shield and Operation Cast Lead combined, while fighting wars of self-defense against terrorist networks deliberately embedded among the civilian population. And even that 20,000 is a small fraction of the hundreds of thousands of black Darfurians killed so far in Sudan.
All of which raises the question: Why do Arab lives become so precious when lost as an indirect and unintended by-product of Israeli wars of self-defense, but cease to be of interest when they are victims of other Muslims?
The above questions force the conclusion that the Palestinian “victims” are the subject of European street demonstrations and UN resolutions ad nauseum, as well as the beneficiaries of more international aid per capita than any other people, not because the world cares a fig about them, but only because they have been fortunate in their choice of adversaries: the Jews.
MUCH OF THE TERMINOLOGY applied to Israel today partakes of obsessional anti-Semitism, in particular the commonplace references to Israel’s genocidal actions and Israeli apartheid. So crazed are these accusations that they actually help make the defense of Israel. In jujitsu and other martial arts, the weaker party can skillfully employ the force of the stronger against him. And the same is true with the over-the-top characterizations of Israel: They serve only to reveal the motivations of the accusers. And that motivation, subliminal or open, is Jew hatred.
Take the charge that Israel is waging a genocidal campaign against the Palestinians. Genocide, as a reader of the European press could easily forget, refers to the deliberate extermination of a people. From 1967 to 1992, when Israel had exclusive control of the West Bank, life expectancy increased 50%, from 48 to 72, infant mortality plummeted, and the West Bank had the fourth fastest growing economy in the world. If this was genocide, it was genocide of a most peculiar kind. And yet ostensibly serious people level this charge without a hint of irony, and without being laughed out of polite society.
The charge of apartheid is no less absurd. Besides Jordan, Israel is the only country in the region in which Palestinians can obtain citizenship. They have been segregated and subjected to severe legal disabilities in Lebanon and other neighboring countries for decades. The briefest visit to any Jerusalem hospital, where Arab patients often seem to be as numerous as Jewish, would itself refute any comparison of Israel to South Africa. Not only are Israeli Arabs treated on the same wards and by the same doctors as Jews, so are Palestinians from Gaza or the West Bank.
Denis MacEoin, a former university lecturer in Arabic and Persian studies, wrote a powerful open letter to the Edinburgh University Student Association after the latter passed a resolution calling for the boycott of Israeli goods on the grounds that Israel is an apartheid state. He began, “I’m speaking of a hatred that permits itself no boundaries in the lies and myths in pours out. Thus, Israel is repeatedly referred to as a ‘Nazi’ state. In what sense is this true? Where are the Israeli concentration camps? The SS? The Nuremburg Laws? The Final Solution? None of these things or anything remotely resembling them exists in Israel. . . .”
“Likewise apartheid. For apartheid to exist, there would have to be a situation that closely resembled things in South Africa under the apartheid regime. Unfortunately for those who believe this, a weekend in any part of Israel would be enough to show how ridiculous the claim is. . . . Under Israeli law, Arab Israelis have exactly the same rights as Jews or anyone else.” MacEoin points out that Israeli Arabs are found in Israeli universities in exactly their proportion of the general population. In Iran, by contrast, Bahais, the largest religious minority, cannot attend university with non-Bahais or maintain their own. Has any British university considered a boycott of Iranian goods? he wonders.
I BELIEVE THAT DEMONSTRATING the obsessional anti-Semitism underlying much of the anti-Israel propaganda could be a means of strengthening the Jewish identity of students. For surely, it is something wondrous that 65 years after the Holocaust, open anti-Semitism has again reared its head, and among those viewed as the vanguard of enlightenment. The protean, unceasing nature of anti-Semitism reflects, in a perverse way, the world’s sense that we are truly the Chosen People. As the Catholic theologian Jacques Maritain, wrote in 1939, “Israel . . . is to be found at the very heart of the world’s structure, stimulating it, exasperating it, moving it. Like an alien body, like an activating ferment injected into the mass, it gives the world no peace . . . . [A]s long as the world has not G-d, it stimulates the movement of history. . . . It is the vocation of Israel that the world hates.”
Recognition of why we are hated can be a powerful tool for Jewish self-discovery and of what it means to be Chosen.
This article first appeared in Yated Ne’eman, May 6.