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JewishJournal.com

January 11, 2012

Opinion: Stop the Stalinists

http://www.jewishjournal.com/rob_eshman/article/stop_the_stalinists_20120111

Jewish Journal Publisher and Editor-in-Chief Rob Eshman

Jewish Journal Publisher and Editor-in-Chief Rob Eshman

First, can we all just acknowledge the obvious hypocrisy? 

Imagine that over the past year Israel had slaughtered 5,000 Palestinians. The Arab reaction would be massive street protests, suspension of all diplomatic ties, demands for expulsion from the United Nations, calls for outright war, the launch of the mother of all BDS movements and unrelenting terror attacks on Jewish and Israeli targets anywhere and everywhere.

For almost a year now, since Jan. 26, 2011, the Syrian leadership has overseen the murder of at least 5,000 of its own Arab citizens and the torture and detention of countless more. 

And the reaction? Verbal condemnation and a long, drawn-out visit by Arab League observers.

Judging by their muted response, I can only conclude that either Palestinians are more precious than other Arabs, or that Arabs have much higher expectations of behavior from Jews than they do of fellow Arabs. Hey — take your compliments where you can get them.

People who are quickest to point the finger at Israelis for stopping Palestinian civilians at checkpoints have barely made a peep about Syrian children being mowed down outside their homes. 

Starting last April, the Gulf nations strengthened their stand against the Syrian violence, but only after statements from the U.N. Security Council, Russia and Turkey. A cartoon in Al-Arab, a Qatari newspaper, depicted Assad with a Nazi armband and a Hitler mustache — which looks a lot like Assad’s own mustache, come to think of it.

But Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas hasn’t condemned the massive killing, though he did urge the Syrians not to harm Palestinians forced to flee refugee camps.

One recent story sums up the Assad regime and shows the absolute moral backwardness of these avatars of human rights:

Last April 25, during the Syrian army’s siege of Daraa, thousands of demonstrators carried milk, bread and olive branches and chanted, “Peaceful change.” Among them was a 15-year-old boy named Tamer Al-Shar’i. Syrian troops arrested the boy along with 300 other demonstrators.

Later, the army thugs returned him to his parents, in pieces.

“What did they do to him?” Al-Shar’i’s mother said on Al-Arabiyya TV. “He doesn’t have a body. Where is my son? They left nothing of him. His hands were broken, his legs ... I identified him by his hands, which are broad, just like his father’s.”

A Health Ministry report confirmed what Bashar Assad’s men did to the boy. They shot him in the forehead, through the cheek, in his left arm and through his teeth. There were two bullets in his left leg and three in his right thigh.

“It was Bashar Al-Assad who gave the order to open fire,” the boy’s father said, “and I hold him personally responsible.”

From my limited brush with Syrian officialdom, none of this comes as a surprise. As I read the tragic news unfolding on the streets from Daraa to Damascus, I keep thinking back to a private meeting I attended between local Jewish leaders and Syrian government representatives on Dec. 7, 2003.

It was a lunch for a dozen or so people in a private room at the Regent Beverly Wilshire Hotel.

The meeting was arranged at the initiative of Dr. Hazem Chehabi, a specialist in nuclear medicine in Irvine, who also serves as Syria’s honorary consul general in Southern California. Ten Los Angeles Jews gathered to share a meal and views with the Syrian Minister of Expatriates, Buthaina Shaaban; an adviser to Assad; and Imad Moustapha, Syria’s acting ambassador to the United States, on what was their first official visit to Los Angeles.

Very quickly it became clear that no matter what we heard or thought, Syria was a progressive, peace-loving country. This was eight years ago — Tamer Al-Shar’i would have been 7 years old. The strongest concern the Jewish leaders expressed at the time was over television shows airing in Syria, produced by their state-run TV, which depicted Jews plotting to destroy the world. Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, showed the Syrians actual images from the show, as well as actual pages from Syrian government books, that accused Jews of blood libel. The Syrian response? That Syria was a progressive, peaceloving country, and Assad would never dare to censor a free press.

It was, as one Jewish participant said, like being in “a room full of Stalinists.”

To a person, they reminded me of the lines from W.H. Auden’s “Epitaph on a Tyrant”:

When he laughed, respectable senators burst with laughter,

And when he cried the little children died in the streets.

Those same Stalinists are now managing the massacre of their own people. In a recent statement, Minister Shaaban blamed Sunni clerics for inciting the uprising, while other officials blamed — surprise! — the Mossad.

I know there is no guarantee that what comes after Assad will be orderly, or even less cruel. The Arab Awakening has thrown the region into turmoil and made Israel’s challenges even greater.  Who, for instance, is going to get control of Syria’s arsenal of tens of thousands of rockets? How will the Jordanian regime survive between a chaotic Iraq and a fractured Syria?  Just because the death of a dictatorship is good and inevitable, doesn’t mean the aftermath is inevitably good.

But Assad must go. This week he said that it is terrorists attacking his country, and he’s right — except that he is the terrorist. No decent country, no decent people, can remain quiet and let the Syrian people fight, and suffer, alone.

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