A few days before we heard the horrible news of the three boys who got kidnapped in Israel, Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) leader Mort Klein visited the Jewish Journal offices to speak to our editorial staff.
He said a lot of things over the course of a lively one-hour session, but one thing in particular stuck with me.
“I follow data points,” he said.
Klein was alluding to his background as a mathematician and, specifically, the 20 years he spent working in biostatistics. In that world, he said, his whole life was about “going where the data leads you.”
In the case of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he has identified one data point that is larger than life and supersedes all others.
It’s the occupation.
No, not the occupation you always hear about. The occupation Klein rails against is the occupation of Palestinian hearts and minds with Jew-hatred.
This is the definitive data point. The game-changer. The decisive factor that he says makes the conflict analogous to “pancreatic cancer.”
For Klein, all other obstacles, however severe, are secondary. It’s simply impossible, he argued, to make peace with a society that has been taught to hate you and demonize you. To strengthen his point, he used the example of Israel giving up Gaza and getting only more hate and terror in return.
Sadly, and all too often, the evidence seems to confirm his data. As recently as last week, following the kidnappings, the official paper of the Palestinian Authority (PA) published a cartoon showing the abducted Jews as three mice caught on the hooks of a fishing rod, while on its Facebook page, it published an image of a “victory sign” with three fingers instead of two. No wonder there were shots of Palestinians celebrating in the streets. And that’s just in one week.
That being said, there are difficulties with Klein’s argument. For one thing, we’ve heard it a million times before, and we’re numb to it. Many years ago, I was involved with an ad campaign that quoted a line straight from a Palestinian schoolbook: “There is no alternative to destroying Israel.”
Today, not much has changed: The watchdog group that provided that quote, Palestinian Media Watch (PMW), is as busy as ever. As anyone can see on the group’s website, the demonization of Jews and Israel is still prevalent all over Palestinian society, whether in the public honoring of terrorists or the anti-Jewish incitement in the media, mosques, schools and camps.
In other words, it’s the same old, same old — the same hatred, year in and year out. In a news-obsessed world, even an important truth can get stale.
The other difficulty with Klein’s argument is that it’s terribly inconvenient, meaning it leads to a dead end. How do you get a society that has been taught to hate you to stop hating you? And if that’s impossible, how possible can peace ever be?
Klein is unimpressed by such problems. Data is data, however stale or repetitive, however inconvenient. This academic stubbornness has surely contributed to his reputation as a tough, uncompromising, right-wing defender of Israel.
Tough guy or not, the former math whiz delivered his remarks to our staff with courtesy and grace. Beyond that, what I think made his argument compelling was that you could be a serious critic of Israeli policies and, nevertheless, have sympathy for his main point that a culture of hate suffocates peace.
But he still had to deal with the hardest question: “What do you suggest?”
Without pretending that there are easy answers, he suggested we follow the money. If we’re really serious about transforming a society of resentment into one of coexistence, the United States must make its financial aid to Palestinians conditional on the PA’s compliance with the anti-incitement clauses in the Oslo agreement.
Of course, now that the terror group Hamas has joined the PA in a unity government, a very difficult situation has been made that much more difficult.
To illustrate the danger of underestimating this difficulty, Klein brought up a veteran peace negotiator who once told him, “After we make a deal, there’s a better chance the Palestinians will stop teaching Jew-hatred.”
Ridiculing that notion, Klein compared it to a fiancé who acts in a hostile manner toward his future in-laws before the actual wedding date.
“Isn’t that the time to play nice?” Klein asked. “If you’re hostile when you need to play nice, what are the chances you’ll be nice when you can afford to be hostile?”
Looking back on 20 years of “data” on the failed peace process, Klein has concluded that the key reason it failed is that Palestinians felt they could always afford to play hostile — deal or no deal — and you can’t blame Israeli voters for taking that message to heart.
David Suissa is president of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.