June 19, 2008
Israel @ 60: Confronting denial
Each year, in preparation for Israel’s birthday, newspaper editors feel an uncontrolled urge, a divine calling in fact, to invite Arab writers to tell us why Israel should not exist.
This must give them some sort of satisfaction, such as we might have in inviting officials of the Flat Earth Society to tell us why the the earth is not, could not or should not really be round, and to do so precisely on Earth Day, lest the wisdom would escape anyone’s attention.
Evidently, the banalization of absurdity has its kicks. It is sporty, “out-of-the-box-ish,” admirably “Jewish” and, if only we were not dealing with a dangerous experiment involving the lives and dignity of millions of human beings, could easily have earned its authors the National Cuteness Award.
But the issue before us is an adult matter, and the result is a depressing Kafkaesque choreography in which Israel, the heart and soul of Jewish peoplehood, is put on trial for its very existence, while pro-coexistence commentators, if they are invited, deal with the future of Israel and its achievements, but leave the accusations unanswered.
There is some wisdom to ignoring insults and unfounded accusations. By answering one tacitly bestows credence, however minimal, upon the arguments that put you on the accused bench—the last bench that Israel’s birthday deserves, even ignoring her accusers’ record. So, perhaps it is wise to write chapter and verse about Israel’s achievements (as Tom Friedman did on June 8) and let the “colonial” and “apartheid” accusations hang there, unanswered, as living witnesses of the Orwellian mentality of the accusers?
I am not totally convinced.
I am concerned about the possibility that a non-negligible percentage of Los Angeles Times readers, especially the novice and the hasty, would interpret the publication of Saree Makdisi’s call for dismantling Israel (“Forget the Two-State Solution,” L.A. Times, Opinion, May 12) as evidence that his arguments and conclusions are deemed worthy of consideration in the eyes of the editors of the L.A. Times, whose judgment the public has entrusted to protect us from Flat Earth-type deformities. This concern became especially acute after reporters Richard Boudreaux and Ashraf Khalil (“For Some Palestinians, One State With Israel Is Better Than None,” L.A. Times, World News, May 8 ) had already touted the “one-state” slogans in the same newspaper, with unmistaken sympathy, under the cover of “World News.”
I am concerned because evil plans begin with evil images. Once the mind is jolted to envision deviant images it automatically constructs a belief structure that supports their feasibility and desirability. The first phase of Hitler’s strategy was to get people to envision, just envision, a world without Jews—the rest is history. Today we are witnessing a well-coordinated effort by enemies of coexistence to get people to envision, just envision, a world without Israel—the rest, they hope, will become history.
The American press seems to fall for it.
In fairness to the editors of the L.A. Times (unlike The Nation and The Christian Science Monitor), articles calling for the elimination of Israel are often balanced by articles calling for peaceful coexistence. But, ironically, this “balance” is precisely where the imbalance occurs, for it gives equal moral weight to an immoral provocation that every Jew in Israel considers a genocidal death threat, and most Jews in the world view as an assault on their personal dignity, national identity and historical destiny. After all, we do not rush to “balance” each celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day with articles by white supremacists, and we do not “balance” a hate speech with a lecture on peaceful breathing technique; a hate speech is balanced with a lecture on the evils of hate.
A true, albeit grotesque, moral balance would be demonstrated only if for every “down with Israel” writer the newspaper were to invite a “down with Palestinian statehood” writer. But editors may have strange takes on morality; for some, questioning the legitimacy of Israel’s existence is a mark of neutrality, while questioning the legitimacy of Palestinian aspirations is a social taboo.
Decency should somehow inform these editors that both “down with” calls are morally reprehensible and insulting to readers’ intelligence, hence, both should be purged from civil discourse and marginalized into the good company of white supremacy and Flat Earth rhetoric.
But until decency reigns, we can be sure to see them again at Israel’s birthdays, the predators of peace, paraded by the press, demanding their annual prey: Once more to envision, just envision, a world without Israel.
Ironically, in this context, Arab commentaries published around Yom HaAtzmaut can actually be of great service to Israel, for they provide a faithful mirror of the prevailing sentiments in the elite ranks of Palestinian society and thus gauge precisely how ready it is to accept a peace agreement, whatever its shape, as permanent.
This year, the L.A. Times (May 11), The Nation (May 26), The New York Times (May 18), the Washington Post (May 12), the Christian Science Monitor (May 30) and others lured an impressive group of Arab intellectuals into unveiling their worldview to American readers. These authors are highly educated, mostly secular champions of modernity and masters of communication—yet keenly attuned to grass-roots sentiments. Enticed by the limelight, and seemingly caught off guard, they revealed the naked landscape of the Palestinian mindset.
Sadly, what they revealed in 2008 is not what Mahmoud Abbas would have liked us to think. They revealed what we feared all along but were afraid to admit: The notion of a two-state solution never began to penetrate the surface of Palestinian consciousness.
In vain would one search these articles for an idea, or a shred of an idea, that morally justifies a two-state solution, or that acknowledges some historical ties of Jews to the land, or that makes an intellectual investment contrary to the greater Palestine agenda. One by one, the articles depict a culture forged by five generations of rejection and denial, a culture in which compromise means defeat and national identity means denying it to others.
This does not mean that the two-state solution is dead—after all, it is the only proposal worthy of the word “solution”—but it means that the current efforts to reach a peaceful settlement are absolutely futile unless they address the real obstacle: The ideological landscape as revealed to us by our Arab brethren on Yom HaAtzmaut.
Judea Pearl is a professor at UCLA and president of the Daniel Pearl Foundation (www.danielpearl.org), named after his son. He and his wife Ruth are a co-editor of “I Am Jewish: Personal Reflections Inspired by the Last Words of Daniel Pearl (Jewish Lights, 2004), winner of the National Jewish Book Award.