Friday, March 01, 2002

The Accuser’s Tale

What do Shimon Peres, Yitzchak Rabin, Benjamin Netanyahu, Ehud Barak and Ariel Sharon have in common, apart of course from their service as Prime Ministers of Israel? Probably a good deal, including devoted even heroic service to the Jewish State. There is apparently another shared factor, something that may have escaped most of us, namely their alleged willingness to betray Israel.

The apparent sins of Messrs. Peres, Rabin and Barak arise primarily from their negotiations with Yasser Arafat and the PLO and their concessions regarding land. Mr. Netanyahu earned his credentials as a seller-outer by conceding much of Hebron and other territory, pursuant to agreements made by his predecessors. But is Ariel Sharon a betrayer? Isn’t he the fellow of Lebanon fame or shame two decades back? A war hero, as a couple of the others are, who has taken forceful action against Yasser Arafat and terrorists? How can he be accused of acts that border on treason, which is what the charge of betrayal is really about?

If you think it absurd that anyone would make such an accusation, consider the following excerpts from three pages of ads in last week’s Jewish Press. They were placed in the name of “Friends and Families of Victims of Oslo.” I have changed the punctuation because in addition to the more serious sin against decency and truth, those who are responsible for the ads are unlearned in the basics of the English language.

• “You – Arik Sharon by staying in office and keeping these ‘disloyal –
incompetent Leftists’ in office with you – are betraying your people and your country.”
• “You – Arik Sharon are now as ‘responsible for these murders‘ as are your Oslo associates who imported their friend Yasser Arafat and his army into our country.”
• “After listening to the ‘speech of surrender’ by this ‘fake Shimon Peres clone’ called Arik Sharon, this ‘Peres clone’ in effect said to the people of Israel: ‘You people of Israel – ‘be damned.’ My first and foremost loyalty is to stay in power and for this I am beholden to Shimon Peres and his Leftist friends.”

Sick and sickening? Of course. These ads are three pages of an amalgam of paranoia and hate. They follow many similar ads and presumably are the forerunner of more such bile.

There is no direct way to challenge people who write in this vein. To attempt to engage them is an exercise in futility and it unwittingly accords a measure of legitimacy to their lunacy. Dementia is a condition that is impervious to reason and facts, they being the primary staples of civil discourse. Because hate is dynamic and always has the capacity to escalate and even breed violence, it is necessary to challenge the haters and those who give them aid and comfort. There is, as we sadly know, a rather recent history that we cannot forget.

It is necessary, in particular, to challenge the Jewish Press for publishing material that crosses so far into entirely offensive territory. I know that these pages are presented as ads, but it says something that no names are provided. I doubt that the paper accepts all the material that is submitted as ads. Nor does the First Amendment and freedom of the press provide a sanctuary or justification for publication of this material. Freedom brings with it responsibility and, hopefully, a measure of restraint and it always entails the obligation to make choices and to exclude that which is totally offensive and defamatory.

It cannot be said too strongly that no Jewish newspaper should publish a stream of hate messages accusing Israel’s leaders of selling out their country. There is a right – and it is also a necessity – to criticize, to question and challenge governmental policies, at times in sharp language. This right was expressed in many publications not long ago when Mr. Barak was Prime Minister. As tough as the criticism was, it was expressed in language of disagreement and generally in recognition of the pressure he was under and the difficult choices he faced.

Disagreement about Israeli security is inevitable because the situation that the Jewish State is in does not allow for ready and foolproof solutions. The country is located in a very dangerous part of the world. In addition to the Palestinians and terrorists, it has to consider and contend with the virulence of Islamic fundamentalism and the persistence of Arab hostility. As much as some of us may think otherwise, it cannot ignore world opinion and diplomacy or the mood at the White House and U.S. State Department.

Israeli leaders make their decisions and negotiate in clouds of doubt. There are no easy choices, no sure-fire successes. There are sleepless nights, arguments with trusted and respected colleagues, constant media scrutiny, pressure from the U.S., intelligence briefings that provide frightful information and they know that every important security decision they make may endanger the lives of soldiers and civilians. Israel’s leaders also know that as events unfold, their choices may turn out to have been errant.

None of this makes them immune to criticism. Precisely because the stakes are so high and there is always the prospect that their actions or choices may prove to be wrong, it is necessary to question and to disagree. It is even proper to say that, as for example in Mr. Barak’s actions, the security of Israel is being endangered. There is plenty of room for disagreement about the Golan and negotiations with Syria, whether Israel should have withdrawn from South Lebanon, whether Israel should remain in Gaza and how much of the West Bank should be ceded.

What there isn’t room for is the kind of hatred expressed in these ads, a hatred that is predicated on the notion that the whole world hates Israel and Jews, that everyone else is our enemy, and that Jews who disagree with this assessment are themselves self-haters. Israel has too many dangerous enemies, but it is nonsense to believe that the whole world hates us. It is dangerous to believe that Israel’s salvation or security lies in our hating everyone else.