Sunday, February 26, 2006

Divesting Our Timidity

The familiar pattern of American Jews - those who care - being more on edge about Israel than the Israelis seems to have changed. Ever since the creation of the State, while we in the U.S. fretted about each scrap of bad news and more than a few of us were often in a state of mild paranoia, Israelis appeared relaxed as they went about their chores, knowing that they lived in a dangerous neighborhood and there was little that they could do about that. It's now the Israelis who are jittery, at least that's what I sense as I write this column from Israel, six months after my last trip which coincided with the Gaza withdrawal.

Gaza has something to do with the changed mood. Getting out earned Ariel Sharon a trip to several European capitals where those who always said that he was a bad guy now said nice things about him, but it earned Israel little respite from attack. Terrorists have established more than a foothold in what Israel abandoned. Hamas is riding high and Mr. Wolfensohn is busy shnorring for the Palestinians. It's not a happy picture.

Israel will have to deal with Hamas as part of its Middle East diplomacy. The U.S. is doing its best to bolster Ehud Olmert and Kadima by taking a tough stand on Hamas, yet my bet is that after the votes for the Knesset are counted and a new government is formed, geopolitical realities will dictate a new tone from Washington and Ms. Rice will once more put the squeeze on Israel.

While Hamas merits loathing, the fear and trembling now evident in Israel arises far more from Iran and the cover it is getting from Russia and certain Western democracies. Given Israel's capacity to respond and the likelihood of a harsh U.S. reaction should Iran take offensive action, it is highly unlikely that Israel will be endangered. Unfortunately, "highly unlikely" is not a sufficient safety net when nuclear weapons are available to a country that has reached the level of moral depravity attained by Iran.

Reading Israeli newspapers is an exercise in selecting what dire news to focus on, whether the madness gripping the Islamic world, the implications for Israel of spreading Iraqi instability, or danger signals in Egypt and Jordan. Any new problem in Islam somehow ends up at Israel's doorstep, which is a key lesson of the Danish cartoon conflagration. Islamic rage has a thousand faces, each ugly and each pointing nastily at Israel.

The divestment campaign is icing on the poisoned concoction of anti-Israel hatred. It has made progress in the U.S., yet what we face here is nothing compared to the virus that is spreading in Europe. Nominally, divestment is an economic tactic aimed at pressuring Israel to make concessions. At its core, it is the equivalent of Hamas' denial of Israel's legitimacy. As many have noted, in a world that has an abundance of autocratic regimes, Israel alone is singled out for constant opprobrium, invariably by those who wrap themselves in the mantle of democracy and human rights. Score one more for liberal hypocrisy.

As bad as divestment activities are, it is yet more disheartening to ponder the response of its opponents, of those who advocate for Israel. There is an excess of gentility, of writing letters to newspapers and other publications, of organizational statements, of other rhetorical devices that are familiar tools in the arsenal of the impotent. We need more passion and more anger and, yes, even a dose of paranoia. We need to stop defending Israel or making excuses for this or that happening or policy and instead we need to challenge the moral credentials of the fig-leafed charlatans who in the name of human rights are themselves morally rotten to the core. We need to take on far more forcefully the academics, clergy, journalists and the rest who are Israel-haters.

This includes the fifth columnists in Israel, led by the Judaism-haters and Israel-haters at Haaretz who without let-up attack Israel. It is of note that the Haaretz campaign runs on two parallel tracks, with the newspaper's anti-religious stance operating side-by-side with its anti-Israel stance. I have not seen a single issue of Haaretz that did not include at least one article - often there are more - beating up on the Jewish State and claiming that what is being done for compelling security reasons is deserving of strong condemnation. In Haaretz' perverted worldview, terrorists, suicide bombers, Iran, Islamic rage, the encirclement of Israel by enemies are all no more than trivial pursuits.

Haaretz is, in short, a source - even a finishing school - for diplomats and journalists to be taught anti-Israel sentiments. Many of us are exercised over what we regard as biased reporting on Israel in major U.S. newspapers, including the Washington Post, Boston Globe, Los Angeles Times and, of course, the newspaper we most like to hate, the New York Times. What appears in these publications ain't nothing compared to the daily swill emitted by Haaretz. In any case, reporters at these newspapers take their cue from what they read in the English edition of Haaretz and what they send back is diluted when compared to the original source.

Haaretz gives aid and comfort to the divestment rabble. I do not know what the rules of the game are in journalism, whether there is an understanding that newspapers do not point fingers at each other. I sense a growing tendency in the U.S. for publications to criticize what appears elsewhere. Whatever the journalistic culture in Israel, we in this country should not be restricted. American Jewish media should speak out against Haaretz's deprecations. Irrespective of what our newspapers do, we need to divest our timidity. It's time for us to take off our kid gloves and use sharper language against the Europeans and others who promote divestment and against the newspaper that nurtures this movement.