Israel’s media problem

If endemic irrational hatred of Israel is viewed as a disease, then its primary vector is the Western mainstream media. Although social media have been gaining in importance recently, the traditional media organizations are still the Xenopsylla cheopis spreading this plague.

They had begun to become less and less sympathetic to Israel after the oil shock of the mid-1970s. I started noticing it in 1982, during the First Lebanon War. Never mind that we went into Lebanon because our people in northern Israel were being pounded by rockets, katyushot, fired from Lebanese territory by Yasser Arafat’s PLO. We were blamed for starting the war and sharply criticized for every civilian casualty. And then we were vilified because we didn’t prevent our Christian Phalangist allies from taking (well-deserved, in my opinion) murderous revenge on the PLO.

In 2000, we saw one of the most damaging incidents of fraudulent atrocity reporting, one which was used as an excuse for countless terror attacks, the al-Durrah affair. 12-year old Mohammed al-Durrah was not shot and killed by Israeli soldiers, and probably was not shot at all by anyone, but a Palestinian-produced “news” event, recorded by a Palestinian cameraman, legitimized and transmitted around the world by a (Jewish) French reporter and TV network, ignited a worldwide conflagration of hatred. It was one of the sparks for the Second Intifada, and al-Durrah’s “death” remains a staple of anti-Israel discourse today, despite the ample evidence that it was faked.

In 2002, Israeli forces fought Palestinian terrorists in the Jenin refugee camp, a battle in which 23 IDF soldiers and 53 Arabs, only five of whom were noncombatants, died. The media again – in this case the BBC was the prime villain – accepted fabricated Palestinian accounts as the truth, reporting 500 to 1000 deaths, the deliberate massacre of hundreds of civilians and their burial in mass graves, the destruction of part of a hospital, and more. None of it happened, but that didn’t stop the media from reporting it as if it had. And like al-Durrah, it is still an article of faith in much of the world that there was a massacre in Jenin.

It continued in 2006, during the Second Lebanon War. Social media was in its infancy – Twitter had been around for only a few months and Facebook was two years old and limited to colleges and a few corporations – but already there was communication and coordinated incitement via email, newsgroups, and blogs. Still, the mainstream media outdid itself, sucking up and spewing out Hezbollah propaganda, like the famous “Red Cross ambulance incident,” dissected by the intrepid blogger called “Zombie.”

The phenomenon has only increased since then, through our various Gaza conflicts. The media repeatedly ignored the provocations, the thousands of rockets fired into Israeli communities and the kidnappings and murders carried out by terrorists associated with Hamas; and they consistently accepted Hamas’ atrocity stories and casualty figures.

Most recently, Hamas’ attempted invasion at the Gaza fence has been presented as a “peaceful demonstration” at which Israel’s shooting terrorist operatives (53 out of the 62 dead have been identified as members of Hamas or Islamic Jihad) is described in the media as an “indiscriminate massacre of unarmed protestors.” Today, social media has come into its own, creating multiple echo chambers for anti-Zionist and anti-Jewish expression; but the “real” media continues to legitimize some of the worst narratives.

Naturally there is a close relationship between hating Israel and hating Jews, because Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people. It’s instructive to recall the “3-D” criteria for determining when criticism of Israel crosses over into antisemitism – I prefer the expression “Jew hatred” – suggested in 2004 by Natan Sharansky: Demonization, Double standards, and Delegitimization.

The mainstream media, with a few exceptions (e.g., the Wall St. Journal and Fox News) is regularly guilty of at least the first two “D’s.” They are notorious for their double standards, especially including a double standard for credulity: almost any claims of Israeli misbehavior, cruelty, or criminality are repeated with little attempt at verification, even when the claim is made by a terrorist organization like Hamas or its sympathizers.

These claims – such as that Israel steals organs from dead Palestinians, a story first promulgated by Aftonbladet, a very “mainstream” Swedish newspaper – are often so outrageous as to be comparable to medieval blood libels, and clearly constitute demonization.

Prime examples of anti-Israel media somewhat more sophisticated than Aftonbladet are the New York Times and – what else? – the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz. Day in and day out they provide “coverage” of Israel and her conflicts according to the principle that “for Palestinians everything is permitted; while for Israel nothing is excused.” (I apologize for not remembering who said this first).

The New York Times has a history of hostility to Jewish concerns, which according to one book on the subject are a result of the assimilationist ideology of its Jewish publisher. Just as it minimized the Jewish dimension of the Holocaust, today it minimizes the anti-Jewish roots of irrational hatred of Israel.

Ha’aretz is interesting in that it isn’t really a newspaper for Israelis. Its Hebrew print edition and website have a negligible circulation in Israel, while its English-language website ranks about 2,300th among all websites in the US – not up with the Times, whose rank is about 30 (for comparison, Abuyehuda’s rank is about 4.9 million), but not bad at all.

Ha’aretz is the home of Gideon Levy, who writes a column almost every day viciously attacking the Netanyahu government, the IDF, or the 90% or more of Jewish Israeli society that does not live in North Tel Aviv and belong to the academic, media, or “creative” Left. Levy has enormous sympathy for Palestinians and illegal migrants, but none for IDF soldiers, Mizrachi Jews who still remember who their enemies are, or residents of South Tel Aviv whose neighborhoods have been destroyed by said migrants.

Can the mainstream media be fixed? I doubt it. Reporters and editors come from universities where anti-Israel activities are prominent, and tend to study liberal arts, “communications,” or journalism rather than history. Then they join a pool of like-minded individuals who encourage each other to engage in activist journalism. Correspondents in the field are manipulated by very media-savvy operatives from Hamas, Hezbollah, and the PLO who use a combination of threats and inducements to turn coverage in their direction. By contrast, Israel’s efforts are sporadic, poorly funded, and often poorly conceived. The major news organizations use Arab stringers in places like Gaza and southern Lebanon, who are ideologically anti-Israel, susceptible to threats, or both.

Could social media replace it as a reliable source for news? This is even less likely. Social media does have a role to play in keeping the mainstream honest, as illustrated by the Red Cross ambulance incident mentioned above. But if mainstream standards are eroding, social media has no standards at all. It is very subject to manipulation, as was demonstrated during the last election in the US. And efforts to clean it up, such as Facebook’s proposal to measure “trust” in various news sources are likely to make things worse.

There is no overall solution to her media problem, but there are things that Israel could do. One is to increase the available resources and professionalism of her various spokespersons, such as those of the Foreign Ministry and the IDF. Another is to establish worldwide satellite news channels – like Al-Jazeera – broadcasting in multiple languages, which would present accurate news together with entertaining content. This would be extremely expensive, but a drop in the bucket compared with the military budget.

Although Israel’s commitment to free expression prevents us from silencing our “Gideon Levites,” we can at least speak louder and more clearly, in order to ensure that the real story is accessible to anyone who cares to listen.

Posted in Information war, Media | 4 Comments

The secret is Zionism

I attended a lecture on Monday by Moti Toledo, who participated in Operation Solomon, the 36-hour airlift of about 15,000 Ethiopian Jews to Israel while Ethiopia was in the throes of revolution.

Religious people can be excused for believing that miracles occurred during the operation. An El Al 747 with all its seats removed set the world record for number of people on a commercial aircraft, carrying 1088 passengers (two or three of them were babies born on the flight to Israel). According to the secular Toledo, the runway at that time was not considered long enough for even a normally-loaded 747, and the plane struggled to get airborne before it ran out of runway. An unexpected gust of wind came along from precisely the right direction, just in time. Make of this what you will.

This was after several covert operations had brought thousands of Ethiopian Jews to Israel, including the fascinating “Operation Brothers,” a Mossad-operated diving resort in Sudan (a country as hostile to Israel as any you can think of) which operated during 1981-5, and succeeded in rescuing some 12,000 Jews.

The efforts to get the Ethiopian Jews to Israel began after then Sephardic Chief Rabbi Ovadia Yosef wrote a letter to Prime Minister Menachem Begin. Supposedly, Begin then called the head of the Mossad, and told him “Bring me my brothers, the Jews of Ethiopia.”

Toledo said that the story of the Ethiopian Jews illustrates the connection between the State of Israel and the Jewish people. Israel is and will always be a place of refuge and a protector of Jews everywhere. I can’t think of another country that has this kind of relationship with its people (and I am using “people” in its tribal sense). Perhaps if there will be an independent Kurdistan, there could be one more.

He also mentioned that when he gave a presentation in Europe, a non-Jewish person said to him that they too wished they had a place of refuge, the way Jews did. It reminded me of what an African-American Muslim said to my wife and me when we were about to make aliyah in 1979: “I wish we knew where our home was.”

Israel today is experiencing what Ofir Haivry called a “demographic miracle.” Everyone knows that when economic well-being and educational level increase, fertility goes down. This is true in Europe, North America, East and Southwest Asia, and the Middle East, including Palestinian and Israeli Arabs. But not among Jewish Israelis, where each woman has an average of 3.1 children (and this number is rising, despite Israel’s economic success). Haivry notes that this is not mostly because of a high birthrate among Haredim, but because the majority of secular and non-Haredi observant Jews are having more children. I can attest to this anecdotally – the streets and parks here are full of Jewish children and pregnant women.

Haivry attributes this to the strong family orientation of Jewish Israelis. He writes,

Throughout Israeli society, the educational and moral welfare of children as well as the continuity of the family remains at the center of parents’ (and grandparents’) lives, not only emotionally but as a matter of almost day-to-day practice.

But this is only part of it – and I think it is a small part, because close family ties characterize many countries in which there is nevertheless an inverse correlation between development and birthrate. He continues – and here I think he hits the nail on its head:

This peculiarly strong culture draws sustenance from and in turn informs the equally strong sense of national solidarity. Thanks to that strongly shared national identity, Israeli Jews are unusually willing to make personal sacrifices when it comes to welcoming new Jewish immigrants into the state and into their homes—and also when it comes to stoically enduring protracted periods of violence and bloodshed perpetrated by intractable enemies. As traditional communities of origin have receded in importance elsewhere in the world, the shared sense of an Israeli nation-family underlies the habitual instinct of most Israeli Jews to regard other Jews, and especially those in Israel itself, primarily as family members rather than merely as fellow citizens.

In a word, the secret is Zionism.

This is precisely why Menachem Begin asked the Mossad to bring him his Ethiopian brothers. This is why, when my own son told me that his wife was going to have a fourth child, he said – only half-jokingly – “I did it for the demographic struggle of the Jewish people.”

Having children is a joy, especially when one gets older. But in the beginning it means that parents have to sacrifice some of their own well-being for the sake of the children. There are adventures that they will not have, and pleasures that they will have to forgo. In highly self-centered societies, people often prefer not to make such sacrifices. They choose travel, extended education or careers over children. If they do have children, they have them later in life, so they have fewer of them.

This is why the highly developed native cultures of Europe, for example, are phasing themselves out of history with fertility rates far below the replacement rate of 2.1 children per woman. And worries about their shrinking work force which must support an increasingly aged population have led them to welcome the immigration that will ultimately put an end to those cultures.

And this is why liberal Jews will soon be disappearing as a distinct group in American society: their affluence together with a lack of national feeling – which is also the reason they are attracted to anti-Israel politics – leads them to put their personal gratification before any Jewish consciousness that they may have. They have fewer children, and don’t see a downside to intermarriage.

This also applies to the bitter anti-Zionist Left in Israel, the ones that advise their (few) children to refuse to be serve in the IDF. But for this very reason – they too will be gone soon – I don’t see them as a major threat to Israel’s national consciousness.

Someone said to me at Toledo’s lecture that while the immigration of the Ethiopians was a big success, their absorption has been less so. I disagree. We are just beginning to see the first generation of Ethiopian Jews born in Israel, and they are Israeli in every way. The usual problems of immigrants – prejudice, crime, poverty – are fading away, and in another generation or two will be gone. Jews from Ethiopia are finding their places in our society, including having plenty of children of their own.

Today Israel is militarily the most powerful nation in the region – we’ve just demonstrated that to the Iranian regime – and an economic powerhouse, but we are also vulnerable due to our small size. Begin realized that we need more than military strength to survive – we need to care about each other and our nation.

And despite the sometimes deafening disagreements, we do.

Posted in Israeli Society, The Jewish people, Zionism | 9 Comments

The Five Pillars of Palestinism

Ideas really do have power, especially when they are held by tens of millions of people. Religions, for example, are constellations of ideas, and religion has been the source of countless wars, great art, music, architecture, literature, political systems, and more. It is impossible to imagine what human civilization would be like without the great religions.

Marxism is another example of an idea with extensive consequences (although I don’t believe they included great art or architecture). There are other ideas that have affected fewer people, but are extremely powerful for those who hold them; Zionism for one. I also think the secular leftism that is so popular on US college campuses counts as a coherent (if not sensible) collection of ideas, although I don’t have a name for it.

The greatest accomplishment of a propagandist is to launch an “ism” and have it take root and spread far and wide on its own accord (“to go viral,” in social media jargon). Good propaganda can be cheap and simple and have great effect. But once it does go viral, an ism has a life of its own. It may not be possible for its creators – or anyone else – to control it.

One of the biggest propaganda successes of the second half of the twentieth century and the beginning of this one has been Palestinism.

The Palestinian Liberation Organization was created in 1964 by the Arab League who saw the value of presenting the Arab project to expel the Jews from what they believed to be “Arab land” as the struggle of an indigenous people, “Palestinians,” against colonial occupation by foreigners. Until then, most Palestinian Arabs defined themselves primarily as members of their clan and perhaps as members of a pan-Arab nation.

The first pillar of Palestinism is that the Palestinian Arabs are an ancient people, rooted in the land of Palestine. Historical facts about Arab immigration in the 19th and early 20th centuries are ignored or suppressed, and wild stories (“Palestinians are the descendents of the biblical Canaanites”) are invented. Jewish provenance, and even peoplehood, is denied.

The second is that a) the exodus of 550,000 – 750,000 Palestinians from what is now Israel in 1947-8 was a deliberate act of ethnic cleansing by the Jews, and b) all of the descendents of these refugees have a right under international law to “return home.” Neither of these propositions is true. While some Arabs were expelled – mostly from places where the general population participated in hostilities – most fled of their own accord. Movements of populations during war are unfortunately common, and there is no “right of return” in international law for actual refugees, and even less so for their descendents.

The third is that the Palestinians, as a victimized, colonized people, have an unlimited “right to resist occupation.” They are permitted to engage in war or terrorism, despite the provisions of the UN Charter and international law, until their grievances are assuaged.

The fourth is that the responsibility to solve the problems posed by the growing (now more than 5 million) number of Palestinians with their special form of hereditary refugee status, rests with the Western world and Israel. Arab nations, because of their solidarity with the Palestinian struggle, will not agree to grant citizenship to refugees that reside within their borders – even when it is pointed out that it is their policies that have caused the number of refugees to grow from hundreds of thousands to millions.

And finally, the fifth pillar is that the only real solution will be the “return” of the refugees and the conversion of Israel into an Arab Muslim state (Palestinians will say they intend a democratic state, but of course it will have an Arab majority; and history teaches what would happen to the Jews in such a state).

Planted in a fertile bed of antisemitism (or Jew-hatred, as I prefer), Palestinism took root in the Arab world, in Europe, and on North American university campuses. It has grown like a weed, and crowded out the general pro-Israeli sentiments in the West that were common until the 1970s.

Recently, the threat of Iranian expansion in the region has led some Sunni Arab leaders to question their perennial hostility to Israel, especially if they are not confident that their traditional protector, the US, will push back against Iran. They realize that Israel is the strongest military power in the region. They also know that Israel has a great desire to end its historical isolation, its pariah status, in the Middle East.

For example, Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu recently had an impromptu meeting with the ambassadors to the US of the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain. They even shook hands. Even more impressive was a tweet by the Bahraini Foreign Minister, Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa, that “even Israel” has a right to defend herself against Iranian aggression. Saudi Arabia agreed to permit flights to Israel to pass through its airspace (though not yet flights by El Al), and the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman said that both “Palestinians and the Israelis have the right to have their own land.”

These tendencies run counter to the basic principles of Palestinism. And Palestinism seems to be the second most important religion in the Arab world, having been drummed into the heads of several generations. So any rapprochement between Israel and the Sunni Arab countries would need to be reconciled with their support for the Palestinians. And this is easier said than done.

The Saudi Crown Prince referred to the so-called Arab Initiative, which promises “normal relations” in return for an Israeli withdrawal from all territories captured in 1967, including the Golan and eastern Jerusalem, and the establishment of a Palestinian state. It also requires a “solution” to the refugee problem in accordance with UNSC 194 – which they have always interpreted as mandating a right of return – and a clause that guarantees that Arab states will not have to accept any of the refugees.

Such a deal is not in the cards, at least not unless Israel loses a war against the Arabs. So what will need to happen before the Jewish state can be truly at home in the Middle East? Only one thing: the end of Palestinism.

I’m sure that today some Arab leaders wish their predecessors hadn’t taken up the cause with so much enthusiasm. But like other tenacious conceptual schemes, it has a life of its own. Its creators can’t put it back in its box, and most Palestinians themselves don’t want to.

They don’t want to be considered newly created nation, and one whose culture consists primarily of opposition to the Jewish state. They don’t want to give up their dream of “return” to a “Palestine” that their great-grandfathers might have lived in. They don’t want to give up their armed struggle, or their “popular resistance” which is more or less the same thing. They don’t want to give up their handouts from the UN. And the Arab countries which have refugees in them don’t want those refugees as citizens (Bashar Assad’s solution to the problem of Palestinian refugees in Syria is to exterminate them).

But maybe if we give it another 50 years or so…

Posted in Israel and Palestinian Arabs, Middle East politics | 3 Comments

Trump stops feeding the crocodile

As everyone knows, US President Donald Trump has dumped the so-called “Iran deal” (JCPOA), and re-imposed strict economic sanctions on the Iranian regime.

I agree with PM Netanyahu that not only did the deal not prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons, it “[paved] Iran’s path to an entire arsenal of nuclear bombs.”

The deal limited the enrichment of uranium, at least at the sites that were known to the IAEA. It mandated the removal of some centrifuges from Iran’s facilities and the sealing of a nuclear reactor that could have produced Plutonium. But it did not prevent the regime from developing advanced centrifuges that will allow it to produce fissionable material much faster once we reach the deal’s “sunset” dates. It did not prevent it from continuing its development of nuclear warheads at military sites that are off-limits to IAEA inspectors. It did not prevent it from developing the missiles that will carry those warheads.

It did provide a diplomatic shield that protected the Iranian program from attack by Israel, which quite reasonably sees herself as a target – the regime itself told us so, more than once. It did offer sanctions relief that provided large amounts of money, which were used to finance the war in Syria, terrorism against Israel, and probably secret nuclear-related work. It also weakened existing UN resolutions against missile development.

Reuel Marc Gerecht, anything but a Trump supporter, said the deal “isn’t really an arms-control agreement; it’s just cover for American inaction, and for President Obama’s acute desire to leave the Middle East.” One might add that the Europeans also had a strong desire to see sanctions lifted so that they could jump into the Iranian market with both feet.

The deal, which wasn’t actually signed by either the US or the Iranian regime, was implemented by the Obama Administration against the wishes of the majority in Congress and the majority of the American people, as Bret Stephens, another non-Trump-supporter, notes. But it was ratified by the UN Security Council, which is how previous Security Council resolutions demanding that Iran not undertake missile development were weakened into one that merely called upon Iran to do so.

Supporters of continuing the deal argue that while it isn’t perfect, it at least slows Iran’s progress to an arsenal of deliverable nuclear weapons. They also suggest that ending the deal will cause Iran to be more aggressive in its nuclear program, ultimately leading to war (either with the US, Israel or both).

In response, we need to consider the objectives of the Iranian regime in the region and in the world. If we take it at its word and by its actions, the revolutionary regime has truly grandiose goals: establishing a Shiite caliphate in the Middle East, removing all US influence from the region, ending America’s world leadership, and destroying Israel – which it sees as both an agent of the US and an unacceptable Jewish presence in what should be an all-Muslim region.

The JCPOA assisted Iran in accomplishing these goals. Although it may have slowed her nuclear program somewhat, it allowed  the regime to develop components of nuclear weapons without interference, so that when it is ready it can quickly “break out” before its opponents are able to confront it. In the long term, it guaranteed stability for Iran to carry out her plans.

It goes without saying that Israel and the Sunni Arab powers in the Middle East will not permit this to happen, and that if Iran continues its march toward its goals, regional war is unavoidable. What will happen with the US is less predictable, because it will depend on whether the US returns to appeasing the regime – that is, feeding the crocodile in order to be eaten last, as Churchill said – or continues Trump’s policy of starving it. Unlike the far-away USA, Iran’s regional neighbors don’t have the luxury of embracing appeasement. They will always be the ones it eats first.

I’ve argued that war between Iran and Israel is unlikely in the short term due to Israel’s deterrent strength, and the very astute David P. Goldman agrees with me. The long-term picture is cloudier, but it’s likely that continuing the JCPOA would have resulted in a gradually stronger and more militarily capable Iran that would ultimately be ready to challenge Israel. Its cancellation will weaken Iran economically and strategically, and disrupt her plan to make war on her own terms and at a time of her choosing.

Whether it will be enough to prevent war depends on the actions taken by all the anti-Iranian players: the US, Israel, and the Sunni Arabs. The pressure on Iran must be increased, and internal regime opponents strengthened. Countries like India and China that buy a lot of oil from Iran should be encouraged to find alternative sources. Russia’s anti-Western mischief will continue to be a problem, as well as European greed and shortsightedness. Finally, for Israel there is nothing more important than to continue to build up her deterrent capabilities – and also to continue to demonstrate them as aggressively as possible to Iran.

Iran is truly a rogue state, but in conventional military terms it is a relatively weak one. Today it can be deterred, and perhaps at some point its own people will be able to overthrow the regime. But thanks to Obama’s policy of feeding the Iranian crocodile, it has grown stronger and more dangerous in recent years.

Trump’s decision to end the policy of appeasement is the right one. This is a beast we cannot afford to feed.

Posted in Iran | 2 Comments

Why I’m grateful to Mahmoud Abbas

In a speech to the Palestinian National Council last week, Mahmoud Abbas said publicly that pogroms against Jews throughout history, culminating in the Holocaust, were the result of Jewish “social roles” connected to “usury and banks.”

He denied the connection of the Jewish people to the land of Israel. In fact, he denied that there even is a Jewish people, claiming that Ashkenazi Jews are descended from a “Khazar kingdom,” a theory that is thoroughly discredited by genetic evidence (he considers Mizrachi Jews to be “Arab Jews”). He also claimed that there had never been any persecution of Jews living in Arab states.

This is nothing new from Abbas, whose 1982 doctoral dissertation (submitted to the Patrice Lumumba University in Moscow) and a book based on it argue that the pre-WWII Zionist movement cooperated with the Nazis, and even incited them to murder the Jews in their power. According to Abbas, Zionists encouraged Western nations not to take Jewish refugees from Europe, so that they would go to Palestine. Abbas also questioned the number of Jews murdered in the Holocaust, and suggested that the numbers were exaggerated in order to gain sympathy for the establishment of a Jewish state.

Although Abbas himself is very careful about what he says in English, he and Palestinian Authority spokespersons and media speaking in his name have time after time praised terrorists who have murdered Jews. When terrorists who have Jewish blood on their hands have been released from prison, he has ceremoniously welcomed them. And he has consistently refused to change the PA policy of paying salaries (from international aid funds) to imprisoned terrorists and their families.

On numerous occasions, Abbas has incited violence from Muslims by claiming that Israel is attempting to destroy the al-Aqsa mosque and replace it with a third Temple. In one of the worst examples of antisemitic incitement, after clashes between Palestinians and Israeli police on the Temple Mount in September 2015, he spoke to Muslim activists who harass Jews on the Temple Mount, saying,

We bless you, we bless the Murabitin (those carrying out Ribat, religious conflict/war to protect land claimed to be Islamic), we bless every drop of blood that has been spilled for Jerusalem, which is clean and pure blood, blood spilled for Allah, Allah willing. Every Martyr (Shahid) will reach Paradise, and everyone wounded will be rewarded by Allah. The Al-Aqsa [Mosque] is ours, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is ours, and they have no right to defile them with their filthy feet. We will not allow them to, and we will do everything in our power to protect Jerusalem.

Immediately after this incident, a wave of terrorism began in the form of stabbings, car rammings, and shootings which has not entirely abated to date. Between September 13, 2015 and March 18, 2018, there were literally hundreds of such attacks, leaving 65 innocent people dead and 923 injured. The incitement that gave rise to this murder campaign came from several sources, including Mahmoud Abbas. This is what he means when he talks about “popular resistance.”

What is particularly notable about his most recent remarks is not their content. He has been saying these things for decades. Following his mentor, Yasser Arafat, he speaks out of one side of his mouth in English, projecting an image of moderation, while calling for jihad in Arabic.

What was different this time was the reaction.

The New York Times, which has always treated Abbas gently while he was finding excuses to avoid substantive negotiations with Israel and inciting violence, suddenly noticed. My goodness, they seemed to say, the man actually means all that stuff he said about Jews. After throwing in a few obligatory dollops of blame for Israel, the Times Editorial Board wrote,

Mr. Abbas’s vile speech was a new low. No doubt he feels embittered and besieged on all sides. But by succumbing to such dark, corrosive instincts he showed that it is time for him to leave office.

Calling murderers heroes wasn’t vile? Talking about the Jews’ “filthy feet” wasn’t a new low? Inciting violence and paying for it with (mostly) American and European money wasn’t reason enough to call for him to leave office? Apparently not for the Times.

And it isn’t only the Times. All over the progressive/liberal world, there is shock. Abbas has crossed a line. Even J Street “strongly condemns remarks made by President Mahmoud Abbas on Monday that featured absurd anti-Semitic tropes and deeply offensive comments on the history of the Jewish people and Israel.”

So what is this line that he’s crossed? When Abbas made the “filthy feet” statement, which was a direct cause of deadly violence, the only mentions in the Times that Google and I could find were a quotation  in a news article, and a letter to the editor from the Israeli Embassy. There were no editorials, or even op-eds denouncing Abbas’ murderous incitement.

It seems to me that what triggered the avalanche of disapproval was the double whammy of bringing up some of the ancient themes of European antisemitism, plus the mention of the Holocaust.

Abbas has revisited medieval antisemitic libels before, as in 2016 when he said that Israeli rabbis were poisoning Palestinian water sources. He was criticized then by the liberal Union for Reform Judaism. But this time, it was the Holocaust reference that brought the brass ring.

There has always been an irony in the fact that the more that liberal American Jews move away from supporting Israel, the more strongly they feel about the persecuted Jews of the past, particularly the victims of the Holocaust. It’s as if they wish to compensate for abandoning the Jews of Israel, who are the likely targets of Jew-hatred today, by engaging in emotional catharsis over the dead Jews of 75 years ago.

Many liberal Jews have distanced themselves from Judaism, the Jewish people, and Israel. They have very little left of their Jewish identity except some nostalgic food preferences – and a strong feeling about the Holocaust, nourished by popular literature and movies.

They believe that there is a difference between anti-Zionism and antisemitism, even though the irrational demonization of Israel and Israelis that is part of today’s anti-Zionism is truly antisemitic. They are prepared to entertain the idea that the IDF targets Arab children, or that Israel is an apartheid state, or even that it is committing genocide against the Palestinians.

When they hear these libels from Abbas and others, they just nod. But when he blamed the Jews for the Holocaust, they had a problem.

It’s too close to what they think of as “real” Jew-hatred, the stuff that Nazis did. Progressives find it hard to criticize Muslims for antisemitism, because they are afraid of slipping into “Islamophobia,” which they believe is as bad or worse. But Abbas got to them. Maybe he made them think about the true nature of Muslim Jew-hatred.

I don’t expect the New York Times to ever promote Zionism. I don’t think most American liberal Jews will ever feel themselves a part of the Jewish people, the way I think most Israelis do. But I would like to thank Mahmoud Abbas for doing his part in opening their eyes, at least a little.

Posted in American Jews, Israel and Palestinian Arabs, Jew Hatred | 6 Comments