Thursday, August 28, 2008

VIEWPOINT / The Down with Israel Syndrome

Judea Pearl

Each year, in preparation for Israel's birthday, American newspaper editors feel an urge to invite Arab writers to tell us why Israel should not exist. Typical this year were the Los Angeles Times (Opinion, May 12 "Forget the two-state solution", by Saree Makdisi) and the Christian Science Monitor (Ghada Karmi "A One-state Solution for Palestinians and Israelis", May 30, 2008), where the elimination of Israel were advanced under the usual euphemism of a "one-state solution." I presume this exercise gives editors some satisfaction, of the kind one would get in inviting officials of the Flat Earth Society to tell us why the earth should not be round, and do so precisely on Earth Day, lest the wisdom would escape anyone's attention.

Undoubtedly, the banalization of absurdity has its kicks. It is sporty, admirably "out-of-the-box-ish" and, if only it did not involve a dangerous experiment with the lives of millions of human beings, could be considered mighty cute.

But this practice is adult matter, and the result is a depressing Kafkaesque choreography, in which Israel is put on trial for its very existence, while less radical commentators, if they are invited, deal with Israel's future, difficulties and 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 a birthday celebration deserves.

So, perhaps it is wise to write chapter and verse about Israel's achievements (as Bill Kristol did May 12, and Tom Friedman did June 8) and let the "colonial" and "apartheid" accusations hang there, unanswered, as living testimonies of the Orwellian mentality of the accusers?

I am not totally convinced.

I am concerned about the possibility that a non-negligible percentage of American readers, especially the novice and the hasty, would interpret the publication of opinion articles calling for the dismantling of Israel as evidence that the arguments and conclusions presented are deemed worthy of consideration in the eyes of editors whose judgment the public has entrusted to protect us from Flat-Earth type deformities.

This concern becomes especially acute when news reporters too begin touting the "one-state" slogans, with unmistaken sympathy, under the cover of "World News."
(e.g., Richard Boudreaux and Ashraf Khalil "For some Palestinians, one state with Israel is better than none," LA Times, World News, May 8 )

I am concerned because evil plans begin with evil images. Once the mind is jolted to envision deviant imagery it automatically consructs a belief structure that supports its 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 concerted effort by enemies of co-existence 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 some newspapers, articles calling forthe elimination of Israel are often balanced by articles discussingthe prospects for a peaceful settlement of the dispute. But, ironically, this "balance" is precisely where the imbalance cries out loudest, for it gives equal moral weight to a provocation that every Jew in Israel considers a genocidal death threat, most Jews view as an assault on their identity as people and most Palestinians view as an incentive to undermine or forestall peace negotiations.

Balance has its norms, logic and responsibilities, mirrored and shaped by sound editorial judgment. We do not rush to "balance" each celebration of Martin Luther King Day with articles by white supremacists, and we do not "balance" a hate speech with a lecture on 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 seem to have strange takes on morality; for some, questioning the legitimacy of Israel's existence is a mark of impartiality, while questioning the legitimacy of Palestinian aspirations is a moral 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, Arab commentaries published around Yom Haatzmaut can actually be of some service to Israel, for they provide a faithful mirror of the prevailing sentiments in the elite ranks of Palestinian society and thus gauge how ready this society is to accepting a peace agreement, whatever its shape, as permanent.

This year, the LA 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.

Highly educated, mostly secular, champions of modernity and masters of communication, these authors are keenly attuned to grass roots sentiments
and, enticed by the limelight, revealed the naked landscape of the Palestinian mindset.

Sadly, what they revealed in 2008 is not what Mahmoud Abbas and public opinion polsters would like us to believe. 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 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 Israel as a temporary outpost of Western imperialism, a entity to oppose not to neighbor.

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 should begin to address one key 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 (, named after his son, which
promotes dialogue and understanding. He and his wife
Ruth are editors of "I am Jewish: Personal Reflections Inspired by the
Last Words of Daniel Pearl" (Jewish Light, 2004), winner of the
National Jewish Book Award for anthology.

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