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What They Are Saying

October 19, 2006 By:
Jonathan S. Tobin
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Jonathan S. Tobin

Excerpts from international writers with commentary on issues relating to the Middle East, Israel and world Jewry:

Pictures Lack Context ... and Truth

Columnist Richard Cohen writes in The Washington Post (www.washingtonpost.com) on Sept. 26 that no one should be surprised about how misleading pictures can be:

"Thomas Hoepker's photo 'Brooklyn, New York, September 11, 2001' has achieved a kind of notoriety. It shows five young New Yorkers on that vividly beautiful late summer day, seemingly sunning themselves on the Brooklyn waterfront as the collapsed World Trade Center smolders in the background. The photo appears to catch the five chatting, ignoring the horror on the other side of the river.

"Photography, of course, is often a lie, and this photo is no exception. This photo, like all photos, lacked context -- what went before and what went after -- and the interpretation of insouciance has been challenged by no less than some of the people in it.

"The complaints of the people in the photo struck me as similar to what I heard from Israel's foreign minister, Tzipi Livni, twice in the past week. Both at a briefing in Washington and a dinner in New York, she mentioned how stunned she and her colleagues in the Israeli Cabinet had been at how fast world opinion turned on Israel after it recently invaded Lebanon. At first, the world understood that Israel's borders had been violated, three soldiers killed and two more kidnapped. Everyone agreed: Retaliation was in order.

"A day later, Israel did just that. It began a bombing campaign designed to cripple the Lebanese infrastructure -- bridges, roads, the Beirut airport -- so that Hezbollah could not be rearmed. At the same time, it hit residential areas of Beirut where Hezbollah ran the show. It was these pictures that horrified world opinion.

"Why Israel's leaders were surprised by this turn of events is beyond me. After all, it has happened before and even has a name: the CNN effect. But the complaint can be taken deeper still when, as has clearly happened, the historical basis for the state is forgotten, ignored or not even known. It is, after all, impossible to know Israel without knowing the Holocaust, which is not some historical abstraction -- the murder of 6 million -- but the ferocious killing of person after person.

"History is nothing but context put down on the page. The Holocaust is history. The abduction of two soldiers is history. The pictures from Lebanon were history, too, but they soon overwhelmed everything else. Now Hezbollah insists it will not be disarmed. The captured soldiers have yet to be returned. The war can resume with the next rocket attack, and again history will be hostage to photos -- no before, no after, just now." 

Olmert Seems to Thrive on Conflict

Shalem Center scholar Yossi Klein Halevi writes in The New Republic (www.tnr.com) on Oct. 10 that Ehud Olmert's greatest talent is his ability to endure:

"Israelis have seldom been kind to their prime ministers, even the most beloved. David Ben-Gurion ended his career as the head of a small splinter party; Golda Meir was driven from office after the Yom Kippur War; Menachem Begin retired into seclusion after demonstrators hounded him with the casualty count from the first Lebanon war.

"But no Israeli leader has ever lost the nation's trust as quickly and completely as Olmert. Barely six months after his election, he has managed to create a consensus, from left to right, that sees him as the symbol of Israeli corruption and incompetence. Even in Israel's politics of contempt, it's hard to recall another prime minister who has been treated with such disdain.

"Yet aside from looking wan and stooped, Olmert shows no signs of breaking. He took advantage of the holiday season of introspection and contrition to tell the public that he has nothing to regret and no one to apologize to. He insists that he'll complete his four-year term. And he asserts that Israel won the war, even though army commanders like Ilan Harari, outgoing chief education officer, say that Israel lost.

"Olmert persists in part because he knows, better than most, the unpredictability of Israeli politics. Ariel Sharon, after all, seemed the failed leader of a declining opposition party until Palestinian terrorism resurrected him. Now that the hunger strikers demanding his ouster have gone home and the mass protests against his government have subsided, Olmert is betting on outlasting the public's outrage.

"Perseverance is integral to Olmert's being. When he was a leader of the right-wing Betar youth movement in the 1950s, he and his fellow Betarim were widely treated as outcasts -- denounced as fascists for their opposition to socialism and their expansionist territorial dreams.

"There is some justice to Olmert's claim that he has been unfairly stigmatized. He was, after all, willing to stand up to Hezbollah's provocations -- unlike his predecessors, Sharon and Ehud Barak. And there is more to him than the news media stereotype of the crafty lawyer who manages, just barely, to avoid indictment. As mayor of Jerusalem, he made a point of attending the funerals of most of the terrorism victims in the city, and he visited their families. He's a loyal friend. And he's genuinely tolerant.

"Even when he was a leader of the Likud's hard-line wing, his family reflected political diversity: His wife, Aliza, a former peace activist, routinely voted against him. The right has spread rumors claiming that some of Olmert's five children didn't serve in the army; in fact, four did. He has had the bad luck to be prime minister at a time of unprecedented revulsion toward the political class generally, thanks to an array of ethics scandals." 

Earth to Palestinians: Start Building!

Columnist Richard Z. Chesnoff writes in the New York Daily News (www.nydailynews.com) Oct. 11 that the Palestinians have again invited disaster:

"Here's one of the Mideast's few sure things: When there's a bad decision to make, Palestinian leadership will make it.

"Consider the region's latest intelligence buzz.

"Anyone with even an iota of sense would take one look at the loss of Lebanese life and property caused by Hezbollah's war on Israel, and steer clear of provoking Israel's army again. Instead, Hamas is reportedly studying the Lebanese war to figure out ways to adopt Hezbollah's fighting tactics. The results are bound to be a new nightmare not just for Israel, but for the Palestinian people themselves.

"What's more, these Hezbollah-style weapons and guerrilla cells will apparently also be used against Hamas rival Fatah in the mini-Palestinian civil war that's now under way.

"If I could, I would grab hold of Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh's well-tailored lapels, shake him and shout: 'Idiot! Don't you understand what you're doing to your own people?'

"And the problem runs deeper than the leadership.

"Where is the silent Palestinian majority?

"It is up to them to come forward and demand their representatives stop wasting money on arms and bombs, stop denying Israel's existence -- in short, stop hating and start building."

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