What They Are Saying, Sept. 18, 2008


Myths of Islamic Tolerance Have Clear Goal: Extinction of the Jewish State

Historian Benny Morris writes in The New Republic (www.tnr.com) on Sept. 10 about the legacy of Islamic anti-Semitism:

"Scholars in the West have begun to devote time and space to anti-Western jihadism and Muslim anti-Semitism — and a good thing, too, as these are very much on the contemporary international and Middle Eastern political and military agendas and, I fear, will grow in significance during the coming decades, as the Huntingtonian 'clash of civilizations' widens.

"Yet, Western liberals hesitate to tackle the subject of Muslim anti-Semitism, lest it seem anti-multicultural or provoke the hornet's nest of Allah's minions. Even the use of the word 'jihad' has become taboo among appeasers of Islam — -and even among some non-appeasers, such as George W. Bush, who, like other Western leaders, refuses to call the phenomenon by its precise name (and the name that its own practitioners use). People speak of 'international terrorism' when they should be speaking of 'international Muslim (or Islamist) terrorism.'

"At the level of principle, Muslim attitudes toward the Jews (and, less so, toward Christians) were — and are — informed by a basic ambivalence. Jews and Christians deserved, and received, a formal measure of respect as 'People of the Book' and as the first to adopt monotheism; Islam had followed in their footsteps. But at the same time Jews and Christians were the 'enemy,' the rival religion and, in certain times and places, the political and military foe.

"It was this second attitude that dominated actual Arab practice during most of the 14 centuries since the birth of Islam.

"The story peddled by latter-day Arab propagandists (and reinforced by some Jewish scholars, who tended in decades past, sometimes for apologetic reasons of their own, to highlight the medieval 'Golden Age' of Islamic Spanish Jewry) — that the Jewish minorities in the Muslim Arab countries before the advent of Zionism enjoyed a pleasant fraternal existence among the majority populations — has often been trotted out for the benefit of ignorant Westerners, to illustrate Muslim Arab tolerance of minorities and, politically, to promote plans for a multi-ethnic, one-state solution for Israel/Palestine. It also has taken hold among Western intellectuals.

"But this construct is wholly false. It flies in the face of the evidence. Certainly modern Christian influences, nationalist enthrallment and Jewish nationalism (and its success) have added layers to traditional Islamic anti-Semitism. But they were building on firm foundations. From its inception, Islam and its adherents, beginning with Muhammad himself, saw Judaism (and Christianity) as rival parent religions that had to be fought and overcome for Islam to succeed.

"It is little wonder, then, that such anti-Semitic motifs creep into the speeches of contemporary Muslim leaders. Ayatollah Khamenei, Iran's supreme leader, described the survivors of the Holocaust as 'a bunch of hooligans who emigrated to Palestine,' while his protege Mahmoud Ahmadinejad denies that the Holocaust took place at all.

"But contemporary Muslim anti-Semitism, as typified by such statements, is not all of Qur'anic derivation. It also owes a great deal to modern European hate-merchants. Without doubt, Christian missionaries, traders and officials in the 19th and early 20th century flooded the region with their religious-ideological wares. 'The Protocols of the Elders of Zion,' for example, was first translated into Arabic and published in Cairo in 1920. And more modern European anti-Semitic tenets penetrated the area during the following decades."


Once Olmert Leaves the Scene, Where Will Livni Lead the Israelis?

Author Hillel Halkin writes in The New York Sun (www.nysun.com) on Sept. 9 about Tzipi Livni's rise to the top of Israeli politics:

"It seems an increasingly safe bet that the next prime minister of Israel will be the country's foreign minister and deputy prime minister, Tzipi Livni.

"Although she has not come from any place like Sarah Palin, Tzipi Livni is not only the first woman since Golda Meir to be within striking distance of Israel's highest office, she is still a relatively fresh face in Israeli politics, which she entered less than 10 years ago.

"At that time, she had the political acumen to follow Ariel Sharon out of the Likud when he bolted from it in 2005 to found a new party; she was a junior cabinet minister whom no political analyst would have predicted would soon be vying for national power. Young, articulate and attractive, she is a refreshing change in a country where prime ministers have almost always been fashioned from either perennial politicians or newly commandeered ex-generals.

"But this is also the problem with Livni, because although 10 years should be enough time to make one's views known about most subjects of national importance, Israelis still do not know where she stands on many things.

"There is, of course, a practical wisdom in political reticence; it rarely makes you lose one's friends and it makes no enemies. Yet, the higher she climbs in Israeli politics, the more enemies Livni (who already has one in Olmert) is going to make — whether she likes it or not. It's time Israelis knew what, and not just who, she's for and against.

"Kadima was founded as a putatively centrist party that would attract Israelis who could not identify with the dogmatic positions of either Labor on the left or the Likud on the right, and Livni and her supporters have partly run her successful primary campaign against Shaul Mufaz on the argument that his right-wing positions would turn the party into a second Likud.

"Although this is not a frivolous contention, its mirror image can be directed against Livni herself. Olmert has seemed determined, at least on the Palestinian and Syrian fronts, to turn Kadima into a second Labor Party. How do Israelis know that Livni, who has never challenged Olmert's positions in public, will not do the same?

"Vis-à-vis the Palestinians, [Olmert] is now offering a close to one-to-one land swap for any territories annexed by Israel, plus the re-division of Jerusalem and the re-admission to Israel of a still-to-be-negotiated number of Palestinian refugees. Regarding the Syrians, he is now ready for a total Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights.

"Does Livni agree with this? She has hinted that perhaps she does not. Does she disagree? She has not stated clearly that she does. Israelis have no clear idea of what she believes.

"They deserve to have one. Many of them voted for Kadima because it stood, in their opinion, for a kind of tough-minded pragmatism that could not be found in either the Likud or Labor — an ability to look unflinchingly at the facts without the illusions either of Israel's right, which persists in thinking that Israel can prosper without having to give up any territory at all, and Israel's left, which remains convinced that if Israel gives up everything, it can live happily ever after in a friendly Middle East. These are two opposite forms of wishful thinking, each of which refuses to let reality get in its way."



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