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Jewish World Review / 22 Elul, 5763


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Those who decry Israeli action against Arafat should take a hard look in the mirror

http://www.jewishworldreview.com | How would American Jews react if Israel killed Yasser Arafat?

The notion that Israeli might put an end to the Palestinian leader was given credence by a statement from Israeli Cabinet member Ehud Olmert. It was also given voice last week in an unsigned editorial in The Jerusalem Post, which explicitly called for the archterrorist's death.

But the groundswell for holding the old criminal personally accountable for the latest surge in terrorism, which has demolished the Bush administration's road-map scheme, seems to be ebbing in the face of international pressure and disapproval from the United States.

Given the fact that it is unlikely that Israel's government would ever carry out such a plan, I doubt we'll really get an answer to the question of how the Jews might react.

As to the pros and cons of possible Israeli action, Arafat was and is a terrorist. He launched a war in 2000 when he could have had peace, and is personally responsible for the thousands of deaths — both Jewish and Arab — that followed.

Arafat is also a clear obstacle to progress in negotiations, as was recently seen when short-lived Palestinian premier Mahmoud Abbas fled the post in exasperation. Peace is not in Arafat's interests, nor would it achieve his goal of obliterating Israel. After a lifetime of murder, Arafat's Fatah Party commissioned a new terrorist group — the Al Aksa Martyrs Brigade — in order to compete with his Islamic fundamentalist rivals-cum-allies, Hamas and Islamic Jihad. But whether Arafat continues to sit in his ruined Ramallah compound, joins his wife in luxurious exile in Paris, goes on a hate-Israel tour of international capitals, or is given the bullet in his head that he so richly deserves, Israel will still be faced with the question of what to do next. Arafat is personally an obstacle to peace, but those who blindly assume that he is the only such obstacle are overly optimistic.

Yet let us assume for a minute that Israeli troops actually did kill Arafat. What would we do, and how would we respond to the storm of international criticism that would rain down on the Jewish state?

Many would applaud it as an act of justice and rally to Israel's defense. But many other American Jews would be pained by such a bold stroke, and decry Israel's move while simultaneously opposing the hypocritical criticisms put forward in Europe and elsewhere.

And a minority that dwells in the fever swamps of the Jewish left would undoubtedly see it as a crime, and would join in the condemnations and demonstrations likely to follow.


In other words, American Jews would react to Arafat's death pretty much the same way they have reacted to everything Israel's ever done. And how we reacted would say a lot more about us than about the rights and wrongs of the move itself.

Let's face it, many American Jews want Israel to exist — but on our own terms. We want it to behave nicely and, like a good child, be a credit to us. We want an ideal country, a liberal country that fights fair and is always in the right. And whether in the right or not, we don't want it to do anything that might embarrass us.

Some 55 years after its birth, Israel remains integral to the self-image of the Diaspora. Just as the creation of the state in 1948 allowed Jews throughout the world to hold their heads higher, so, too, do its reverses send many of us into a funk.

And, when it is unfairly assailed for its willingness to strike back against its enemies, too many of us internalize the criticism.

That's why a lot of American Jews prefer to lash out at Israel, its settlers, its security fence and its military counterstrikes against terrorists, rather than at those Arabs who are still trying to destroy it.

The mere discussion of killing Arafat is just the sort of thing that makes a lot of us queasy. Such an action, like the Israeli bombing of Iraq's nuclear reactor in 1981, is the work of a tough Jewish state that isn't always prepared to play by the rules. And that's especially true when the rules — and the international court of public opinion — are stacked against its survival. That seems to bother the American Jews who want Israel to behave more like a Jewish community-relations council than an armed nation. But that sort of theme-park Zionism is of no use to Israel, a real country with flaws, as well as virtues, or its people, who continue to suffer from an unrelenting campaign of terrorism by those inspired by Arafat.

As has become increasingly clear, no one in Israel seems to have a clue as to what they might do to advance peace. The solutions of the left and the right have both failed. Building a fence — a measure that is of questionable military value but which provides great psychological comfort — seems to be the only thing most Israelis support.

But that equivocal stance is profoundly unsatisfying to Diaspora Jews who don't want to accept that some problems — like the Arab-Israeli conflict — have no clear solution.


And that's precisely why American Jews who have an opinion about Israeli tactics toward Arafat should spare us their agonizing.

Personally, I think Arafat deserves to die, but I don't know whether killing or exiling him will advance Israel's chances for peace. Neither do most Israelis. But it is possible that, despite the opposition of its American ally, Israel's leaders may understandably come to the conclusion that terminating the head of the corrupt terrorist regime known as the Palestinian Authority will save lives.

Let us also hear no more about the need to listen to world opinion on this subject. Though opposed to killing or exiling Arafat, the United States has no qualms about trying to kill its enemies, rules or no rules. An international community that would celebrate a terrorist like Arafat and that is indifferent to the Jewish blood he's shed has no right to say anything about Israeli self-defense.

The point is, those Jews who are quick to attack the idea of knocking off a murderer should look in the mirror and ask if they oppose decisive action because they think it will hurt Israel, or because it will make them feel uncomfortable.

It would be nice for Israel to be the popular kid on the block, but a desire to be loved by the world isn't nearly as important as the Israeli lives taken by Palestinian terror in the past three years, while Arafat shamefully played games with "peace." Whether or not Israel kills Arafat, American Jews need to get over their desire for the Jewish state to refrain from defending itself merely in order to bolster our sense of self-esteem. Every weekday JewishWorldReview.com publishes what many in Washington and in the media consider "must reading." Sign up for the daily JWR update. It's free. Just click here.

JWR contributor Jonathan S. Tobin is executive editor of the Philadelphia Jewish Exponent. Let him know what you think by clicking here. In June, Mr. Tobin won first places honors in the American Jewish Press Association's Louis Rapaport Award for Excellence in Commentary as well as the Philadelphia Press Association's Media Award for top weekly columnist. Both competitions were for articles written in the year 2002.

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