Jewish World Review Nov. 8, 2001 / 22 Mar-Cheshvan, 5762

Paul Greenberg

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Consumer Reports

The Israelis miss a chance -- ISRAEL is passing up a valuable opportunity to win the world's good will.

By sending armed troops into Arab towns in search of terrorists, Israel is again reaping criticism in Washington, at the United Nations and in European capitals. It is losing the fight for world opinion, and we all know how important world opinion is.

It was different a decade ago, when the Gulf War was on and Scud missiles were falling on Tel Aviv. Back then the Israelis were exercising remarkable restraint, certainly for Israelis.

They were trying on gas masks in Israel's population centers. Air raid sirens shattered the peace of Jerusalem. Every day brought new reports of civilian casualties. Arab villagers stood on their rooftops and cheered as Saddam's missiles headed for their targets. CNN was showing film of devastated houses and apartment buildings.

And yet the Israelis held their fire, knowing that to strike back would endanger another delicate coalition of Arab and Western states that another Bush administration had managed to cobble together.

Those were the days. As they buried their dead, Israelis were showered with expressions of sympathy from the world's capitals. It was a PR coup.

The president of the United States dispatched Patriot missile crews to Israel -- the first direct American military support in the history of the Jewish state. The Patriots didn't stop all that many Scuds, but think of the moral support they must have lent.

European parliaments held off on their usual anti-Israel resolutions and instead expressed sympathy for a people that refused to fight back.

The Vatican, though it didn't recognize Israel, came out against firing missiles at its cities.

Here at home, even the National Council of Churches, which seldom if ever has had a good word for the Jewish state, deplored the attacks on Israeli cities.

The understanding and admiration just poured in. For there is nothing that seems to unite the world in sympathy like the sight of Jews dying without fighting back.

Remember when the Jews of Europe, the few who had survived, were Displaced Persons with nowhere to go? Resolutions were passed, sympathy expressed, classes in Holocaust literature inaugurated.

But now that there's a place that'll take in any Jewish refugee in the world -- it's part of Israel's fundamental law -- there's no such thing as a Jewish refugee anymore, and the world's sympathy has dried up.

If only the Israelis had taken a cue from their Arab cousins and left the refugees to rot in camps rather than integrating them into their state, maybe the world would have a higher opinion of Israel today.

Chances to suffer need to be seized or they'll be gone forever. That's why Israelis shouldn't respond when suicide bombers blow up their buses, schools, pizzerias and seaside discos. Or even assassinate the occasional Cabinet minister. For the world loves Jewish martyrs. (Maybe that's why there have been so many of them.)

Here was a chance to win the world's sympathy and America's lasting gratitude (again). All the Israelis had to do was just sit there and take it.

Instead, without any understanding of the importance of public relations, the Israelis seem determined to hunt down the killers of their people.

Even if it means sending commandos in search of terrorists. Even if it means blowing up the killers' nests and launching a war against terror. Even if it means attacking the Palestinian authorities who shelter the terrorists and urge them on, and even join in the killing now and then.

Who do these Israelis think they are, Americans?

The pity is, the Israelis were doing so well for a while. They offered Yasser Arafat a state of his own, encompassing almost all his territorial demands, and even offered to share Jerusalem, their capital. Whatever else he wanted, they were prepared to negotiate. They never got a counteroffer. Unless you consider a yearlong campaign of terror an offer too good to refuse.

A year ago, it had never been clearer who sought peace in the Mideast and who wanted war. If the Israelis had just buried their dead and gone about their business, rewarding every act of violence with another concession, soon enough they would have been assured of a flood of condolences. Instead they're fighting back and reaping only denunciation.

If only the Palestine Liquidation Organization could be given its own state, with its own army and its own borders -- borders that other Arab armies could then cross without opposition on their way into Israel's heartland. Then the stage would be set for the greatest wave of worldwide sympathy Israel has ever enjoyed.

Think of the possibilities: The late Jewish state would be mourned extensively. Once again there would be Jewish refugees for the world to cry over. Streets in Paris and London would be renamed in honor of Haifa and Tel Aviv. Benefits would be held at the nicest hotels.

The most eloquent speeches would be delivered in memory of Israel by the statesmen and pundits now condemning her for having the poor taste to insist on living. Art exhibits and poetry readings could be dedicated to the State of Israel (1948-2001). It would be glorious.

Not a lot of Israelis might be left to appreciate the heartwarming eulogies, but that would make the whole, worldwide spectacle only more lugubrious. The good will might be posthumous, but it would be abundant.

What the Israelis need right now is somebody who knows something about winning over world opinion. They don't seem to realize what an opportunity they're missing.

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