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Jewish World Review Oct. 22, 2001 / 5 Mar-Cheshvan, 5762

Jonathan Tobin

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They've Got to Be Kidding!

Peace-prize committee and State Department have trouble connecting the dots -- THE most popular cliche about the post-Sept. 11 era is that on that day, everything about our world changed. But like all such generalizations, this particular piece of journalistic pablum is as off target as it is on the mark. For all of the many things that have changed, the thinking of our most important institutions has not. In fact, for some, the events of Sept. 11 seem to have only reinforced a belief in past mistakes.

Take, for instance, the committee that awards the annual Nobel Peace Prize. Though it is hard to speak of the Nobel Committee with a straight face, a lot of people still take this comical institution seriously. Indeed, the peace prize actually predates most of the other institutions of self-congratulation that various industries promote, such as the Oscars, the Emmys and the Pulitzers. And the cash prize that goes with it is nothing to be sneezed at. Some of its past winners have been worthy. But, like the Oscars, many are not. The truth is, a peace prize that can be given to a terrorist like Yasser Arafat makes the the Country Western Music Awards look like an convocation of intellectuals.

Perhaps the way to think about the awarding of the prestigious prize this year to the United Nations and its secretary general, Kofi Annan, is to see him as the diplomatic equivalent of cinematic stinkers like "Erin Brockovitch" and "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon," which competed for the Best Film Oscar this past year.

Why not celebrate a United Nations whose "peacekeeping force" in southern Lebanon hid evidence related to the cross-border kidnapping of three Israeli soldiers, which took place under the noses of U.N. troops and who may have even cooperated with the Hezbollah terrorists who committed the crime? Why not give a peace prize to an institution that just a month ago held a conference on racism in Durban, South Africa, which turned into one of the biggest festivals of Jew-hatred since the Nazi Nuremberg rallies in 1930s' Germany?

And why not laud an world body that just voted a country that is a well-known sponsor and practitioner of terrorism - Syria - onto its powerful Security Council?

Annan is pleasant, presentable and has managed not to offend any major countries during his time as the head inmate of the Tower of Babel on Manhattan's Turtle Bay. But nothing about him has been so conspicuous as his unwillingness to confront the culture of moral equivalence between democrats and murderers at the United Nations.

Are they kidding? Unfortunately, they're not.

Of course, not everybody in New York has lost their minds. Mayor Rudolph Giuliani has covered himself in glory for his inspired leadership after the World Trade Center catastrophe. Last week, he followed up on this achievement by showing the kind of backbone and devotion to truth that characterizes America at its best.

Giuliani returned a $10 million check for a relief fund donated by Saudi Arabian Prince Alwaleed bin Talal bin Abdul Aziz Alsaud after the zillionaire attached a letter blaming the terror attack on American support for Israel. Rudy rightly identified Alwaleed's lying diatribe as the sort of thing that was itself the cause of terrorism.

But some reaction to Rudy's gutsy decision in the New York tabloids also showed how some things don't change. The New York Daily News highlighted the story with a huge "Shove It!" headline on their front page and endorsed Guiliani's move in an editorial.

But the normally rabid pro-Guiliani and fervently pro-Israel New York Post did neither, even though such a story was seemingly made for them.

Why did they downplay it and refrain from comment? This puzzled reader found the answer in a sidebar about the prince. It turns out that he is, among other things, a major stockholder in News Corp., the multinational media conglomerate that owns the Post.

The editorial stands of the Post have called upon the nation to draw conclusions about the terror attack and act accordingly. But in their boardroom, money still talks louder than principle.

Also interesting was one congressional follow-up to Rudy's Bronx cheer. Rep. Cynthia McKinney, D-Ga., an African-American Congresswoman from the Atlanta region, lost no time in writing Alwaleed to blast Rudy, denounce America as a racist nation, agree with the Saudi about Israeli perfidy, and then asked him to send the money to her favorite local charities!

Jewish fundraisers who write checks to Democratic House members should forward any future McKinney requests to her Saudi pals.

Even greater evidence for an inability to think clearly after Sept. 11 is the growing conviction that the United States is paying for lukewarm Arab support for the war in Afghanistan by bashing Israel.

Attacks on America are acts of war that President Bush has rightly determined must be punished by bombing the hideouts of the terrorists and by apprehending the killers, "dead or alive."

But terror bombings inflicted on Israelis are not thought to be quite so serious. That's the only way to explain the official State Department reaction to the news that Israeli forces had knocked off the Palestinian Hamas terror leader responsible for the bombing of a Tel Aviv disco that left more than 20 youngsters dead.

Rather than understand that Israel's action was an act of self-defense and no different from American actions in Afghanistan against the Al Qaeda terrorist organization, the State Department actually condemned Israel!

A spokesman for the State Department said there was no parallel between the two actions.

And he did so with a straight face.

I'd like to think that this is just nonsense put out to placate America's Arab "coalition partners." But the department's open talk of reviving Clinton-administration proposals for dividing Jerusalem and giving the Temple Mount to a terror-driven Palestinian state makes it clear this is no joke.

The old Arabist thinking that dominated that institution for decades is alive and well - and making a mockery of President Bush's promises to root out terrorism everywhere.

Amid all of this old thinking is some new hope. In the last week, both The Washington Post and The New York Times editorialized on America's problematic Saudi ally. Both newspapers denounced the Saudi regime,which has attempted to play it both ways on terror: giving lip service to support for U.S. anti-terror efforts, while at the same time funding terror groups and stonewalling on terror investigations.

Even the Times' smart-aleck columnist Thomas L. Friedman now seems to understand that the Saudis and other "moderate" Arab regimes - and not Israel - are the real sources of rage in the Arab world. Hatred of Israel is deep-rooted in the culture of these countries, but the focus on the Palestinians is a diversion that allows the ruling elites to avoid scrutiny and the toppling of their governments.

As Israeli leader Natan Sharansky stated in an article in The Wall Street Journal last week, victory in the war against terror means more than the defeat of Osama bin Laden. Peace won't be achieved unless it also includes the export of Western democracy to the Arab world.

These articles were a good beginning that might herald a re-evaluation of an American foreign policy increasingly devoted to placating unpopular and unreliable Arab regimes.

But expecting the self-perpetuating elites of Washington and New York to connect the dots between the truth about Saudi Arabia and the stupidity of American foreign policy is perhaps asking too much of them. It is easier for them to cocoon themselves in the familiar world of failed ideas than to wake up to the changed realities of modernity.

And that failure is no joke.

JWR contributor Jonathan S. Tobin is executive editor of the Philadelphia Jewish Exponent. Let him know what you think by clicking here.

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