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Jewish World Review Nov. 18, 1999 /9 Kislev, 5760

Jonathan Tobin

Jonathan Tobin
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Blood Libel Revisited -- CAN WORDS HARM ISRAEL? In an era where the Jewish state has been subjected to every form of warfare, why should we care if someone uses hate speech and accuses it of heinous, preposterous crimes? History answers that violent words can lead to violent deeds.

The question is raised by the latest incidence of anti-Jewish hate speech by a leading figure in the Palestinian Authority. In this case, the offender was none other than Suha Arafat, the wife of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, who chose to accuse Israel of using poison gas to kill Palestinian women and children.

Mrs. Arafatís chutzpah was compounded by the fact that she made the remarks in the presence of Americaís first lady, Hillary Rodham Clinton. Mrs. Clinton was on a diplomatic/political trip to celebrate the peace process, as well as promote her own putative candidacy for a U.S. Senate seat from New York. Most of the commentary on this flap has concentrated on its possible effect on New York voters. Yet there is more here to think about than whether or not Mrs. Clintonís political future has been harmed by her failure to respond promptly and specifically to these despicable and utterly preposterous charges.

The fact is, this kind of disgusting language is nothing new for the Palestinians. Ever since the Oslo peace process empowered the Palestinian Authority, its officials have engaged in every type of Jew-hating talk imaginable. They have invoked all the traditional themes from the medieval blood libel to Holocaust denial.

Indeed, despite the smooth talk coming from Arab leaders in the presence of American audiences, they have never stopped whipping up hatred of Israel among their own people. Despite Israelís concessions and commitment to peace, there is no getting around the fact that its Arab peace partners have never gotten with the peace program.

While American Jews continue to be outraged by these incidents, the answer from some Israelis is a yawn.

Having been subjected to anti-Israel propaganda for decades and hoping that peace is not far away, they have become inured to the sound of Arab calumnies. Every time some P.A. official launches yet another vile piece of slander against Israel or the Jewish people in general, someone can always be found to make excuses or to rationalize it as meant only to please Arab audiences.

Or, as Maíarivís top political correspondent, Chemi Shalev told me himself a couple of weeks ago, incidents like these are irrelevant to the progress of the peace process. As far as left-wing journalists like Shalev are concerned, there is a moral equivalence between Israel and the Palestinians. Yet, that is a moral equivalence that most Israelis and, indeed, most American Jews do not accept. Nor should they.

And given the context of Mrs. Arafatís statement, I believe this time, the outrage cannot be limited to skeptics about the peace process. Blood libels cannot be ignored.

It is no use mincing words. Mrs. Arafatís words were nothing less than a 1999 version of the old blood-libel tale. Even worse, it appears that her sentiments seem to reflect Palestinian public opinion.

While I have little doubt that this is a story that will soon be forgotten by the mainstream media as the rush of other events overtakes it, these words ought to be remembered.

Israelís government has chosen to continue with the Oslo process and that means that more Israeli territorial concessions, as well as a Palestinian state, are on the horizon.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak knows the peace Israel will obtain in exchange will be no better than the willingness of the Palestinians to live up to their word. That is Israelís choice to make, but it should not engender complacence about its security.

This knowledge should also make it clear why Israel is demanding serious security measures and Palestinian compliance. While we should have needed no insulting speeches from Suha Arafat to understand this concept, it is all the more reason why the United States should back Israelís insistence on increased security and strict Palestinian compliance.

It is no exaggeration to say that if the United States is willing to countenance hate speech from Palestinian ďfriendsĒ such as Mrs. Arafat, then the peace itself may yet prove more problematic than optimists are counting on.

Itís up to Washington and its envoys (including emissaries such as the first lady) to speak out forcefully to make sure the Palestinians understand that the United States takes this issue seriously.

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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