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Jewish World Review Dec. 10, 2001 / 25 Kislev, 5762

Jonathan Tobin

Jonathan Tobin
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An End to Illusions

Can the latest toll of terror victims force us to deal with the reality of the war against Israel? -- IT'S time to stop kidding ourselves.

After the last week of Arab terror in Israel, the usual nonsense that passes for informed comment on the Middle East won't cut it anymore.

In spite of the last weekend's suicide bombings in which 26 Jews were massacred in Jerusalem and Haifa, and, again, yesterday, there are more than a few talking heads on television still telling us that all of this could have been avoided if Israel were to make some more concessions to the Palestinians.

While the Bush administration seems to have rapidly come to its senses and dropped calls for Israeli "restraint" in the face of mass murder, others tell us that there is some sort of moral equivalence between the terrorists and the State of Israel, which is struggling to defend its people against a calculated campaign of terror.

How many dead Jews will it take before these people draw some serious conclusions about events?

While it is always a mistake to underestimate the willingness of human beings to deceive themselves, there are moments in history when even ostriches must pick their heads out of the sand.

This is such a moment.

As tempting as it has been for many of us to imagine over the past few years that the peace process would transform the Middle East, it has not.

For American Jews, this should mean an end to the petty politics and preening one-upmanship that has led so many of our leaders to put their own personal interests ahead of the security of the Jewish people.


Only a week ago, on Nov. 29, the op-ed page of The New York Times was promoting the idea that American Jews were ready to support American pressure on Israel.

In a piece that is as notable for its lack of intellectual integrity as its bad timing, Forward editor J.J. Goldberg claimed that recent polls proved that the majority of American Jews would support the Bush administration if it chose to try to hammer Israel into accepting concessions.

The purpose of the article was to encourage the Bush administration to not worry about having to "blunt Jewish-American lobbying" for Israel.

But despite Goldberg's claims, the polls he cited did not really back up the thesis that American Jews are in favor of "some reasonable pressures on Israel."

For every response cited by Goldberg showing Jewish support for an activist role for the United States in the peace process and supporting the search for peace, the same polls also showed that American Jews believed that Arafat wanted to destroy Israel and that Israel did not have a viable peace partner. David A. Harris, the executive vice president of the American Jewish Committee, a group that has regularly polled on these questions and who's no right-winger himself, believes Goldberg got it wrong.

Far from supporting pressure, Harris told me in an interview that "American Jews are schizophrenic. Within each poll are contradictory results."

He said that the polls and anecdotal evidence have convinced him that American Jewry is shifting toward "more mistrust of Palestinian intentions and less confidence in the peace process."

"Most American Jews are moderate in their views, but they also believe that the Arabs want to destroy Israel," Harris said.

Above all - and in contrast to Goldberg's self-serving piece - Harris thinks American Jews will support the government of Israel no matter what it decides. But the significance of Goldberg's piece is not just that he was wrong. Jews are dying in the streets of Jerusalem because Israel's enemies believe it can be isolated and cut off from its allies. Does anyone really believe that had Goldberg written to oppose pressure on Israel, rather than support it, he would been given such a platform for his views?

To play into the hands of those who would hammer Israel at this time is utterly reprehensible.

Harris, who has been a vocal supporter of the peace process in the past, says the problem is that the conflict has regressed back to where it was in 1948. T hough overshadowed by the events of Sept. 11, the United Nations' conference on racism in Durban, South Africa, in September was a powerful setback for peace.

The world has witnessed what Harris called a revival of "raw, vile, unadulterated anti-Semitism coming from the Arab world." And despite its best efforts, attempts by the AJCommittee to foster dialogue with American Muslim groups have flopped because of their support for violence against Israel.

"We're having to defend the legitimacy of Israel and Zionism. We're back to fighting for our existence," said Harris.

It is in this context that Americans who care about supporting the sole democracy in the Middle East must finally grow up and face the truth. Contrary to Goldberg's disingenuous thesis, what Israel and American Jewry need is some of that same spirit of unity that prevailed in the United States after Sept. 11.


But I am not completely optimistic. Whether they labor in the State Department, write editorials for daily newspapers or work to promote "peace" in the Jewish community, those who prefer to dwell in the world of make-believe do not take kindly to having their fantasies snatched away from them.

If the past decade of Arafat's lies and Palestinian terrorism did not disabuse them of their illusions, why do we really think that another few dozen Jewish corpses will convince them?

My bet is that these same people will back in a few weeks telling us that Israel is wrong to hold Arafat accountable, and that it must jump through an unspecified number of hoops in order to give the Palestinians "confidence." At that point, it will be the duty of every decent American who believes in democracy and opposes terror to tell them to pipe down and let Israel defend itself against a mortal enemy.

If we don't, then the next round of terror victims will be on our heads.

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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© 2000, Jonathan Tobin