At Large

The Reality of Middle East Anti-Semitism

Hillary Clinton is the latest to appear hapless in its presence.

By 11.5.09

Send to Kindle

"The scale and extremism of the [anti-Semitic] literature and commentary available in Arab or Muslim newspapers, journals, magazines, caricatures, on Islamist websites, on the Middle Eastern radio and TV news, in documentaries, films, and educational materials, is comparable only to that of Nazi Germany at its worst."

So states Israeli historian Robert Wistrich this week in an op-ed in Israel's (left-wing) daily Haaretz. Wistrich, one of the world's leading authorities on anti-Semitism, is a scholar who stays out of politics and is not identified with any political camp in Israel.

His op-ed, however, sounds somber notes. "In the Middle East," he writes, anti-Semitism "has taken on a particularly dangerous, toxic and potentially genocidal aura of hatred, closely linked to the 'mission' of holy war or jihad against the West and the Jews…. Yet the Western world largely turns a blind eye to the likely genocidal consequences of such a culture of hatred, much as it did 70 years ago."

Is one form of "turning a blind eye" the insistence on a "peace process" between Israel and the Arab world? Seemingly, simple sense would say so. If the surrounding countries are in the grip of an anti-Semitism "comparable only to that of Nazi Germany at its worst," then the idea of reaching some sort of definitive "peace" between them and the Jewish state appears flawed.

That is not to say the Arab (or Muslim) world is monolithic in its attitudes toward Israel or that important distinctions do not exist. Israel's relations with the Jordanian and Egyptian regimes have fostered some stability with, so far, no reprise of the wars between Israel and Arab states that occurred from 1948 to 1973. At the same time, the media and populations of these countries are no less saturated with hatred of Israel and Jews than those of countries with hostile regimes like Syria and Lebanon.

And the attempts, over the past couple of decades, at reaching a formal peace with the Palestinians have had especially dire results, from the suicide bombings and other terror of 1994-1996 and 2000-2005 to the rocket fire from Gaza that persists to this day, with Palestinian society adopting a cult of the "martyr" (mass murderer of Jews) that is virulent even by the region's standards.

None of this deterred the Obama administration from making Israeli-Palestinian peace, as part of a larger, comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace, a central or even the central foreign policy goal. Ten months later, the results are meager. Obama's attempts to get countries like Jordan, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia to make even minimal "confidence-building" gestures toward Israel, like opening interest offices in Israel or allowing Israeli overflights of their territory, were coldly rebuffed. Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas now refuses even to negotiate with Israel, claiming this would first require a total Israeli settlement freeze even though, over the previous sixteen years of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, that was never made a condition.

Specific, "political" reasons can be adduced for the Israeli-Palestinian impasse. An initial Palestinian expectation that Obama would simply "deliver" Israel has not materialized, causing disappointment. Abbas, fighting for his political life in the Palestinian street, is under pressure from openly radical Hamas and more radical elements of his own Fatah party not to appear conciliatory. Since Abbas rejected hands-down a very generous peace offer by previous Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert, it could reasonably be asked what he has to gain by negotiating with considerably less dovish Binyamin Netanyahu.

Valid as those points may be, they should not obscure the larger picture -- and deeper explanation -- of a cultural animosity toward Israel that is at fever pitch. A "genocidal aura of hatred," as Wistrich puts it, could not rationally be seen as compatible with a "peace process."

That does not necessarily mean the United States should stop at least a pretense of diplomatic activity on the Israeli-Palestinian front. Arguably, it brings benefits of demonstrating American concern with the issue to the larger Arab and Muslim world, and, possibly, preventing a deterioration into Israeli-Palestinian violence.

Even if so, "peace" should not be pursued in a way that appears to validate the enmity that surrounds Israel. This week Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, after another fruitless round of talks in Israel and the Palestinian Authority during which she praised Netanyahu's relatively conciliatory position on settlements, found herself in hot water in the Arab world and backtracked, stating in Cairo on Wednesday that: "We do not accept the legitimacy of settlement activity and we have a very firm belief that ending all settlement activity, current and future, would be preferable."

Endorsing the racist Palestinian and Arab view that "peace" would require that a future Palestinian state be Jew-free, and is incompatible with a Jewish presence, is not a way to cool the flames and is a capitulation to a very nasty ethos.

Like this Article

Print this Article

Print Article
About the Author

P. David Hornik is a writer and translator in Beersheva, Israel, blogging at PDavidHornik.typepad.com.