What do Maureen Dowd, Thomas Friedman, Paul Krugman, and Muammar Qaddafi have in common?
All of them write for the New York Times op-ed page.
Qaddafi, who made his debut on the page in January, has been Libya’s dictator since 1969, when, as a 27-year-old army captain, he led a coup that toppled the monarchy. He later became a colonel, but he was too modest to accept promotion to general—although not too modest to style himself “Guide of the First of September Great Revolution of the Arab Libyan Popular and Socialist Jamahiriya.” His full title being perhaps a bit unwieldy, the Times‘s author bio blandly stated, “Muammar Qaddafi is the leader of Libya.”
The subject of Qaddafi’s article was the territory formerly known as Palestine, now divided between the nation of Israel and the disputed West Bank and Gaza Strip. The disputed territories were occupied by Jordan and Egypt, respectively, after the Arabs rejected a 1947 UN resolution calling for Jewish and Arab states in Palestine. They came under Israeli occupation after the Six-Day War in 1967.
The common view is that the ultimate resolution of the conflict is a “two-state solution,” in which Israel would cede all or most of the disputed territories to a new Arab nation called Palestine. It seems reasonable, even obvious, but there are practical impediments. One is the asymmetry of Arab demands for a “right of return”—i.e., that Palestinian Arabs whose ancestors lived in what is now Israel be allowed to resettle there. By contrast, no one talks about a Jewish “right of return” to Arab countries, including the prospective Palestine, and Arabs demand that Jews who have settled in the disputed territories be expelled. There is also a question of whether the Palestinian Arabs and their leaders, or the regimes that rule other Arab countries, really want a Palestinian state as opposed to the destruction of Israel, or at least an excuse to continue using the Jewish state as a scapegoat.
In any case, Qaddafi has a different idea. In his Times op-ed, he proposes a one-state solution, “an ‘Isratine’ that would allow the people in each party to feel that they live in all of the disputed land and they are not deprived of any one part of it”:
Assimilation is already a fact of life in Israel. There are more than one million Muslim Arabs in Israel; they possess Israeli nationality and take part in political life with the Jews, forming political parties. On the other side, there are Israeli settlements in the West Bank. Israeli factories depend on Palestinian labor, and goods and services are exchanged. This successful assimilation can be a model for Isratine. If the present interdependence and the historical fact of Jewish-Palestinian coexistence guide their leaders, and if they can see beyond the horizon of the recent violence and thirst for revenge toward a long-term solution, then these two peoples will come to realize, I hope sooner rather than later, that living under one roof is the only option for a lasting peace.
Is he serious? Journalist Claudia Rosett doubts it. In her Pajamas Media blog, Rosett quotes an e-mail from Youssef Ibrahim, a Dubai-based consultant and onetime Times correspondent, who argues that Qaddafi’s proposal was meant as a joke:
Youssef explains that in Arabic, “tine” means “mud,” or, “in more evident colloquial Arabic a piece of excrement, dirt, garbage, refuse.”…
And while the Times may have missed the sick joke in its own Op-ed columns, the Arab media did not. Apparently it’s a retread from Qaddafi’s repertoire. Youssef notes that Qaddafi has used the “tine” suffix before, attaching it as a dismissive insult to various other words (“socialism-tine,” “capitalism-tine”) and that “Isratine” first came up a couple of years ago. It has been widely commented upon—as comedy—by Arab pundits.
Let’s give Qaddafi’s editors at the Times the benefit of the doubt and assume that they took his proposal seriously. Did it not occur to them how fanciful it is? Even assuming that Israel’s democratic institutions remained intact in form after the imagined merger, “Isratine’s” Jews would soon be outnumbered by Arabs, given demographic trends and the “right of return,” which Qaddafi endorses.
In theory there is no reason an Arab majority in a democracy could not respect the rights of a Jewish minority. In practice, however, the Arab track record in this regard is dismal, and the Palestinians of the disputed territories have been indoctrinated for generations in Nazi-style Jew hatred. An actual “Isratine” would likely soon become another backward Arab-dominated regime, with Jews subjugated or worse. Israeli Arabs would be far less free than they are today; Palestinian Arabs, probably not much better off.
Qaddafi’s Times article includes a glaring falsehood that bears on the impracticality of his proposal, and that gives further reason to doubt his good faith in offering it. By way of conceding a point, he writes:
The basis for the modern State of Israel is the persecution of the Jewish people, which is undeniable. The Jews have been held captive, massacred, disadvantaged in every possible fashion by the Egyptians, the Romans, the English, the Russians, the Babylonians, the Canaanites and, most recently, the Germans under Hitler. The Jewish people want and deserve their homeland.
In fact, the Nazis were not the most recent persecutors of Jews. Many Israeli Jews are refugees from persecution in Arab countries since World War II (and Iran since 1979). Aside from Morocco, no Arab land has more than a handful of Jews left—and that includes Libya.
Vivienne Roumani-Denn, director of the 2007 documentary The Last Jews of Libya, recounts on her web page the fate of Libya’s Jews:
By 1941, the Jews accounted for a quarter of the population of Tripoli and maintained 44 synagogues. In 1942 the Germans occupied the Jewish quarter of Benghazi, plundered shops, and deported more than 2,000 Jews across the desert, where more than one-fifth of them perished. Many Jews from Tripoli were also sent to forced labor camps. Conditions did not greatly improve following the liberation. During the British occupation, there was a series of pogroms, the worst of which, in 1945, resulted in the deaths of more than 100 Jews in Tripoli and other towns and the destruction of five synagogues.
A growing sense of insecurity, coupled with the establishment of the State of Israel, led many Jews to leave the country. Although emigration was illegal, more than 3,000 Jews succeeded in leaving, and many went to Israel. When the British legalized emigration in 1949, more than 30,000 Jews fled Libya.
At the time of Colonel Qaddafi’s coup in 1969, some 500 Jews remained in Libya. Qaddafi subsequently confiscated all Jewish property and cancelled all debts owed to Jews. By 1974 there were no more than 20 Jews, and it is believed that the Jewish presence has passed out of existence.
In fairness to Qaddafi, he did not begin the persecution of Libyan Jews. But isn’t there some rule of journalistic ethics that should have compelled the Times to disclose to its readers that its author is the man who, in his own country, finished what Hitler started?