Honi soit qui mal y pense, goes an Old French saying. Shame on him who puts a bad construction on this. It’s usually attributed to King Edward III of England, following a minor, but embarrassing, mishap at his court. As he was dancing with a lady, her garter slipped and fell to her ankle. She stepped out of it and, not missing a beat, the chivalric King picked it up with his sword and put it on his own leg, while admonishing his Court not to snigger at the lady’s humiliation.
As used today, it suggests bad faith in those who intentionally misconstrue an innocent situation.
With this in mind I’d like to discuss the misplaced glee of those who announced that Bibi disinvited Trump to Israel because of Trump’s suggestion that the United States ban Muslims from entering the country until we can figure out what is going on. Here’s the text of Netanyahu’s statement:
Prime Minister Netanyahu rejects Donald Trump’s recent remarks about Muslims. The State of Israel respects all religions and strictly guarantees the rights of all its citizens. At the same time, Israel is fighting against militant Islam that targets Muslims, Christians and Jews alike, and threatens the entire world.
The first sentence is clearly a pro forma statement of the kind that would be expected of a tiny country that is currently suffering from a Muslim killing spree that started October 1 and has continued daily up to the present day. It’s vague in its intent. What exactly is Netanyahu rejecting?
The second sentence is simply a statement of fact. It is the case in Israel, as it is here in America, that no one is prohibited from practicing the religion of his choice. And Trump never suggested that Muslims in America be prohibited from practicing their religion. Israel, like America, guarantees the rights of “all its citizens.” And Trump’s proposal that we impose a temporary hiatus on the admission into our country of non-citizens does not conflict with Netanyahu’s statement.
Nevertheless, it is common knowledge — and Israel would not deny it — that Israel practices profiling. Anyone who wants to enter Israel has experienced a detailed personal one-on-one interrogation at the airport, often lasting more than one hour. Even if the visitor is a white lady of a certain age with an obviously Jewish name.
Without profiling, Israel would not exist today. The world may squawk about this all it wants. It has repeatedly labeled Israel a racist country. But the nation’s leaders have an obligation to their people to see to their security.
And this explains the last sentence of Netanyahu’s statement: “At the same time, Israel is fighting against militant Islam that targets Muslims, Christians and Jews alike, and threatens the entire world.” This is a recognition that Israel — and by extension America also — is under an existential threat from militant Islam, and that Israel’s security provisions protect not only Jews, but also Muslims and Christians.
Netanyahu is careful to distinguish between “militant Islam” and Muslims.” Trump is asking a more fundamental question: On what basis do we make this distinction? We need to “figure out what is going on,” Trump says. “The hatred is beyond comprehension…. Where this hatred comes from and why we will have to determine.” In an article last week, I raised the same question.
It has to be answered before we can begin to deal with it.
I am reminded of a scene I witnessed in Paris in 2006. At the time, Paris was suffering from a number of terrorist incidents by Algerians. I was standing outside of the Centre Pompidou (known as Beaubourg) when several very large armored vehicles abruptly pulled up and dozens of paramilitary personnel spilled out of them brandishing weapons of the kind that were not commonly seen at the time. They spread out around the area, and in the days to come they were ubiquitous in Paris.
I recall one incident where a tourist — who looked Nordic to me — was lying on his back trying to photograph the Eiffel Tower from an interesting perspective. A military policeman stood over him for a while and when this did not get the tourist’s attention, he kicked him in his ribs. I remember thinking that in America, the tourist would head straight to an attorney’s office to file a lawsuit.
One evening, I saw on television a reporter interviewing Algerians on the streets. Do they feel threatened or aggrieved by being profiled and targeted by French Security? Almost to a man, each said, no; they too were French and were being protected by French security measures.
That was then, of course, before identity politics took over. Before integration was discouraged. When everyone who wasn’t a bad actor felt himself to be a part of the culture in which he was living.
The last sentence of Netanyahu’s statement signaled an understanding of Trump’s position. He too was coming under opprobrium for putting his country’s interests first.
Neither Netanyahu nor Trump is a man to stand on ceremony. Each is the sort of person to pick up a phone and call the other to discuss next steps in a sticky situation. Those who read Netanyahu’s statement as dissing Trump are either committing a sciolism or being intentionally nasty.