IN OTHER WORDS...

By Oren Rawls; With Max Gross

Published October 24, 2003, issue of October 24, 2003.

Strait Talk I: The Muslim world is fighting back against the West, one Mecca Cola at time. The French-produced, ethnically conscious soft drink was the beverage of choice at last week’s Organization of the Islamic Conference, the gathering of world Muslim leaders at which Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad charged Jews with ruling the world.

Like the outspoken, outgoing prime minister, writes columnist Shamsul Akmar in the October 18 issue of the venerable Malaysian daily New Straits Times, Mecca Cola refreshes the Muslim thirst for a response to Western — and Jewish — domination.

“Apart from the fact that Muslims do seem easily swayed by anything that carries an Islamic label,” Akmar writes of Mecca Cola, “it can also be a reflection of how ‘proud’ they are to see their brethren doing well in the global market, generally accepted to be controlled by the West and Jews.”

It was against the perceived world Jewish conspiracy that Mahathir lashed out on October 16, arguing that Jews “get others to fight and die for them.” The subsequent condemnations that rained down from Western capitals on the Malaysian prime minister, Akmar argues, simply fly in the face of common sense — after all, how could so many be so wrong?

“Lest the West forgets, the perception that Jews control the world is entrenched in Third World nations, Muslims and non-Muslims alike,” he writes. “Is the rest of the world wrong to believe that Jews control the White House, meaning they control the most powerful force in the world?”

* * *

Strait Talk II: Meanwhile, in the tiny city-state of Singapore, off the southern tip of the Malay Peninsula, the political editor of The Straits Times — arguably the most well-respected English-language daily in Asia — was offering a decidedly different take on Mahathir’s message.

“To give it the kindest spin possible, one could say that he was only trying to rally Muslims to learn from the Jews as they seek to slough off the humiliation and oppression of centuries. That he was lauding the Jews for setting a positive example: they responded to persecution by using their brains, not just their brawn,” Zuraidah Ibrahim writes in the Singaporean daily’s October 18 issue. “But to leave it at that would be to gloss over his dangerous and irresponsible portrayal of Muslims as being in an epic confrontation against the Jews.”

The differences in editorial opinion between the New Straits Times and The Straits Times — both of which claim common journalistic roots, dating back to 1845 — can be chalked up to the divergent geopolitical positions Singapore and Malaysia have assumed since the island separated in 1965 from its peninsular neighbor to the north.

Since gaining independence from Malaysia, the overwhelmingly ethnically Chinese Singapore has been a staunch ally of the West. Israel was instrumental in building the nascent state’s military during the 1960s, and the two economic powerhouses have found common ground as tiny, highly educated states surrounded by much poorer and often-hostile Muslim states.

By contrast, the sympathies of Kuala Lumpur — the center of all things Malaysian, including politics, until the recent naming of Putrajaya as the administrative capital — increasingly tilted toward Malaysia’s co-religionists. During his 22 years as prime minister, Mahathir has been a key proponent of unity among Islam’s 1.5 billion adherents, positioning Malaysia as a moderate Muslim state, albeit one firmly engaged in the clash of civilizations.

“Unfortunately, Dr. Mahathir has unwittingly lent support to the theory that Muslims are engaged in a religious war,” laments The Straits Times’ Ibrahim. “Fortunately, terrorists and politicians are not the only public faces of Islam.”

* * *

The Ever-Popular ‘Unthinkable’: “It is almost an iron law of intellectual life that any idea that is advertised as unthinkable has been thought many times before,” Leon Wieseltier writes in the October 27 issue of The New Republic.

The depressingly thinkable idea that Wieseltier refers to is the end of the Jewish state. Respected historian Tony Judt, head of the Remarque Institute at New York University, raises it approvingly in an article in the October 23 issue of the New York Review of Books, titled “Israel: The Alternative.” “The very idea of a ‘Jewish state’— a state in which Jews and the Jewish religion have exclusive privileges from which non-Jewish citizens are forever excluded — is rooted in another time and place.” Judt writes. “Israel, in short, is an anachronism.”

Judt cites Israeli Labor leader Avraham Burg to back him up, quoting an article Burg wrote this summer in Yediot Aharonot, republished in English in the Forward, in which Burg wrote that Israel was becoming “a colonial state, run by a corrupt clique.” Burg was criticizing Israel’s current policies, warning that without a change Israel would find — tragically — that it was no longer a Jewish state. Judt, by contrast, doesn’t see that as tragic. He sees a bi-national Arab-Jewish state as Israel’s best alternative. “The depressing truth,” Judt writes, “is that Israel today is bad for the Jews.”

Wieseltier is having none of it. “A bi-national state is not the alternative for Israel. It is the alternative to Israel,” Wieseltier writes in his reply to Judt, titled “What Is Not To Be Done.”

Judt isn’t the only person thinking these thoughts these days, though. A massive exposition appears in the November 3 issue of The Nation, in a review-essay by Daniel Lazare that is titled, simply enough, “The One-State Solution.” Lazare looks at five recent books on Israel, by Arthur Hertzberg, Tom Segev and others. Some question Israel’s policies, others discuss inner Israeli conflicts, but all lead, at least in Lazare’s mind, to the conclusion that Israel isn’t working.

“A long-standing taboo has finally begun to fall,” Lazare writes. “[B]efore it was all but impossible to have an honest conversation about Zionism,” by which he means questioning Israel’s existence. Now it is “becoming impossible not to.” True, most of the authors he reviews are deeply committed to Israel, whatever its flaws. Hertzberg, for example, is quoted as declaring that “even the doves and the liberals in the Jewish community … will never make common cause with those who want to put an end to the Zionist state.”

But Lazare hasn’t given up. “Jewish opinion may not be as rock-solid in support of a Jewish state as Hertzberg think,” he writes. As proof he cites Marc Ellis, an anti-Zionist critic who now teaches American and Jewish studies at Baylor University in Waco, Texas. Ellis argues that the Jewish state “makes a mockery of the very concept” of Jewish ethics, and all would be better off without it.

But what comes after? Wieseltier, in his reply to Judt, says binationalism would merely recreate Jewish homelessness, establishing “a Palestinian state with a Jewish minority.”

“Is the restoration of Jewish homelessness, and the vindication of Palestinian radicalism, and the intensification of inter-communal violence, really preferable to the creation of two states for two nations?” Wieseltier concludes. “Only if good people, thoughtful people, do not keep their heads. But these are deranging days.”



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