The Point of Zionism

Published November 07, 2003, issue of November 07, 2003.
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Why do they hate us? The question has plagued us nonstop for the last two years, since this war against terrorism began. If we are at war, we must know against whom. If we hope to win, we must know what winning means and how to get there. Does winning mean ending terrorist attacks? Then we must know what makes them attack us. Is it, as the saying goes, because of what we do or because of what we are — that is, because of our policies or because of our fundamental identity?

Through most of these last two years, our leaders have told us we are hated because of who we are, not because of anything we do. We are, we’ve been told, confronted with an unreasoning, atavistic hate that no amount of accommodation can undo. The only answer is firm resolve, to show our enemies that we will not be cowed, to make them back down. Do not ask what we have done to make them hate us.

Seeking explanations in the actions of the hated would mean blaming the victim. Tailoring our policies to respond to terrorists’ demands would reward terrorism. These are truths we learned long ago, burned into our consciousness at Munich and at Auschwitz.

But now is not then. These are strange, dark times. The old rules don’t necessarily apply. Most of us know this by now, or think we do. We think we are ready to reexamine our assumptions. Civil liberties? Times have changed. Due process? Times have changed. Respect for the niceties of international law? Times have changed.

And now comes the surprise wake-up call. Times have changed even more than we realized. Hatred is not what it used to be. For that matter, neither is realism.

Now we know that responding to terrorism with a mailed fist does not cow the terrorists but merely incites more hatred and more terrorism. So America is learning in Iraq. So Israel is learning in the West Bank and Gaza. Stopping terrorism requires not only arresting terrorists but also eradicating the hatred that makes people become terrorists. Otherwise they will keep coming.

Reality Intrudes

It is hard to say this. A year ago only a minority was willing to say it — ragtag peace demonstrators, congressional liberals, a few cranky journalists and of course those annoying Europeans. Most of us saw them as idealists or defeatists who denied the new reality.

But reality has a way of forcing itself even upon self-styled realists.

This past summer a former speaker of the Israeli Knesset stepped forward and issued a public call to Israelis and their supporters to face the hatred, understand it and take action. He drew worldwide outrage.

Last week Israel’s military chief of staff spoke out, warning that Israel must change the policies that fuel the hatred. His boss threatened his job.

Now along comes America’s deputy secretary of defense, Paul Wolfowitz, the chief strategist of our war against terrorism, and tells us the same thing. To fight terrorism, we must face the hatred and do what we can to reduce it.

It is no good denying it. Too much depends on it.

Listen to Wolfowitz: “Clearly, one huge factor in our relations with the Muslim world, as well as one of the greatest obstacles to peace in that region, is the continuing conflict between Israelis and Palestinians.”

One factor among many, to be sure. Osama bin Laden did not begin his campaign against America because of the Israeli-Palestinian fighting that erupted in September 2000. Hatred of America and the West has deep roots in the Islamic world.

Nor did hatred of Jews begin in September 2000, or even May 1948. It has been around for a very long time. Otherwise Israel could not be singled out for condemnation time and again over misdeeds that seem puny amid the atrocities of our time. Otherwise the heads of 57 Islamic states could not have risen to applaud when one of their number ludicrously declared in Malaysia that Jews “rule the world” and called 1.3 billion Muslims to rise up in holy war.

Still, something has changed. The hate was there before September 2000, but not the rage. Islam harbored anti-Jewish imagery, but Muslim mobs were not attacking Jewish worshippers in France or Belgium and Muslim leaders were not rallying their nations to holy war.

Alternatives

Now they are, and it started when Israel-Palestinian violence exploded into a street war. The images were beamed around the world by satellite television and landed in Muslim living rooms like sparks falling on dry tinder. Now the flames are worldwide. Through a horrible series of missteps and injustices, Israel’s troubles have become a source of worldwide instability.

That is the meaning of the abominably phrased but compelling poll of European opinion published this week in Brussels. The poll, a survey of 7,500 citizens in 15 countries, offered a list of countries and asked whether they were “threats to world peace.” Israel came in first at 59%, followed by Iran, North Korea and the United States at 53% each.

The findings surely reflect some latent anti-Jewish hostility among Europeans, as Israel charged and some embarrassed European Union officials conceded. But it also reflects the desperate situation in which Israel now finds itself, caught in the cross-hairs of a worldwide rage that has the world in turmoil.

What is to be done? The current strategy — shout, protest, shout some more — would make sense if there were no alternatives. If we shouted long and loud enough, maybe somebody would listen.

But there are alternatives. Former Shin Bet chief Ami Ayalon and Palestinian academic Sari Nusseibeh have drafted a statement of principles that satisfy the essential needs of both Israelis and Palestinians and could serve as the basis for a deal. Yossi Beilin and former Palestinian minister Yasser Abed Rabbo have drafted a similar but more detailed plan. Neither plan is meant to bind the sides. Both are intended to show the decision-makers on both sides that there is somebody to talk to on the other side, that an understanding is possible.

We could go on, as we have, dismissing the various peace plans as the work of dreamers and mischief-makers. We could continue blaming all the troubles on the other side and waiting for an inner change that we don’t believe will come. We could continue blaming all our troubles on the world.

But as Paul Wolfowitz and Moshe Ya’alon remind us, we could also take steps to make things different, to lower the flames and reduce the rage. It is within our power. And that — taking control of our destiny — was the point of Zionism.






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