In spite of the true nature of this conflict, Israel, not Hezbollah, has been increasingly demonized in world opinion. How could this have happened?
There are many reasons. Israel has a far better case than the one it has presented. For some reason - perhaps a belief it would be futile - Israel has not devoted sufficient resources towards making its legitimate case to the world, while its enemies have engineered a systematic public relations offensive that has even resorted to doctoring news photographs.
But there are much deeper reasons. A "hidden war," a campaign of disinformation started years ago, is now bearing fruit. This campaign has several components:
Each of these points deserves examination.
1. Rewriting history. The Palestinians and their supporters have tried to rewrite nearly every event in history that has gained worldwide attention, such as Camp David, the "massacre" in Jenin, and Sharon's visit to the Temple Mount. But the centerpiece of this effort has been Israel's 1948 War of Independence. It is bedrock history that the new nation of Israel did not want war with its neighbors, but that after the U.N. voted partition Israel was invaded by five Arab armies. Yet if this can be reversed in the minds of many, leading them to believe that Jews were the invaders and aggressors, then the legitimacy of Israel's existence is called into question and its destruction seems morally justified and perhaps even morally required.
2. Projection. The Arabs know, but do not care, that their crimes have no moral justification. Nevertheless, they win in the public arena if they can convince people that Jews are no better than they are. So they fling charges of "targeting civilians," "apartheid," "ethnic cleansing," and "genocide." Sometimes civilians do get hurt, but Israel does not want to hurt them, both for reasons of conscience and because it would be contrary to Israel's self-interest. We have already mentioned the problem of the Arabs using civilians as human shields. As for the rest, 20% of Israeli citizens are Arabs, and Israel has no plans to eject them. Yet Arab states have practiced apartheid and ethnic cleansing by mistreating and persecuting their Jews and throwing them out of their lands. The Jews have become the "shadow" or projection of the dark side of the Arab and Muslim worlds, allowing the latter to deny and externalize their own transgressions and to justify their passionate hatred.
3. Presenting the Arab as the underdog. The absurdity of this delusion would be laughable if it were not so widespread. The Palestinians, who have turned down many opportunities to find peaceful negotiated solutions, want the world to believe they are alone fighting a mighty Jewish military machine. The fact is that Israel is fighting a never-ending war against an axis composed of Hamas, Hezbollah, al-Qaeda, Syria, Iran, and various other terror groups, with financing from Saudi Arabia, and all these forces oppose Israel's existence no matter how much or how little territory it occupies.
4. Lying about the true objectives. The big lie the Arabs tell about their intentions is that they are "resisting an occupation." The word "occupation" resonates powerfully with the political left, and has been a game winner for the Arabs. But just what does that word mean? Sometimes it means territories Israel acquired during the Arab-instigated Six-Day War - yet ever since Oslo, the more control Israel relinquishes over those territories, the more aggressive the Arabs become. Hezbollah's agenda is not Palestine but (supposedly) Lebanon, so for Hezbollah "occupation" means the Shebaa Farms, a claim with no basis in fact. But what "occupation" really means, and has always meant, is the entire slice of territory "occupied" by Israel, "from the (Jordan) River to the (Mediterranean) Sea." This is spelled out in the PLO Charter, the Hamas Charter, and the Hezbollah Program, and is what Palestinians have always said when talking amongst themselves and instructing their children in school.
All the above strategies are part of a coordinated campaign to delegitimize Israel, undermine its right to exist, and set it up for a justified destruction. We are now entering a new and dangerous phase of this campaign. The Palestinians have, with some justification, become so confident that their program of demonizing Israel is working that they are becoming less inhibited about stating their true intentions in the hearing of Western ears.
Rashid Khalidi, Director of the Middle East Institute at Columbia University and a leading Palestinian intellectual, recently made the following statement on national public television:
I'm suggesting that, if you try and talk about Palestine, which is a country, a people, a nation that's never had sovereignty, never had statehood, that has been under occupation by Israel ever since 1948, then you are - and you ignore that - you are trying to blame the victim, in essence.
A short paragraph loaded with disinformation. First, Palestine is not a country. Second, the reason Palestine has not enjoyed statehood is because the Palestinians rejected partition, which would have given them a state in 1948 (or even in 1937 had they accepted the proposals of the Peel Commission, or again in 2000 with Camp David). Third, note the key phrase: under occupation by Israel ever since 1948. The truth comes out: Israel's actual creation was an "occupation," Palestinians consider all of Israel "occupied territory," and therefore deny Israel's right to exist. This was never a secret to anyone who reads Palestinian newspapers or watches Palestinian TV. Now it is no longer a secret to Americans.
It used to be taken for granted that everyone admitted Israel's right to exist, so why even pressure the Palestinians to change their charter? That is no longer the case. Israel's legitimacy has been so undermined within a large segment of world opinion that openly questioning Israel's right to exist is becoming acceptable. Why did Khalidi make such a brazen, public, anti-peace statement? Because he thinks he can get away with it. And perhaps he can.
While the Arabs have found it easier to tell open lies about their intentions, Jews have been finding it more difficult to tell the truth. Israel's enemies are not only anti-Zionist but virulently anti-Semitic. This is obvious to anyone who knows the Arab media and what is preached in mosques throughout the Muslim world. Yet Jews are increasingly denied permission to point this out. When Jews protest incidents of anti-Semitism, they are often accused of calling anyone who disagrees with them an anti-Semite. This demagogic tactic stifles honest discussion and has the effect of denying that anti-Semitism exists at all. If Jews are not allowed to voice the charge of anti-Semitism even when it applies, then anti-Semitism acquires immunity from critical examination. Often when Jews defend against unfair criticism of Israel, they are accused of not allowing any criticism at all - and the discussion ends there, before any real issues are considered.
It is the same with the Holocaust. While evidence mounts that a new Holocaust may well be in the planning stages, Jews are accused of being paranoid and obsessed with the old one. Those who deny the Holocaust are increasing. Hezbollah and Iran both proclaim the Holocaust a myth, while an Egyptian Government paper proclaims the Jews "Accursed forever and ever" and laments that Hitler should have finished the job. Either the Holocaust never happened or, if it did, it didn't go far enough. So calls for a new Holocaust arise, under the banner of a Holy War blessed by God.
Holocaust denial is no mere sociopathic fantasy. It is a tactic of war, meant to undermine any Jewish claim not only to Israel but also to the truth. Holocaust denial has become a ritual performed to prepare Israel for sacrifice. That is why Iran's Holocaust cartoons should not be lightly dismissed. Those cartoons will cost lives - and this time the perpetrators of the violence will not be the people protesting the cartoons.
The war against Israel is not just a war of bombs and rockets but a war of words. And just like bombs and rockets, words cause real damage. Words fuel the passions that fire the rockets and explode the bombs, and words justify the indifference that allows all this to happen.
An Orwellian transformation of language has taken over the Middle East. Muslim hatred of Jews and intolerance of Israel's existence can only be described as a particularly vicious form of racism. That should be obvious. Nevertheless, all the labels of racism are applied to Israel, not to Muslims, even though Israelis do not teach their schoolchildren that Muslims are a cancer that must be eradicated, do not preach genocide in their synagogues, and do not blow up Muslim families with suicide bombs in the belief that God loves them for doing it and will reward them in heaven.
None of this is coincidental, and provides a context in which criticism of Israel must be evaluated. Very often criticism of Israel does not take the form of reasoned argument but of slogans: "apartheid," "racism," "state-sponsored terrorism" - and often those who make such charges have little to say about real state sponsors of terrorism like Syria and Iran. Of course Israel may be criticized. I do it myself. But when the Presbyterian Church divests its holdings from companies doing business with Israel while hardly saying a critical word about the Palestinians and their state sponsors, when academic organizations boycott Israel selectively, or when Israel is held to an impossible double standard of perfection and tarred with labels that better fit the other side, then something deeper is going on. Whether or not the motives of people who do this are sinister, they are colluding with, or at the very least enabling, a premeditated effort to deprive Israel of its moral legitimacy. The intended result is to make the annihilation of Israel a moral imperative ("Smash the oppressor!").
The extreme but extensive fringes of the Muslim world have spent years preparing for a second Holocaust. The widespread revival of Nazi slogans, the popularization of anti-Semitic classics like the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, the use of the Qur'an and Muhammad's teachings to prove God's hatred of the Jews, renewed accusations of Jews using gentile children's blood for their rituals, teaching schoolchildren that Jews are subhuman and are apes and pigs, preaching violence against Jews in televised sermons in mosques: this is the way a Holocaust begins, through the institutionalized use of rhetoric to inflame racist passions. When people throw labels at Israel ("apartheid," "racist") without permitting rational discourse, they are joining this verbal violence. These are not "only" words. Words are powerful. Words kill.
Already Jews around the world are suffering because of the violence these words inspire. Brutality against French Jews from France's large Muslim population has been a problem for years. Even Jews from England are emigrating to Israel because of the rise in British anti-Semitism. Israel, as dangerous as it can be, still serves a purpose as haven for Jews who feel they have no other option. Yet as tiny as Israel is in comparison to the vastness of the Muslim world, the latter still cannot tolerate Israel's existence.
The language of morality must be reclaimed. We cannot stop haters from hating or from attacking the innocent. But we do not have to accept their advertising and their deception. We can see through their attempts to reverse the language of morality and to make words mean their opposites, just as Orwell predicted. The terrorists may kill as many as they like. At the very least let us not allow them to claim that what they are doing is noble.
Peace with Realism