Israel News

A collection of the week's news from Israel
A service of the Bet El Twinning Committee of Beth Avraham Yoseph of Toronto

November 30, 2001
Issue number 355

Events...

Saturday December 1

Professor Paul Eidelberg will speak publicly at Shaarei Shomayim during morning services and again at 3:25 pm and then on Saturday evening at 8:00pm  at Bnai Torah. Prof Eidelberg is the President of The Foundation for Constitutional Democracy which promotes a Jewish Zionist constitution for Israel, and is presently lecturing at Columbia University and the University of Toronto.

Sunday evening, December 2, 7:30pm

Barry Chamish, author of "Who Murdered Yitzhak Rabin?" will deliver a lecture at Israel's, 897 Eglinton Avenue West.  Refreshments will be served, no admission charge.

December 25 - January 1

Tehilla pilot trip for those planning Aliyah.  US$400 plus airfare.

Call (212) 339-6055, Email: NY@Tehilla.com .Website: www.Tehilla.com.

Commentary...

Kabul LessonsBy Dr. Steven Plaut

Among the lessons that should be drawn from the fall of Kabul is the fact that the world owes Ariel Sharon and Israel an apology.

I say this because of the massacres now being calmly and indifferently reported from Afghanistan. When the Northern Alliance took Kabul and other areas, it made short shrift of any remaining Taliban fighters and, no doubt, many Afghans to whom they simply took a disliking, as well. These Sabras and Shatilas in Afghanistan took place right under the noses of the U.S. military and with U.S. ground forces in the area and directing the fighting. While U.S. troops did not do the killings themselves, they also failed to stop them. A bit like Rwanda? Now, don´t get me wrong. I don´t really think the U.S. had the ability to prevent the Northern Alliance from looking for a bit of catharsis on the hapless denizens of Kabul. Such things happen in war and ultimately the responsibility for them lies with those who started the war in the first place - in this case, the Taliban.

Which brings us to one of the worst blood libels of the 20th century: the accusation that Israel in general and Ariel Sharon in particular were directly to blame for the massacres of Palestinian Arabs by Lebanese Arabs at the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps outside Beirut in 1982. It will be recalled that in 1982, Israel invaded southern Lebanon after years of shellings and terrorist incursions into Israel by Palestinians, backed by Syria and Lebanon. These same Palestinians had long played a role in the Lebanese civil war - a war that claimed thousands of lives and reduced Lebanon to being a puppet of the Syrian dictator - and they were responsible for countless atrocities inside Lebanon itself, between 1970 and 1982. When the Israeli troops entered Lebanon, many an Arab greeted them with flowers. 

However, all did not go smoothly. When Israeli troops closed in on Beirut and on the PLO headquarters there, the world started grumbling. On September 14, 1982, the Christian president of Lebanon, Pierre Gemayel, was assassinated by a bomb planted by  Palestinians. In response, the Christian-Arab Falange militias that had been headed by Gemayel entered Sabra and Shatilla and killed some people, probably about 400, but estimated by some to have been as high as 800.

In Afghanistan, massacres are being dismissed casually, as minor byproducts of Third World militiamen´s quaint way of settling scores. The events in Beirut, by contrast, became the focus of one of the worst anti-Jewish libels since the Middle Ages. The media (especially the Israeli media, long the occupied territories of Israel´s far Left) insisted that Ariel Sharon knew or should have known what the Christian Falange militiamen would do in the camps, despite the fact that the Falange were the official praetorian guards of the late elected president of Lebanon. The Western press insisted that Sharon could have stopped the killings before they happened. Strangely, those same journalists are not making the same claim today about Tony Blair or George W. Bush. None of the journalists who insisted that the Sabra and Shatilla killings should have been expected had printed predictions, in the days before they occurred, that they would. More of that 20/20 hindsight.

Failure to prevent the massacres then became the rallying cry for the world´s anti-Zionists and Israel-bashers, who were intent on proving that Israel is a bloodthirsty, savage country surrounded by peaceful Arab Quakers. President Reagan expressed his "revulsion" at Israel´s failure to prevent Arabs from killing Arabs, comparing it to the Holocaust (No one is comparing the piles of dead Taliban this week to the Holocaust).  The blood libel gained a life of its own. When Time magazine accused Sharon of complicity in the massacre, he sued them for libel and won. When a left-wing Israeli newspaper accused Sharon of having hidden his battle plans from the prime minister, he sued them for libel and won. No one seemed to notice when a Lebanese researcher, Robert Maroun Hatem, cleared Sharon of any culpability for the killings in his book From Israel to Damascus: Lebanon, the Mystery of the Unknown.

Ever since, Sharon has been the Jew anti-Semites most love to hate. The same Belgians trying to indict Sharon for the Sabra and Shatila killings are not preparing similar indictments of Blair and Bush. Neither is the BBC, which ran a recent series on Sharon´s guilt. The United States declared Sharon persona non grata after the 1982 events and only agreed to treat him as semi-human after he won the prime-ministership in Israel by a landslide. The Israel-bashing media are still blaming Sharon for the Palestinian Intifada because he took a "controversial" stroll on the Temple Mount last year, a stroll about as controversial as a walk in the Vatican by an Italian politician. Ariel Sharon has more than his fair share of faults, but he has long served as the Middle East´s mine canary. That is, more often than not, the assaults and slanders directed against him are indicators of a more vulgar sentiment regarding Israel and Jews in general.

As the body count in the streets of Kabul and other Afghan cities rises, the world should seriously consider proffering Sharon, Israel and the Jews a humble apology.(National Review Nov 25)

The writer teaches at the Graduate School of Business, University of Haifa.

Powell's Intrusion By George F. Will

When Colin Powell retired as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in 1993, he quoted Thucydides: "Of all manifestations of power, restraint impresses men most." It might have been an impressive example of restraint if the United States had husbanded its power and continued to refrain from intruding itself, with special emissaries and multiplying plans, into the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

However, Secretary of State Powell's Louisville speech about that conflict was useful because it demonstrated that there really is nothing much to be usefully said on the subject at the moment. At least his speech did not make matters worse, or at any rate not much worse.

Before the speech, Powell said he would appeal for Yasser Arafat to use his "moral authority" to stop the terrorists who operate in the territory controlled by Arafat's Palestinian Authority. Perhaps Powell meant that  Arafat's status as the world's senior terrorist might make Arafat willing and able to stop terrorism. Perhaps.

Powell did helpfully say that Palestinians must recognize Israel's right to exist as a "Jewish state." This U.S. policy opposes Arafat's demand for an unlimited "right of return" for all Palestinians who claim to be connected in some way with those who in 1948 fled Israel, confident that Arab armies would extinguish the new nation.

How important is the "right of return" demand -- which would mean the effective dissolution of Israel -- to Arafat? Prime Minister Ehud Barak's rejection of that demand caused Arafat to scupper the July 2000 Camp David meeting at which Barak, going far beyond any previous Israeli offer and far beyond what he could persuade his country to accept, offered 98 percent of the West Bank and partial Palestinian control of a divided Jerusalem.

In Louisville, Powell made the obligatory denunciation of Israeli settlements in the West Bank. They occupy only 1.5 percent of the West Bank, and their legality is indisputable, because the West Bank is an unallocated portion of the League of Nations 1922 Palestine Mandate. And the final status of that territory is to be settled by negotiation.

Perhaps Powell meant only that settlements complicate the "peace process." But, then, what did Powell mean when he said Israel must "end its occupation"? If Powell believes the entire West Bank is occupied Palestinian territory, what is to be negotiated? And what becomes of the "land for peace" approach if there is this prejudgment about the land at issue?

In Louisville, Powell endorsed the creation of a "viable" Palestinian state. Well. Leave aside the fact that Switzerland would not be viable if governed by the thugocracy that is Arafat's Palestinian Authority. But does Powell believe that the territory currently controlled by the Palestinian Authority is inherently unviable as a state? If so, what territorial adjustments would be necessary for viability? And how might those be squared with his call for "taking full account of Israel's security needs"?

Does Powell believe that Israel's 1967 borders, within which Israel was at one place just 11 miles wide, were defensible? And what does he think an Israeli withdrawal to those borders would accomplish, given that in 1967 Arafat rejected Israel's right to exist, and today he says that an Israel with the 1967 borders would be illegitimate?

Powell is dispatching two officials to rev up the "peace process." The idea that this is a propitious moment for that is akin to the State Department's recent idea that the Northern Alliance should be asked to stop at the outskirts of Kabul while U.S. diplomats fine-tune Afghanistan's political conditions.

Powell's emissaries follow CIA Director George Tenet's mission, which followed former senator George Mitchell's mission, which produced the idea that the problem between Israel, which intends to exist, and her enemies, who say she should not, is a lack of "confidence." Hence the centerpiece of the Mitchell plan -- "confidence-building measures."

Powell's emissaries will urge Arafat to arrest -- or re-arrest; or re-re-arrest -- some terrorists for his revolving-door jails. The hope is that Israel will then drop its supposedly utopian demand for a week -- yes, seven whole days -- without violence before proceeding with "confidence-building."

When Arafat launched the current wave of violence 14 months ago, his pretext was Ariel Sharon's visit to Jerusalem's Temple Mount. The next time Powell meets with the world's senior terrorist, he should ask Arafat: Do you deny, in spite of abundant historical and archeological evidence, that the Temple Mount is the location of the Second Temple, destroyed in 70 A.D.? When Powell hears Arafat's answer, Powell's confidence may need to be rebuilt.(Washington Post Nov 25)

Louisville Slugger  Editorial   The New Republic

The banality of Colin Powell's address on American foreign policy in Louisville last week was breathtaking. Not even his large-and-in-charge style of oratory, the increasingly irksome manner of the motivational speaker for whom every trivial remark is more proof of his mettle, could lift these ancient prescriptions for peace between Israel and the Palestinians into anything resembling urgency. Israel must have security, the Palestinians must have dignity, there must be two states on the west bank of the Jordan, the violence must stop. Uh-huh. But this is not to say that the Louisville address was not important. Quite the contrary. Read properly, the secretary of state's speech furnished an unwitting and disconcerting glimpse into the latent tendencies of his thinking.

There is no question that the condition of IsraeliPalestinian relations is terrifying, no question that the ugliness on the ground should fill all who behold it with dread. This cataclysm needs to be analyzed historically, of course; and such an analysis must include, in its explanation of the proximate cause of the crisis, the refusal of Yasir Arafat to accept Ehud Barak's extraordinary concessions at Camp David (and then at Taba) last year, and his subsequent preference for intifada over diplomacy. Powell made no such analysis. He spoke as if we had learned nothing in the last year that we did not know before; as if these were still the peace process's years of innocence. Unlike other advocates of the resumption of the peace process, however, the secretary of state did not seek to summon back the spirit of Oslo, or the spirit of Camp David. He invoked instead "the spirit of Madrid." That is the tip-off.

Powell was referring to the Middle East peace conference that was convened in Madrid a decade ago, in the aftermath of Operation Desert Storm. "I watched with ... pride," he recalled, "as Arabs and Israelis gathered together in the aftermath of the Gulf war. They gathered together in Madrid to take advantage of the opportunity created by the successful war. They took the opportunity to launch a historic process of negotiations aimed at ending their conflicts once and for all. They, too, were supported by an American-led coalition, one focused this time on peace rather than on war." Madrid, it should be noted, was a failure. And Powell's comment confirms yet again the premise of his sense of American strategy: so as never to fight the Vietnam way, he wishes always to fight the Gulf way. For the secretary of state, it is 1991 or nothing. But Powell's statement betrays also more concrete errors: that the war in the Gulf, for example, was a "successful war." If we were successful in Operation Desert Storm, it was because we defined our way to success, by excluding the overthrow of Saddam Hussein from our definition of it. In the real world of authoritarian regimes and weapons of mass destruction, we failed.

Powell's comment also reveals the connection in his mind between the use of American military force in the orbit of Islam and the fate of Palestine. The connection is this: he appears to believe that we compensate certain Arab governments politically for our military intervention in their region, even if our intervention was for their sake; and that we must compensate them by delivering a Palestinian state to the Palestinians. Madrid in 1991 was an attempt at such compensation; and so was Louisville last week. The notion that Operation Enduring Freedom must be accompanied by a resumption of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, in other words, represents an intellectual and diplomatic capitulation to the Arab understanding of the situation.

Powell is making this concession of principle to Riyadh and Cairo even as the repugnant governments in those capitals do nothing or next to nothing to assist us in our war against the terrorists whom they created and then loosed on the world. (It is not an Afghan war that we are fighting in Afghanistan, it is a Middle Eastern war. There is not a single figure in Al Qaeda's high command who is not an Arab.) Indeed, the timing of Powell's appeal for progress in Palestine is a kind of bizarre ratification of Osama bin Laden's view of the problem. There is bin Laden attempting to persuade the Muslim world that what he wants is justice for the Palestinians, and here is Powell attempting to persuade the Muslim world that what he wants is justice for the Palestinians.

"Terror and violence must stop now," Powell said. Applause. "The incitement [to the killing of Israelis by Palestinian terrorists] must stop," Powell said. Applause. It sounds tough and right. But what are these "musts," really? At best they are homiletical flourishes, at worst they are insults to the intelligence of the Israelis. For they have been uttered a thousand times before, and futilely. Even distinguished peace processors such as Dennis Ross and Edward Walker have confessed that Arafat will deliver nothing. But our can-do secretary of state was slugging in Louisville, asking Israel to be not only unsafe but also stupid.  (The New Republic Dec 3)

What Happened to Religious Aliyah? By Michael Freund

When family gatherings start to get a bit tiresome, there is no better way to liven them up than by raising a provocative subject. And if you really want to ensure an energetic and even vocal get-together, especially when there are Jews visiting from the Diaspora seated at the table, then few subjects are likely to prove as effective as that of the need to live in Israel.

And so it was that when a recent family meal came perilously close to discussing various kosher cookbooks, I got up the nerve to go on the offensive, suddenly changing the subject away from matters of the stomach to matters of the mind. With several of my wife’s cousins from abroad present, all of whom are studying at haredi yeshivot in Jerusalem, my timing could not have been any more fortuitous.

It was not the first time we engaged in an animated debate of the issue of living in Israel, and it is unlikely to be the last, either. And while I will spare you the details of our little chat, if only because I do not want this column to start resembling a home-movie, there is something about the conversation that continues to disturb me greatly.

My debating partners made several cogent arguments, asserting that there are plenty of legitimate reasons why many religious Jews in the Diaspora do not move to Israel, such as family, health or financial considerations. Each person, they said, must examine his own situation, consult a rabbinical authority, and then reach a decision on whether aliyah is for him.

Broadly speaking, such an approach sounds eminently reasonable, for it takes into account that the question of making aliyah is at least a question that needs to be asked. And, whatever the answer may be, it is a matter that must be grappled with by the person who does the asking.

Upon further reflection, however, I realized that the problem with this approach is that it is not always put into practice. Most Diaspora Jews, religious or not, do not seem particularly troubled by the issue of aliyah, and I doubt whether there are many losing sleep over the dilemma it poses. Instead, it appears that the idea of not living in Israel has taken on a life of its own. It has become a philosophy unto itself, one in which the value of living in Israel is inevitably reduced, if not negated altogether.

The proof of this lies in the fact that there is only a small trickle of religious Jews making aliyah every year from the West. While these brave souls may represent the lion’s share of overall arrivals from the West, the numbers are still regrettably small.

If, as my lunch companions suggested, living in Israel is an ideal for which every religious Jew must strive, then why have so many thus far failed to fulfill this elevated goal?

Worse still is that this communal failure feeds on itself, creating a vicious circle that proves impenetrable to logic or persuasion. Some religious Jews do not want to live here because they say Israel is not traditional enough. But, in reality, the reason it may not be traditional enough is precisely because they do not live here. In other words, they are confusing cause and effect.

If more chose to do so, if hundreds of thousands of observant Jews were to suddenly come on aliyah to Israel, it would dramatically change the country, just as the arrival of masses of Russians did over the past decade. Imagine the impact it would have on Israel’s religious and cultural life if the observant Jews of New York, London and Paris were to transplant themselves to Israel. It would not only revolutionize the religious world, but it would also bolster the centrality of Judaism in Israel’s day-to-day national life. And because observant Jews in the Diaspora would bring with them their experience in having to juggle between religious commitments and the demands of the secular world, they would serve as a valuable role model for various elements of Israeli society.

Obviously, not every person is ready to make aliyah, and it requires a great deal of personal commitment and sacrifice to do so. But if Orthodox Jewry in America and elsewhere were true to itself and to the values it espouses, it would be doing much more to promote the value of living in Israel.

This applies to both the haredi and modern Orthodox communities. Other than Rabbi Shlomo Riskin of Efrat, Rabbi Jay Marcus of Beit Shemesh and a handful of others, how many Diaspora rabbis have picked themselves up and brought their communities with them on aliyah? How many congregations actively encourage their young people to make the move, and back up their words with tangible forms of support for those who do?

Yes, Israel plays a central role in the lives of many observant Jews in America. They visit more often than their non-religious counterparts, send their children to study in Israeli institutions for a year after high school, and intimately follow the twists and turns of Israeli politics. But that, quite simply, is not enough.

Israel needs more Jews. And it needs more religious Jews. It may sound slightly risque, perhaps even inappropriate, but I will say it nonetheless: we need your bodies, and we need them now.(Jerusalem Post Nov 25)

The writer, an Orthodox Jew, served as Deputy Director of Communications & Policy Planning in the Prime Minister’s Office from 1996 to 1999.

Preventing Another Durban  By Emmanuel Navon

Two months have passed since the Orwellian Durban Con-ference, but the Arab manipulation of the UN to delegitimize Israel is not an exercise of the past. The Arab states are now intent on turning the upcoming meeting of the High Contracting Parties of the Fourth Geneva Convention next week into another anti-Israel fest.

The hijacking of the Durban conference by the Arab states and their allies confirmed the need to prevent the use of the UN as a tool of political propaganda. The history of the world organization proves that only financial pressures can help in achieving this goal.

From the early 1960s, the Arab states discovered that the UN was the ideal forum for fighting Israel on the diplomatic front. Soviet and Chinese permanent membership and veto power at the Security Council enabled the use of this body to harass Israel and prevent its "interference" with Arab violations of international law and human rights. The voting system of the General Assembly (one country-one vote) created a majority composed of Third World and pro-Soviet countries exploited by the Arab states for the passing of their anti-Israel resolutions.

The manipulation of the UN by the Arab states generated an avalanche of obnoxious resolutions, which culminated in the 1975 resolution equating Zionism with racism. The effects of the "automatic majority" had repercussions on the entire UN system. The agenda of specialized agencies and international conferences was systematically diverted to lambaste Israel.

Special committees and agencies were created with UN money to help the PLO implement its agenda. 

The UN's 50th anniversary, in 1995, was celebrated in an optimistic atmosphere: The Cold War was over and the Middle East was seemingly heading toward peace. Many countries, including Israel, called for a reform of the UN in order to adapt it to the alleged "New World Order" and to the no less alleged "New Middle East." Israel logically claimed that its pariah state status (which prevents its representation in UN bodies such as the Security Council and the International Court of Justice) had no more raison d' tre, and that the numerous UN bodies created under the pressure of the Arab states in the context of the Cold War and of the Arab-Israeli conflict could now be abolished.

The Oslo process notwithstanding, Israel's proposals were rebuffed by the Arab states, and the very concept of "UN reform" became but another mind-game for useless bureaucrats. The tone and atmosphere of the Durban conference took us back to the 1970s, when Yasser Arafat was praised for calling for Israel's destruction from the General Assembly's podium in 1974. In his Durban speech, Arafat claimed that Israel was the last outpost of colonialism and that colonialism must disappear. You can guess the conclusion.

Durban also proved that counting on "moderate" Arab states to tame Arafat's rhetoric and intentions is an illusion. Of all Arab states, it was Egypt that torpedoed the Nor-wegian compromise proposal, which would have enabled the US and Israel not to walk out from the conference.

The "automatic majority" prevents the implementation of reforms aimed at putting an end to the political hijacking of the UN. There is, however, one very efficient tool that the US Congress can use to prevent the hijacking of the UN by autocratic regimes: money. Ironically, the United States finances a quarter of the budget of an organization that is used as a forum of anti-American and anti-Israel rhetoric by countries that control the General Assembly and barely contribute to the UN budget.

By threatening to bankrupt the UN, the US Congress forced it in the past to reform itself, and the US was able in 1991 to demand the repeal of the resolution equating Zionism with racism.

As long as the Arab world refuses to let go of its manipulation of the General Assembly, hurting the UN in the pocket is the only way to prevent the repetition of the Durban farce in Geneva, or elsewhere.

The writer is a lecturer in political science at Bar-Ilan University.

(Jerusalem Post Nov 27)

A Plague on Strikes  By Evelyn Gordon

If I could make anyone I wished prime minister of Israel for a few weeks, my choice right now would be former American president Ronald Reagan in his prime. I doubt Reagan would have had any new ideas on how to end Palestinian terror, but he certainly knew how to handle another plague currently afflicting this country: public-sector strikes.

As everyone outside the public sector has long since realized, Israel's economy is in bad shape. Unemployment jumped to 9.3 percent in the third quarter from 8.1% in the second, leaving almost a quarter of a million Israelis jobless. Gross domestic product fell 2.8% in July-September after dropping 1% in the second quarter. Entire sectors, such as tourism and construction, have virtually collapsed.

In such a situation, one might expect public sector workers to count their blessings: Unlike their private-sector counterparts, they are in little danger of losing their jobs due to downsizing or factory closures. Instead, they seem to have decided that this is a superb time to extort more money from the rest of us: Dockworkers, customs workers, airport workers, the Labor Ministry, the Land Registry, the National Insurance Institute and university professors have all gone on strike in recent weeks to demand wage increases far in excess of inflation; the rest of the public sector has threatened to do the same next month.

Lest anyone has forgotten, public-sector workers are not exactly financially oppressed. Some, such as the stevedores, are among the best-paid workers in the country. And the entire public sector received a 3.6% raise this past April - more than the combined inflation rate for the past three years (inflation was 1.3% in 1999 and 0% in 2000; this year's rate is expected to be under 2%). Yet a mere six months later, it began demanding sizable additional increases: The professors, for example, asked for 16%; Labor Ministry workers want 7.5%. And when the Finance Ministry said no, they struck.

These strikes are far from being just mere nuisances. For hundreds of thousands of other Israelis, they have meant a total loss of income. Striking National Insurance Institute workers withheld monthly unemployment checks from 105,000 jobless people. The ports and customs strikes forced factories to put thousands of workers on unpaid leave, as they could neither obtain necessary raw materials nor export their finished goods. Some factories even closed permanently, as disgusted owners decided to move production someplace else, where such disruptions are not routine occurrences (port workers in particular usually stage at least one strike per year).

Even plants that managed to stay open have been badly hurt. Shipping costs, for instance, soared this month after the European/ Mediterranean Trade Association, which controls 90% of shipping to and from Israel, slapped a 7% congestion surcharge on all traffic through Israeli ports because of the backlog caused by the dockworkers' strike.

And in some cases, strikers have endangered lives as well as livelihoods - as in Labor Ministry workers' refusal to admit at-risk teens to shelters.

Faced with such callous and destructive behavior, one would have expected the government to at least try to keep essential services flowing by exercising its legal right to issue back-to-work orders to key personnel. However, no such orders have been issued.

Instead, the government has simply caved in to one set of strikers after another. The dockworkers, for instance, received a 10% raise through 2004 plus a one-time bonus of NIS 38,000 apiece; airport workers obtained 8% over a three-year period. In each case, what the government received in return was the same worthless pledge every government has received after every public-sector strike: a promise of no more strikes for the period of the agreement - which experience shows will be honored for precisely so long as the workers wish, and not a moment longer (if this reminds you of the Oslo process, it should).

Contrast this with Reagan's handling of the air traffic controllers' strike in 1981: He simply fired the controllers and hired replacements, basing himself on a law forbidding strikes by essential public-sector personnel. And the United States has been virtually free of public-sector strikes ever since.

It might not be necessary to go that far. But the government should consider replacing strikers temporarily with some of the country's 234,500 unemployed. They would benefit from the strikers' pay, while the government would save money on unemployment compensation and prevent grave, and possibly lasting, economic damage. And perhaps then the strikers would finally get the message that in return for their salaries and benefits, of which job security is not the least, they are expected to actually give the public service - not to endanger the livelihoods of the very workers whose taxes are paying their wages.   (Jerusalem Post Nov 27)

Peace Is Not Just the Absence of War  By Shlomo Avineri

In 1979, following the signing of the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty, I was a member of the Israeli delegation that negotiated the cultural, scientific, and educational agreement between our two countries.

This was in the halcyon days of what was then perceived as the new era of peace, initiated by Egyptian president Anwar Sadat's visit to Jerusalem in November 1977. We all hoped not only for the end of war, but also for the beginning of a process of reconciliation between Jews and Arabs in the region.

It was in this spirit that our delegation suggested to our Egyptian counterparts to set up a joint commission on history textbooks.

We took a leaf out of the Franco-German experience, where such a commission, made up of educators and scholars, did much to replace the traditional nationalist narratives on both sides by a more moderate and less confrontational approach. We thought that our Egyptian colleagues would welcome such an initiative.

We were totally unprepared for the Egyptian response. The head of the Egyptian delegation, a deputy minister, virtually went through the roof: "This is totally unacceptable. You want to dictate to us what will be in our textbooks? This is part of our sovereignty".

All our entreaties - bringing the German-French reconciliation as an example between, after all, two sovereign nations - were to no avail. Such a commission was never set up.

I have been haunted by this experience, though at the time we all tended - naively, it now appears - to play it down: what does it matter what is in the schoolbooks, so long as people are not killed on the border and our nations are at peace and not at war?

But more than 20 years later, and in the current global crisis, something can be learned from our exercises in well-intentioned futility.

Egyptian textbooks were not changed not only regarding Israel, which continues to be depicted to Egyptian schoolchildren as a Nazi-type country, much as it was when our countries were at war. The image of the United States, and the West in general, has not been changed either from the times of president Gamal Abdel Nasser, and the old anti-Western rhetoric is still dominant. And this has consequences for the current stand of the Egyptian government when it comes to the global war against terrorism.

How can President Hosni Mubarak really mobilize his people - and not only the government - on the side of the war against terrorism when in his own schools, day in and day out, America and the West are depicted as imperialist, colonialist and war-mongering?

Where would Egyptian schoolchildren learn about the democratic values of equality, liberty, rule of law, freedom of speech - if their schoolbooks do not teach them these values? How should he or she know that the West is also about emancipation, not only about imperialism, if this is never mentioned in school? Or if World War II and the victory over Nazism is never really discussed? It is in this context that American support for Israel is also presented in the Egyptian and Arab narrative as another example of the West's imperial designs on the Arab world.

The reason for this convoluted educational policy - recently repeated in newly minted Palestinian textbooks - is obvious: it is an easy, and cheap, way of diverting criticism from the democratic deficit so glaringly obvious in the Arab world, and in Egypt itself.

The absurd allegations against one of Egypt's foremost intellectuals, Sa'ad Eddin Ibrahim, recently sentenced to jail by an Egyptian State Security Court, is another example of this total alienation of the Egyptian regime from western, democratic values.

But the Egyptian government has been riding a tiger: by continuing to demonize Israel, it has created the anti-Israeli atmosphere in the Egyptian media and universities that has soured for many Israelis the meaning of peace. And by nurturing anti-Americanism as a defensive strategy, Mubarak's regime has created the sea in which bin Laden's fish can so easily swim. Mohammed Atta first learned to hate the US in Egyptian schools and from Egypt's state-controlled media.

When the US next negotiates strategy with Egypt, not only bases, intelligence-sharing and arms deliveries should be mentioned, but also school textbooks. And when Israel next negotiates - with the PLO, or with Syria - it should look not only at strategic hilltops, but also at textbooks - not as we did in 1979.

A peace that is not anchored in people's hearts and minds is not peace, and it collapses with the first wind. The US has been as generous financially to Egypt as it has been to Israel in the last 20 years: it is now reaping a whirlwind of hatred and is faced by an Egyptian government which is hemmed-in by the consequences of its own educational and ideological anti-Western policies.

 Winning the war means that this has also to change, and the burden is on the Egyptian government. Everyone understands the sensitivities involved. But just as there was no compromise about Nazism, there can be no compromise about the ideological underpinnings of the murderous ideology responsible for September 11. As President Bush said, "You are either with us or against us."

The writer, former director-general of the Foreign Ministry, is currently a visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington, DC.


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