Israel Report

January 2003         

An Ancient People Who Have Lost Their Biblical Tongue

By Shmuley Boteach - January 9, 2003
Let us deal with the mother of all Middle East questions. No, not "Why do the Arabs hate Israel?" That one is easy. Israel's existence and military supremacy is a humiliation to Arab pride. Israel serves as a permanent reminder of Arab impotence and Islamic infirmity.

The Arabs still operate on a severely outdated view of human greatness, one predicated on mortal conquest rather than moral courage. To the Arab mind, strength and honor result from gaining the upper hand over an enemy, rather than extending the hand of friendship to a former foe.

The heroic action of overcoming age-old prejudices counts for little when placed alongside overcoming an adversary's tanks. So long as the Arabs continue to embrace a Homeric model of valor, where glory is won through the gore of terrorism and splendor through the spilling of blood, there will never be peace in the Middle East. When the day comes that the Arabs feel more embarrassed by having suicide bombers than having Israel in their midst, only then will they reclaim their former greatness.

Until that day comes, we have to contend with far more vexing questions: How is it that half a billion hostile Arabs have managed to successfully portray themselves as the victims of five million Israeli Jews?

How did more than a dozen Arab tyrannies successfully portray Israel, the region's lone democracy, as the bad guy in the Middle East?
And how did the Palestinians, whose contribution to civilization is the suicide bomber, ever garner the sympathy of the world?

Many cite the world's ignorance of the Middle Eastern conflict as the solution to this riddle. Indeed, in a recent national assessment test, only 30 percent of American high-school seniors correctly identified NATO as a military alliance, and 87% couldn't locate Iraq on a map. In a world of such breathtaking ignorance, it is easy to see why continued Arab lies could gain credence.

When I debate the Middle East question with friends who are opposed to Israel and point out that the Arabs rejected, among others, the Peel Commission partition proposal of 1937 that would have given them a state three times Israel's size, the UN partition plan of 1947, and Ehud Barak's magnanimous (and reckless) offer of 97% of Gaza and the West Bank and a land swap within the Green Line for the rest, they are convinced that I'm pulling a fast one on them. They are also unaware that there has never been, in the history of the world, a Palestinian state.

Others in the Jewish community maintain that Israel's horrible PR is a no-brainer. Are we surprised that a world that has been murdering Jews for two millennia is prejudiced against Israel? No doubt there is truth in the belief that anti-Semitism animates much of the hostility toward Israel, particularly in Europe.

Still, it would be more honest for the Jewish community to look internally for some of the answers to Israel's horrendous PR, rather than wallowing in victimhood and self-pity.

I believe that the primary blame for Israel's PR should be laid at the Jews' own doorstep. What Israel has failed at utterly is framing the conflict with the Palestinians in moral terms. This is not a dispute over land. Rather, it is a conflict between good and evil, between democracy and tyranny, between those who sanctify life and those who glorify death. It is a conflict between those who believe in due process and those who believe in summary execution. In choosing the depravity of dismembering civilians, Palestinian murderers have cast off the image of God. While Israel has always been prepared to negotiate a settlement with the Arabs, they have instead made a pact with the devil.

INSPIRING murderers to blow up teenagers is not an abrogation of a treaty signed in Norway. It is the apogee of wickedness. Teaching schoolchildren that one goes to heaven for killing Jews is not irresponsible. It is evil. Blowing up teenagers outside a disco is not merely morally repugnant. It is satanic. And Palestinian leaders who justify these bestial means are not desperate, they are satanic.

Whatever grievances the Palestinians claim to have against Israel, choosing to settle them by maiming and murdering innocent men, women, and children is a crime against God and a sin against humanity. The Jews were put into ghettos and turned into piles of ashes by the Nazis. But they never retaliated by machine-gunning German schoolgirls.
More than a million Armenians were slaughtered by the Ottomans in World War I. But they never responded by blowing up coffeehouses.
China completely overran and occupied Tibet. But the Dalai Lama never called upon his monks to bomb kindergartens.

Only the Palestinians have chosen this course and in so doing they have gone over to the dark side. But because my lines above cause discomfort among Jews is the primary reason that we have failed to win over the decent people of the world to our side.

The average person living in Australia, confused by the complexity of the Arab-Israeli conflict, needs to hear a simple moral message. This is not a battle between moral equals. One is right, the other is wrong. Case closed.

And if we are afraid of firmly stating the justice of our position, if we are unsure of our own moral standing, is it any surprise that others are as well?

Many readers will tell me to crawl back into the synagogue with my religious simplifications of complex geopolitical issues which they maintain is utterly unrealistic. Religious language doesn't belong in political discourse. But when president Ronald Reagan wanted to sum up the differences between the United States and the Soviet Union, did he go into lengthy polemics about how the US is free while the septuagenarian tyrants of the Russian politburo ruthlessly rein over unwilling subjects? Or did he simply call them, in his most memorable speech, an evil empire?

When President George W. Bush wished to boldly declare to the world that Iraq, Iran, and North Korea pose a threat to the peace of the world, did he speak of their political corruption? Or did he label them an "axis of evil"?

Yet, not one Israeli prime minister has referred to Yasser Arafat, the father of international modern terrorism, as simply being malevolent, wicked, and evil.

On the contrary, the most memorable thing that Ariel Sharon, to whom we are all indebted as Israel's greatest warrior, said of Arafat was that he was "irrelevant." Is that a term that inspires clarity? Can one see Bush calling Kim Jong Il or Saddam Hussein "irrelevant"?

And would the president of the United States have galvanized the allies of the United States to join in a war against Iraq with such morally neutral terms?

The language of good and evil is utterly lacking from Israeli political discourse and government pronouncements.

While the Greeks built a civilization with the power of their ideas, and the Romans ruled the world with the muscle of their legions, the Jews shook the world with the weight of their words. But in reconstituting the ancient Jewish republic, how is it that we have lost the biblical tongue upon which our commonwealth was built? Where is the modern-day Amos exhorting us to "hate evil, and love good, and establish justice."

The greatest American of the 20th century, Martin Luther King, Jr., used the pregnant words of the Bible to shame the world into granting his people justice: "Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream." (Amos 5:24)
Can the prophet's words not stream forth from a Jewish tongue? Imagine how the world would contrast our own religious calling to life and righteousness with the Muslim's modern call to murder and mayhem.

It seems, however, that not only are Israel's secular politicians incapable of galvanizing the power of biblical morality in establishing the justice of Israel's cause, but even its religious politicians have failed at doing so. About the only biblical words we got from the leaders of Shas last week at a rally of 10,000 people in Tel Aviv was the reference to Yosef Lapid as a dog, which was later corrected by Shas spokesman Yitzhak Sudri to "a pig." And while both terms do indeed appear in the Bible, I'm not convinced that either of these characterizations will help Israel to either win the war of words with the Arabs or heal its own increasing and damaging internal rift.

The writer, a rabbi and best-selling author, hosts a daily radio show syndicated across the United States on the Talk America radio network.

©2003 - Jerusalem Post

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