Last March many in the West began to believe that the Arab world was
finally relenting in its five-decades-long rejection of Israel's right to
exist. This belief was occasioned by a much ballyhooed peace proposal,
hammered out at a Beirut meeting of the Arab League in which recognition
was conditioned on Israel's withdrawal from the West Bank and Gaza.
Columnists such as Thomas Friedman, who had earlier broken the story,
referred to it as a milestone and "one of the most important
developments in Arab-Israeli relations in history."
I have to wonder if there are others like myself who now actually long
for the old days of Arab enmity. Times when Zionists weren't Jews but
merely "imperialists"; when Arab rejection of Israel had nothing to do
with anti-Semitism but simply with "colonialism"; when the Holocaust
was still regarded as historical fact, even if, in their overworked
intransigence, a greatly exaggerated one.
Of course, these were not better days for either Israel or Jews in the
Arab world. But they make the appalling rage of anti-Semitism and
vilification that today pours out of both the Arab press and Arab
intellectuals seem tame by comparison. The fundamental change was given
stark emphasis last week at a conference sponsored by the Zayed Center
for Co-operation and Follow Up in Abu Dhabi, a conference sponsored by
the same Arab League who passed the March resolution.
The specific purpose of the conference was to "expose the fallacious
claims and concocted legends of the Zionists and to counter the
nefarious propaganda against Arabs and Muslims." In other words, it
was to be another anti-Zionist conference. This was, of course, nothing
to get terribly excited about. Anti-Zionist conferences have been a
staple of Arab think-tanks and academic institutions for half a century.
But the event indicated a decisive shift in opinion about the nature of
Israel and the Jewish people revealing a deepening, regressive
It began with Executive Director Mohammad Khlaifar Murar's comments
that "Jews claim to be God's most preferred people, but the truth is that
they are enemies of all nations. They are not Semites and therefore
having nothing to do with Semitism or Palestine." The Arab League's
representative to the group Ahmad Jaleem Jarad, fueled the fire by
endorsing Murar's view.
"If the phrase anti-Semitism is taken literally, it means hostility
toward Semites or members of the Semitic race whose majority is
comprised of Arabs. Therefore, only a handful of Jews can claim to be
The upshot: A wholesale redefinition of Jewish identity and an eclipse
of the former Arab distinction between Zionist and Jew. This can have
only one meaning. Not only is the Zionist state illegitimate but so are
the Jewish people. In addition, since the Jews are not Semites, any
attacks against them cannot be regarded as anti-Semitism, which affords
the center a convenient means of sidestepping intellectual
responsibility for vicious attacks on Jews.
The lesson has not been lost on thoughtful commentators such as Harold
Evans, a former editor of England's Sunday Times, who wrote (on June
28) that this campaign aims to create "the dehumanization of all Jews"
and this "frenzied, vociferous, paranoid, vicious and prolific
propaganda, which came after the Oslo Accords and Camp David – has generated a rising wave of anti-Semitism throughout the Muslim world."
Even members of the Israeli left are finally getting it. On Monday,
Amnon Rubinstein wrote in Ha'aretz that "One day Israel is
committing a massacre, the next day it is disseminating false
accusations that the Palestinians spread rumors of a massacre. The new
Arab and Palestinian propaganda shares common characteristics with the
old (Nazi) hatred – obsessiveness and monstrousness."
The Zayed Center is an improbably respected Arab think tank. Jimmy
Carter recently lectured there and former French President Michel Rocard
is scheduled to attend one of its seminars. But one has to wonder how
its primary objective of contributing "to the formulation of an Arab
strategic vision to meet present and future challenges" can possibly be
fulfilled by an agenda filled with hatred and palpable intellectual
dishonesty. It questions the future of the Arab world and is certainly
a warning to the West about the paranoia that has engulfed the region
and is every bit as threatening to freedom as passenger-laden jets flown
intentionally into tall New York buildings.