Friday, April 4, 2008

"April Fools" Piece in the NYTimes Mimimizes Fatah/PA Anti-semitism

by Professor Gil Troy

I usually don't like playing bash-the-journalist. I try avoiding the ritualistic Tirade against the Times, which keeps pro-Israel New York Times readers' blood flowing. But an April 1, 2008 front-page article was so ridiculous it could have been an April Fools joke. "IN GAZA, HAMAS'S FIERY INSULTS TO JEWS COMPLICATE PEACE EFFORT," the headline ever so delicately proclaimed - as if there was much of a peace effort with Hamas to complicate, and as if the bombs raining down on Sderot or hundreds of cold-blooded murders over the years did not first "complicate" matters. Even the usually hostile International Herald Tribune reprinted the article under a more accurate headline "HAMAS RATCHETS UP ANTI-JEWISH RHETORIC."

Equally absurd, the one line the Times website highlighted pronounced: "While the Palestinian Authority under Fatah has made significant, if imperfect, efforts to end incitement against Jews, Hamas feels no such restraint." Moral obtuseness is one of the great crimes of our times and of the Times. The editors too easily forgive Fatah's "imperfections" in fighting anti-Semitism.

Steven Erlanger's article unintentionally illustrates how Hamas has helped sanitize Fatah and the Palestinian Authority in the eyes of gullible Westerners. The article admits, again in surprisingly delicate language, that "the Palestinian Authority of Fatah also causes some concern - its textbooks, for example, rarely recognize the state of Israel." Erlanger ignores the systematic anti-Semitism preached in Palestinian mosques, broadcast on PA TV, weaved into so many cartoons, and permeating the culture of what they call martyrdom, what we call terrorism. Fatah's Al-Aqsa Martyrs' brigade celebrated the recent Merkaz HaRav massacre as a "heroic operation."

The Times article implies that since the 1993 Oslo Accords, mainstream Palestinian leaders opposed anti-Semitic incitement. Tragically, the opposite is true. It represents one of the Oslo Peace Process's great betrayals. While many Israelis went beyond demonization to try incorporating the Palestinian narrative into their worldviews, while Israel's Ministry of Education introduced Palestinian national poets into Israel's curriculum, the PA under Fatah systematically tried to delegitimize Israel - and demonize Jews. Palestinian culture since the 1990s has marinated more than ever in this culture of hatred, with monstrous results for Israelis and Palestinians.

The rise of Hamas has helped many Palestinian Authority leaders wear the mask of moderation, legitimized by a perverted law of bogus averaging. The Hamas ideology of genocidal extremism and criticism of Mahmoud Abbas for being accommodating does not make Fatah moderate. Moderation is not just a relative term; you should be somewhat temperate to earn the label. It was Abbas, not Hamas, who recently accused Israel of committing "more than a holocaust," in Gaza, comparing 100 people killed during justified military moves with six million systematically slaughtered. It was Abbas the alleged moderate who has threatened further violence unless Israel meets his demands. And it is Abbas the supposed suppressor of incitement who, despite presiding over a political system that lacks free speech, nevertheless grants freed expression to rank anti-Semitism.

The Times article had other howlers, including the following sentence: "Intended to indoctrinate the young to its brand of radical Islam, which combines politics, social work and military resistance, including acts of terrorism, the programs of Al Aksa television and radio, including crucial Friday sermons, are an indication of how far from reconciliation Israelis and many Palestinians are" (emphasis added). Beyond the law of bogus averaging we see the tic of false equivalence. Ending a sentence about Hamas incitement with a phrase about reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians put the moral onus on both. This amoral unequal equivalence blames the victim along with the hater.

The article also views Hamas's anti-Semitism in a vacuum. Beyond one reference to Hizbullah and the mention of Hamas's "brand of radical Islam," Erlanger overlooked how typical such rhetoric has become throughout the Arab world. In fact, given that newspapers usually emphasize the exceptional, the innocent reader would finish the piece not realizing how many Arab newspapers regularly caricature Jews in the most despicable of ways, how many Muslim preachers every Friday preach against Jews in the harshest of ways, and how the Koranic characterization of Jews as "apes and pigs" has become routinized as discourse in the most disturbing of ways.

Unfortunately this foolish April article reflects a broader phenomenon. The recent State Department report charting Global anti-Semitism ignored PA incitement. Israel itself, both in its Foreign Ministry and in some university departments monitoring anti-Semitism, frequently overlooks PA and Fatah incitement. More broadly, many tend to minimize the ubiquity of the hatred, and how it is frequently linked with an appalling -- and equally genocidal -- anti-Americanism.

Too many Westerners are becoming like the iconic frog who, rather than being thrown into a pot of boiling water and jumping out, was burned to death as cold water, gradually heated, eventually turned deadly. Too many have become systematically desensitized by the steady discharge of genocidal anti-Semitism. Vitriolic Jew hatred has become so much a part of the background in the Arab world and much of the Muslim world that many have become gradually desensitized to it. And, as we saw during the terrorist wave against Israel that began in 2000, a constant onslaught slowly, gradually diffuses the outrage as people start accepting the unacceptable, tolerating the intolerable. When you add to this the journalistic compulsion to give two sides to every story, no matter how lopsided, and the broader political delusion that there is a broad Palestinian commitment to the anemic peace process, some of the ugliness now permeating Palestinian national culture ends up ignored or sanitized.

We cannot afford to be so lethargic in facing Hamas hatred or Fatah incitement. We have seen too many examples of words feeding violence; we have buried too many innocents whose killers became heroes. A culture of hate breeds more hatred, more violence. Ignoring it, minimizing it, or excusing it feeds the fires rather than dousing them as needed.

Gil Troy is a professor of history at McGill University in Montreal. He is the author of "Why I Am A Zionist" published by Gefen

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