Tuesday, September 1, 2009

The Return of Antisemitism and the False Inevitability of Middle East Moderation

By Barry Rubin

The awarding of the Legion d'honneur to Charles Enderlin, the journalist who perpetrated the Muhammad al-Dura fraud, is only the latest example of the fact that promoting hatred of Israel or antisemitism pays very well nowadays. Enderlin, who wasn't present at the time, was the French television journalist who claimed Israeli forces deliberately killed a boy named Muhammad al-Dura in the Gaza Strip. This tale has since been discredited, in fact Enderlin admitted to Professor Richard Landes that he himself thought the story wasn't true.

Eventually, a French court determined that the story was probably false and that Enderlin had acted recklessly. This has not prevented much of the French intelligentsia and most of the journalistic community from rallying to his side. His being honored by the French government despite the fact that he demonstrably propagated a false story--which led to rioting, deaths, and acts of terrorism against Israel--is truly shocking.

But it is hardly an isolated incident.

Fresh off receiving Britain’s appeasing release of a terrorist who helped bomb a civilian airliner and killed 270 people at his personal order, Libyan dictator Muammar Qadhafi told a meeting of 30 African leaders that Israel is responsible for all that continent’s problems.

Every day, of course, people in the Arabic-speaking world are told that the Jews are responsible for all their problems. And increasingly people in Europe--albeit more subtly and quietly--are being told the same thing. If they face terrorism, they are informed, it is not due to the ambitions of radical Islamism but to Israel's actions making people angry who would otherwise presumably be quiet and happy. Or as one enraged Pole told me, "Why should Poles die because of Israel's policies?"

In Iran, the parliament just unanimously endorsed as defense minister (which means that one day he will control Iran's nuclear weapons) a man who is wanted by Interpol for bombing the Jewish community center in Buenos Aires, Argentina, with many people there being killed. There has been no call by Western governments or media to boycott dealings with Iran's regime or even him personally.

Imagine that! A man directly involved in the murder of Jews--not even Israelis!--in a bomb attack and nobody proposes that he should be shunned. No articles in Western newspapers speaking about how the Iranian regime is associating itself with crimes against humanity. No protests in the streets of Western capitals in front of Iranian embassies. Even after all we've been through, seen and heard in recent years, this is truly shocking.

Being an open antisemite or even preaching genocide is no longer a barrier—as Ahmadinejad, Qadhafi, and others can attest—to being received in polite society. There are many articles and claims--for example by the Obama administration's own counterterrorism advisor--that Hizballah is now a moderate group despite its shocking promotion of antisemitic hatred.

For the British and French governments, Hizballah and possibly Hamas--whose rhetoric resembles what used to come out of Berlin in the 1930s and 1940s--are moving toward moderation and are worth engaging.

Indeed, as many mainstream newspapers are also showing, it isn’t a barrier to being considered a proper journalist either.

The Toronto Globe & Mail, Canada’s leading newspaper, has an editorial which attacks Israel for complaining about the Swedish article claiming Israel murders Palestinians to steal their organs. Israeli demands that Sweden do something about it is a violation of free speech, says the newspaper, equivalent to threatening to kill people for publishing the Danish cartoons.

Clearly, the newspaper doesn’t understand Sweden. First, the Swedish government paid for the book in which the accusations were originally made. So it is responsible for this claim and should not fund such books in future, should it?

Second, Swedish norms are not the same as Canadian ones. The Swedish government did everything it could to stop the publication of the Danish cartoons, to the point of intimidating websites.

So it has two choices, doesn’t it? Give the same treatment to antisemitic materials or not interfere at all. Here’s what it has chosen: to intervene strenuously against anything that offends Muslims and to subsidize things that offend Jews.

In addition, Sweden is not like Canada, where absolute freedom of speech from government control prevails.

Oh, wait! Now Canada has courts which investigate, fine, and possibly send you to prison if you offend some group, which most often means Muslims. So while Canada’s government would never formally dissociate itself from anything appearing in the Canadian media (freedom of speech!) it might put the people who wrote it on trial for alleged hate speech.

Meanwhile, back in the Middle East, Hamas leaders protest—though it isn’t clear if their complaint is true—that UN schools in the Gaza Strip want to teach children there about the Holocaust--isn’t surprising. Hamas leaders deny these events ever happened. Meanwhile, Hamas summer camps are preparing children to be future terrorists, murdering the people who they claim the Nazis didn’t murder.

If you want to get a good sense of mainstream Arabic-language reading material, read Dr. Bouthaina Shaaban’s article in Al-Sharq al-Awsat. She is a minister in the Syrian government with the title of presidential advisor for political and media affairs. In other words, she’s Syria’s chief propagandist.

Here’s a regime which sponsors terrorists, produces television shows claiming that Jews drink blood of people they murder and are trying to seize control of the world. Syria sends out death squads to kill critics in Lebanon so naturally she accuses Israel of sending out death squads to murder anyone who criticizes it.

What makes this especially ironic right now is the exposure of a plot, with real evidence, by Syrian-backed Hizballah to assassinate Israeli leaders. If such an attempt had been made it would have set off another war between Israel and Hizballah, with the deaths of thousands and international blame being directed at Israel for daring to retaliate to defend itself.

Back to Shaaban. What bothers me is not that she wrote this—I expect it—but Al-Sharq al-Awsat is the best newspaper in the Arab world today and about the freest despite being owned by a Saudi prince. Read this article and then remember this is the norm for what’s appearing daily in the Egyptian, Palestinian, Saudi, Syrian, and various other medias with almost nothing being written on the other side.

Finally, something typical of the Western media. The Los Angeles Times has a long piece on the “comeback” of Muhammad Dahlan as an important trend in Fatah leadership. This is absurd. Dahlan remains the Fatah leader in the Gaza Strip and thus represents that lost region in the Fatah and Palestinian Authority hierarchy.

The real big story is the rise of Abd al-Mahir Ghanem to be the new Fatah leader.

Why is Dahlan being covered so much? Because he’s relatively moderate while Ghanem is a radical. The assumption of the Western media and intelligentsia is that moderation must inevitably triumph and that extremism can be safely ignored.

In the Middle East nowadays, the opposite seems true.

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). To read and subscribe to MERIA, GLORIA articles, or to order books. To see or subscribe to his blog, Rubin Reports.

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