Politics & Policy

Moral Styrofoam

The elite's problem.

“Yes, I wish it were possible that we could recall the prize,” Hanna Kvanmo told the Agence France Press. Ms. Kvanmo serves on the five-member committee that gave Yasser Arafat the 1994 Nobel Peace prize. She’s not alone in her sentiments. “I cannot hide my deep disappointment and despair,” committee member and Oslo bishop Gunnar Staalsett lamented, agreeing that the Peace prize should be withdrawn. Odvar Nordli, former Norwegian prime minister and another committee member, concurred.

Of course, none of these people are referring to Arafat. They sigh with the contentment of an artist gratified by a work well completed when they contemplate Arafat’s blood-soaked paws stroking the prize: “Ahhh,” they seem to be saying, “we at least got that one right.”

No, Ms. Kvanmo’s “wish” is that Arafat’s corecipients, Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres, would return their prizes. Well, not Rabin, since he’s dead. But Peres should give it back, say these moral titans, because he has remained in Ariel Sharon’s government while it manages to stop kamikaze bombers from blowing up the citizens who elected it.

My views regarding the European political and intellectual elite have gone from mere contempt to palpable disgust.

Even the glow of the synagogues burning on soil already well fertilized with the viscera of Jews is paled by the bonfire of hypocrisy now raging in capitals across Europe. Recall last December, when France’s ambassador to England, Daniel Bernard, referred to Israel as “that shi**y little country,” asking, “Why should the world be in danger of World War III because of those people?”

The United States might have asked a similar question when Hitler’s army marched into France for a lunch eagerly served by a nation of waiters. Indeed, if we had asked such a question all those years ago, France might have been able to indulge its well-documented enthusiasm for sending Jews to concentration camps to such an extent that there would be no Israel left for Bernard to despise (Mr. Bernard has never apologized for, or denied, the comment).

When 19 Islamic fanatics killed thousands of Americans, to the cheers of the “streets” of the Islamic world, the president of the United States repeated over and over what has now become at best a well-intentioned, but ultimately fatuous, cliché: “Islam means peace.” When synagogues in France were set ablaze by Arab brown shirts, Prime Minister Jospin regretted that it would be “extremely difficult” to protect French Jews wherever they gather in large numbers. And when French authorities captured three Moroccan-born fire bombers, the prosecutor explained that the “confused” youths “had been drinking quite a lot” and were simply “acting based upon what they had seen in the news.” Poor kids, someone sing ‘em a few bars of “Officer Krupke” in French-accented Arabic and send them to bed without croissants and Turkish coffee.

With prosecutors like this, no wonder the French find it “extremely difficult” to protect Jews where they gather. Indeed, as the Wall Street Journal recently pointed out, that’s probably how they feel in Tel Aviv these days too — not that the French or the Nobel committee give a damn.


I do not believe that being anti-Israel is synonymous with being anti-Semitic. In fact, in a perverse sense I wish open and honest Jew-hatred were the sole culprit here. That would at least make it easier to separate the good guys and bad guys.

No, the problem with intellectuals and activists — on both sides of the Atlantic — is the inability to understand what the difference between good guys and bad guys is. Not just in the Middle East, but in the world in general.

I keep imagining how people would react to a movie about the events of the last year. An incredibly rich madman — enormously popular throughout the Middle East — orchestrates the mass murder of thousands of Americans. The day it happens, news cameras catch men and women joyously celebrating in various parts of the Arab world. In response to the most successful (but not sole) attack by the madman’s well-financed and committed terrorist organization, America responds by attacking the villain’s mountain stronghold, liberating the oppressed nation we find there.

Meanwhile, Israel — a staunch ally of the United States, and the only democracy in the region — is besieged by suicide bombers who have been brainwashed by fanatical cults. These terrorist groups load up glassy-eyed teenagers with explosives, nails, and bullets and convince them to seek out large clusters of women and children. This is all permitted — and sometimes orchestrated — by a veteran terrorist strongman who had in the past helped to orchestrate the murder and kidnapping of Israelis and Americans, including the Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics. Moreover, in America’s last war, this would-be tyrant supported our enemy, Iraq, which now gives cash bounties to the families of suicide bombers.

And — just to really flesh out the nefariousness of this secondary villain — he also sucked up to the Soviets during the Cold War. And (for those of you who like historical dramas) his predecessors cheered for the Nazis — and, even today, Nazi-inspired literature is churned out by his aides for the indoctrination of young children. It may sound over the top, but truth is stranger than fiction.

Much like the Americans who traversed the globe to defend themselves, the Israelis are eager to do the same in their own backyard. And while Osama bin Laden slipped away from his bunker in Tora Bora, the Israelis have their enemy cornered.

So, here we are, halfway into what on paper sounds like a predictable Jerry Bruckheimer flick. You’d think it would end with America opening up the arsenal of democracy for some full-tilt boogie for freedom and justice. You’d certainly expect the Israelis to wipe out the terrorist cells in their country and then, with a jaunty nod, join up with their American friends to finish the job.

However, the Europeans and our own lefties have been shifting in their seats uncomfortably and shaking their heads. They don’t like some of the “simplistic” messages in the film. They don’t like the “cowboy diplomacy.” They don’t like the script and, quite frankly, they really don’t like America or Israel. And so they’re taking over the rewrite.

Their story line is much more “nuanced,” their tale much more “complicated.” And while it doesn’t involve a starving poet discovering his muse by having a bisexual love affair with two anomie-ridden clerks at a used-book store, it’s no less typically “European.” In their version, the terrorists have “reasons” for what they do. And, you see, if you smoke filterless cigarettes and receive checks from the government for not working, you are more likely to believe that “reasons” and “excuses” are the same thing.

In this new version the villains — like other European icons such as Che Guevara or Fidel Castro — are actually heroes. These heroes challenge the dominant paradigm. They make America look bad. And they trade in the true coin of the realm in the EU — white, post-colonial guilt — and with it buy an unending supply of sympathy.


I know that life isn’t a movie. But life, like movies, benefits from moral clarity. The war on terrorism began with it and it is now melting away. There is certainly room and reason to be critical of Israel. But, for the most part, the arguments used to denounce Israel and cheer Arafat strike me as little more than moral Styrofoam, holding the form and shape of an argument but actually crushable with very little effort.

Few arguments marry self-righteousness and absurdity so magically as the one that says Israel must be in the wrong because more Palestinians are dying than Jews. “First, there is a number; the number is 1,200 and counting of Palestinians dead. There’s a number of Israeli dead, 420…” exclaimed Rashid Khalidi of the University of Chicago on NPR’s Talk of the Nation last week. “That is the number of people who have been killed. Now maybe the Arabs are not human. Maybe the fact that Arabs are being killed by Israelis is completely coincidence.”

It’s not a coincidence, it’s the logical consequence of the fact that the Israelis have built a better army than the Arabs have. They did this because Arabs kept attacking Israel, trying to destroy it. Equating every dead Palestinian gunman with every murdered Israeli is absurd. Sure, Israelis kill innocents from time to time. But it isn’t intentional. When the Israeli Defense Forces accidentally killed the family of a leading suicide-bomber recruiter, thinking he would be in the car instead, the IDF apologized. Can you imagine Hamas apologizing to a senior Israeli officer when it killed his family? Of course not. Because Hamas aims for the families. When they succeed, they celebrate.

Regardless, it is a tragedy that anyone is dying — but only those who have made guilt a religion, or the sand-poundingly ignorant, would believe we keep score this way. Might may not make right, but that doesn’t mean lack of might makes right either.

Germany lost more people in World War II than America did. Does that mean America was wrong and Germany was right? Somali casualty rates were something like 50 to 1 in the “Black Hawk Down” incident. Does that mean the Somalis were 50 times more “right”? Such inverted moral logic is the triumph of guilt over reason. I don’t know if cops kill more criminals or criminals kill more cops every year, but either way, I am not confused about who are the good guys and who are the bad.

The Palestinians aren’t criminals and they aren’t necessarily bad guys. But the people “leading” them, specifically Yasser Arafat, are. They’re bad guys. Period.

Which is why the next Styrofoam argument is so intellectually offensive. “How is Yasser Arafat supposed to stop suicide bombers when he’s holed up in his compound?” Lord, how many times have one of Arafat’s enablers asked some version of this question?

The answer is, “Who cares?” When we put a mob boss in jail, we don’t whine to the prosecutor, “How do you expect Don Corleone to be able to stop the Mafia from killing people from jail when he can’t even use his cell phone?” This bizarre bending of the moral space-time continuum assumes that it’s wrong to punish or constrain evil people who do evil things because it will make it more difficult for them to stop further evil from being done. We put the Holocaust to an end by chasing Hitler into his bunker, not by letting him out and cutting him a check. Similarly, the Israelis have stopped the suicide bombings for the moment, but you can be sure that if Arafat is released, they will begin again.

If this movie is too simplistic for your tastes, walk out to the lobby and smoke a Gauloise with your art-house friends. You’ll know when to come back when you hear the applause from the Nobel Prize committee.


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