Michael Lerner and Cornel West regard themselves as brave because they “dare” to question “America’s almost blind support for Ariel Sharon’s government.”
What arrogance–and malarkey.
In case you’re hazy about who these two characters are, allow me to refresh your memory. West is a leftwing professor, the author of such edifying works as “The Ethical Dimensions of Marxist Thought” and “Toward a Socialist Theory of Racism.” Lerner is the leftwing editor of Tikkun magazine, the current issue of which pays “tribute” to Edward Said, calling him “a great thinker.” The late Said called conservative American Christians “a menace to the world” and labeled the American liberation of Iraq “absolutely repellent.”
On Tuesday, they penned a Washington Post op-ed in which they make the ludicrous charge that “liberal Democrats who are normally the champions of free speech” are blocking “a serious public discussion of our Israel-Palestine policy.”
Are they really blocking such discussion? (And are they really champions of free speech when that speech is by spoken by people with whom they disagree? Give me one example.)
Professors and editors should have at least a passing acquaintance with history. Start with this: “America” could not have been blindly supporting Sharon during the Clinton years–because Sharon wasn’t in office then. He only became Israel’s prime minister in 2001. Just prior to that, the prime minister was the dovish Ehud Barak, whose arms Clinton twisted into pretzels at Camp David in 2000 in order to make him come up with an offer that Yasser Arafat–then the most frequent foreign guest at the White House–might accept.
Barak eventually offered Arafat much more than most Israelis would have been content to give away–e.g. an independent state in virtually all of the West Bank and Gaza, a capital in Jerusalem, and the dismantlement of most Jewish settlements on the West Bank.
Arafat turned down the offer–and produced no counteroffer. Instead, he launched the most-lethal wave of terrorism the Middle East has ever seen, and he has made it obvious to all but the deluded that he agrees with Hamas, Hezbollah, and similar terrorist groups that the goal should be the destruction and elimination of the Jewish state.
In response, Israeli voters handed Barak’s Labor party a crushing defeat, and the Likud and Sharon were installed in their place.
President Bush does appear to get along with the conservative Sharon. In particular, in the aftermath of 9/11, the president clearly appreciates what it means to be a leader who every day waits to hear the next report of innocent men, women, and children being massacred by suicide terrorists.
Nevertheless, Bush has made an extraordinary offer to the Palestinians, an offer that may not have pleased Sharon and without question displeased many in his party. He has told the Palestinians that they can have an independent state and that he will support that goal–if they will only end their support for the mass murder of children as a means to that ends. Is that really so much to ask–especially in the midst of a global war on terrorism?
Bush also has asked the Palestinians to rid their society of the stunning corruption that plagues it–Arafat did not become a billionaire by inventing a new browser. And Bush would like Palestinians to begin to construct democratic institutions such as a free press, an independent judiciary and tolerance for a political opposition.
This offer from Bush is unprecedented. From 1948 to 1967, Egypt ruled Gaza, while Jordan ruled the West Bank. They could have set up an independent Palestinian state in those territories–but they didn’t even consider it. Instead, in 1967 they used Gaza and the West bank to launch a war that was unambiguously aimed at destroying Israel, which is how Israel came into possession of those territories in the first place.
Immediately prior to that, the British controlled Palestine, then handed it to the U.N. which in 1947 offered an independent Palestinian state not only in the West Bank and Gaza but in other parts of what is today Israel. That offer also was rejected and the fledgling Jewish state instead had to fight for its life as Arab armies invaded from all directions.
Before that, for centuries, the area called Palestine (including what is now Israel, Jordan, the West Bank and Gaza) was ruled by the Ottoman Empire with its capital in what is now Turkey. Needless to say, the idea of an independent Palestinian state never occurred to the Ottoman pashas.
The U.S. has supported one principle–not blindly but with clear vision: The right of Israel to exist. This is not a right uniquely granted to Israel. All other states in the world enjoy it and the U.S. has gone to war to defend this principle, most recently to guarantee Kuwait the right to exist after Saddam Hussein attempted to wipe it off the map. America has resorted to force of arms to protect the existence of other communities–mostly Muslim communities, as it happens–in such places as Bosnia, Kosovo, and Kurdistan.
American leaders of both parties for half a century have agreed that Israel’s right to exist is not a negotiating position, is not an issue to be haggled over at anything misleading called a “peace conference.”
The Jews are among the oldest-surviving peoples of the Middle East (along with the Kurds and the Marsh Arabs). As columnist Charles Krauthammer has pointed out, the Israelis speak the same language, practice the same religion, and live on the same land as did their ancestors 3,000 years ago. What other peoples can say that?
It’s true that many Jews also lived for centuries in Baghdad, Alexandria, and even in what is now Saudi Arabia. But they were ethnically cleansed from those places long before the term “ethnic cleansing” had become part of our vocabulary.
But Hamas and their ilk do not accept any of this. On the contrary, they candidly acknowledge that their goal is the elimination of the world’s only Jewish state. They want that territory to become the world’s 23rd Arab state, and to be added to the more than 50 states that are predominately Muslim. They are cagey about what would happen to the Israeli Jews after that, but it shouldn’t be hard to hazard a guess.
Even former Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas, a relative moderate strongly supported by Bush, could never bring himself to say publicly that the Jewish state has a right not to be destroyed. Maybe he calculated that had he acknowledged Israel’s right to exist, his term in office would have been even shorter than it was, given the years of indoctrination of the Palestinians by Arafat’s deputies, the many times they’ve been promised that if they’ll just be patient, their suffering will lead to victory–not a peace settlement but victory–over Israel.
Or he may have feared that what happened to Egyptian President Anwar Sadat after making peace with Israel–he was assassinated by a group led by a man now in al Qaeda’s leadership–would happen to him as well.
Look, I disagree with Michael Lerner and Cornel West not only over the canard that the U.S. “blindly” supports Sharon but on just about everything. Nevertheless, I support their right to exist. I would strenuously argue with anyone who said that to be “even-handed” I must be neutral about whether they live or, perhaps, face a firing squad.
Does that mean I blindly support Lerner and West? If they think so, perhaps I should reconsider.
–Clifford D. May, a former New York Times foreign correspondent, is the president of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies a policy institute focusing on terrorism.