Ever since the Sept. 11 attacks, President George W. Bush and others in his administration have drawn chortles for their predilection for punctuating every mention of Islam with the phrase reminding us that it is a "religion of peace."
This is intended to disabuse those who wrongly think America's war on Islamist terrorists is aimed at all Muslims. It also seeks to link Islam in the minds of Americans with Christianity and Judaism, whose believers are used to the idea that their own faiths are indeed just that: a way of peace.
Though the pursuit of peace is at the core of Western theology, peace is the natural outcome of faith in the Creator and God's commands, not the object of worship itself. But when it comes to contemporary Middle East politics, for those Jews who have always termed themselves the "peace camp," belief in their goal has long since taken on the attributes of a religion in and of itself, rather than of a political policy.
With Kassam missiles flying out of the Gaza Strip that Israel left last August and a kidnapped soldier in the hands of terrorists - whose Hamas masters are the democratically elected leaders of the Palestinian people - this is a moment when the faith of the peace processors is being tested.
And not for the first time.
IN 1991, when Palestinians lined their rooftops to cheer Iraqi scud missiles as they headed for Tel Aviv, many peace advocates wrote off the Palestinians. But most soon relented and advocated Israeli territorial withdrawal again just as fervently.
When, after Israel agreed to the 1993 Oslo accords, installed Yasser Arafat as the head of a Palestinian Authority that ruled most of the territories and attempted to negotiate a final peace, again the faith of the peaceniks was tested. Rather than negotiate in good faith and pursue peaceful economic development, Arafat never stopped funding and pushing terrorism. And when he was offered almost everything he could possibly get in terms of territory, including a share of Jerusalem, he replied with a "no" and launched a new terrorist war of attrition in the fall of 2000.
This so-called second intifada was a body blow to the peace believers. Everything they had asked Israel to do had been done, and all it had brought was more than 1,000 dead Jews and even more dead Arabs. Peace was no closer, and Israel's foes were now far stronger than before Oslo.
Even worse, Israel's willingness to make concessions in the pursuit of peace had a surprising impact on support for the Jewish state, both around the world and among Diaspora Jewry. Rather than strengthen sympathy for Israel, pro-peace policies seemed to underscore the "justice" of Palestinian complaints. The more Israel compromised, the more its enemies and their growing international fan club took heart.
So when Palestinians rejected peace in favor of war, it was the Israelis who found, to their chagrin, that they were the ones being painted as the "greatest threat to world peace," rather than the terrorists.
All this put the peace camp on its heels, but it was far from defeated. Blame for their policy's failures was always disingenuously shifted to Israel or the right-wing, rather than the Palestinians.
NOW AGAIN, this year Israel has given and been rewarded with the same outcome. But for the peace camp, none of this seems to matter.
While the vast majority of Jewish groups backed American sanctions against a Palestinian state now ruled by Hamas terrorists, the US Jewish peace camp - in the form of a new group, Brit Tzedek v'Shalom, the Jewish Alliance for Justice and Peace - emerged to challenge the consensus. While formed mainly by most of the usual suspects on the Jewish Left, it has energy and savvy that its predecessors lacked. The group even had the chutzpah to challenge the mainstream AIPAC by lobbying Congress to try and save aid for the Hamas-run P.A., and opposed Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's plans to unilaterally draw Israel's borders.
Though defeated in that instance, the group has found willing partners in Congress among those who have always been uncomfortable with what they felt was a "one-sided" American approach to the Middle East, despite the widespread support such policies have among the vast majority of Americans.
It is all well and good to say - as the group and its supporters do - that peace is good, and negotiations are inevitable no matter what happens. But if your intended peace partner proves over and over and over again that all they're interested in is dead Jews, then they're not grounded in the reality of the world we actually live in.
LIKE THOSE in Israel's settlement movement who think that divine intervention will somehow, some way allow Israel to inflict its will on the world no matter what the situation, so, too, do the true believers in peace hold on to the dream of a happy ending with the Palestinians and proscribe solutions based on illusions rather than the facts on the ground.
When a thesis cannot be proved or disproved, and when its backers say it must be accepted in spite of all evidence to the contrary, what we are talking about is a religion, not a policy. Theoretically, we can all hope that one day Palestinians will discard a political culture whose essence is a rejection of Israel's legitimacy and an embrace of violence. But given the fact that young Palestinians are still being taught hatred of Jews, it is hard to see how or when such a day will come.
Even more to the point, faith-based peace worshipers should worry about the fact that the Jewish Left has at times lent credibility to the vitriol directed at Israel in the course of its ongoing war of self-defense. The newly organized "peace lobby" claims to be acting in good faith for the best interests of Zion and should be taken at their word. But they should consider that heightened efforts to divide Diaspora Jewry at a time when attacks on Zionism and Israel's right to exist are growing have consequences.
With more people around the world accepting the Palestinians' astonishing idea that they have a "right" to kill Israelis in the territories or Israel itself because they think themselves the aggrieved party, the notion of undermining Israel's supporters here or pressuring the state itself to make even more concessions is, at best, ill-considered.
Like extremists on the Jewish Right who seem more in touch with their idea of what God wants more than that of ordinary Israelis, such leftist believers in "peace" need both a reality check and some humility. With more such friends in the Diaspora, Heaven help Israel.
The writer is executive editor of the Jewish Exponent in Philadelphia. [email protected]