Leaders should carefully consider their words as well as actions, especially during times of conflict.
Compare the following two statements concerning the Israel-Hamas conflict, one by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, the other by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
Netanyahu, speaking in English on Wednesday evening, said he had spoken to several world leaders about Operation Protective Edge, and appreciated “their expressions of strong support for our right and duty to defend ourselves.”
Here is the rest of his reasonable, responsible statement:
Hamas and other terrorist groups in Gaza are firing rockets on cities throughout the State of Israel – on Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Haifa, Beersheba, Sderot and other cities in Israel. No country on earth would remain passive in the face of hundreds of rockets fired on its cities, and Israel is no exception.
We will continue to protect our civilians against Hamas attacks on them. Hamas, by contrast, is deliberately putting Palestinian civilians into harm’s way. It embeds its terrorists in hospitals, schools, mosques and apartment buildings throughout the Gaza Strip. Hamas is thus committing a double war crime: It targets Israeli civilians, while hiding behind Palestinian civilians. This operation could take time. We are resolved to defend our families and our homes.
Abbas – speaking at an emergency meeting of the PA leadership in Ramallah on Wednesday – accused Israel of committing “genocide” with its Gaza campaign.
This is part of his statement in Arabic, as quoted by news agencies:
What Israel is doing is genocide. The killing of entire families is genocide by Israel against our Palestinian people.
What’s happening now is a war against the Palestinian people as a whole and not just against the [armed] factions. We know that Israel is not defending itself. Rather, it is defending its settlements, its primary project.
Abbas referenced the Holocaust when condemning the murder of Arab teenager Muhammad Abu Khdeir by Jewish extremists.
In a television interview, he said, “What shall we say about Abu Khdeir? Shall we mention Auschwitz again?” It should be recalled that Abbas wrote his doctoral thesis on the Holocaust, accusing Zionist leaders of encouraging the persecution of Jews, and suggesting that the number of Jews murdered in the Holocaust was not six million, but probably fewer than one million.
The Anti-Defamation League was one of several Jewish organizations to slam Abbas’s use of Holocaust terminology.
“This is unacceptable language and accusations coming from the leader of the Palestinian Authority,” said ADL National Chairman Abraham Foxman. “We are used to the outrageous criticisms of Israel coming from Palestinians, but President Abbas has reached a new low in calling Israel’s self-defense action, after hundreds of rockets have been launched at Israeli civilians, a ‘genocide,’ and then by going even further by comparing Israel’s actions to the murder of 1.5 million Jews at Auschwitz.”
Foxman went on to say that at a time when the Middle East is being overrun with extremism in places such as Syria and Iraq, “to have the leader of the Palestinian Authority further inflame the region with these outrageous comments is disappointing and dangerous.”
He urged the United States, the European Union and other responsible governments to clearly, forcefully and unequivocally denounce Abbas’s outrageous statements.
We can only echo Foxman’s sentiments. Netanyahu pointedly denounced the murder of Abu Khdeir in the strongest possible terms and spoke out forcefully against vigilantes taking the law into their own hands. Abbas has, on the other hand, refrained from condemning the continuing rocket barrages on Israeli civilians.
If Abbas is to be a peace partner in the future, which seems increasingly unlikely, he must start talking and acting like one. It is easy to be swept away in rhetoric by the anger and anguish on both sides of the conflict. It takes strength of character to be resolute in protecting your people and watching your words to leave the door.