Summertime is “silly season,” the slow news season of frivolous sideshows compensating for the seasonal quiet as politicians vacation. Three weeks after the Royal Baby Watch ended, it remains this summer’s top story. Although Israelis have their own lethargic “cucumber season,” this year’s silly season in the Middle East is deadly serious, as a spate of biased reporting and one-sided diplomatic maneuvers blame Israel for the continuing conflict while absolving Palestinians of responsibility.
Our sobering silly season produces front-page New York Times stories romanticizing rock-throwing as Palestinians’ youthful, justified, “rite of passage,” rather than a violent act that, like a gateway drug, often escalates to deadlier, pathologies. This nightmarish silly season has Israel opening negotiations with a heart-breaking concession – freeing Palestinian murders – without receiving a reciprocal payoff. Such one-sidedness makes Israel look desperate to negotiate and the guilty party, when Israel is the victor mostly responding to Palestinian demands. And this ongoing silly season sees the repe
tition of various lies, especially the claim that Israel’s settlements beyond the temporary 1967 borders are illegal and that the American government considers these communities illegal.
Characteristically, the far Left’s congenital silliness triggers ridiculous overreactions from some on the far Right. So, although freeing monstrous murderers convicted in legitimate courts of law as a diplomatic gesture mocks a democracy’s rule of law, the extreme words denouncing the move like “craven,” “obscenity,” and “insane,” overlook the complex universe Israel faces.
Similarly, calling Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a “coward” for making this tough choice is as absurd as questioning a surgeon’s courage for amputating a finger to save the patient. Netanyahu’s anguished open letter to Israelis correctly noted that governing often entails heartbreaking choices and calculated risks. President Dwight Eisenhower warned his successor, John Kennedy, the easy decisions were made before reaching the chief executive’s desk.
Netanyahu must maneuver in a topsy-turvy world. On one perverse level, the Blame Israel Firsters are correct: it is Israel’s “fault” for existing. Those Palestinians and their enablers still fighting the 1948 war, trying to eliminate Israel, have a point -- no Israel, no conflict. Psychologists call this “blaming the victim.” The Psychology Dictionary characterizes attributing “fault in a crime (rape, robbery, assault)” to its targets as “forms of rationalization and coping mechanisms in an attempt to distance one''s self from the victim and the problem.”
More pointedly, in his classic 1947 essay “Wagner, Nietzsche and Hitler,” the German philosopher and expert on authoritarianism, Theodor Adorno, taught that “one of the most sinister features of the Fascist character,” was this “paranoid tendency of projecting upon others one''s own violent aggressiveness and then indicting, on the basis of this projection, those whom one endows with pernicious qualities." The hysterical Palestinian denunciations of Israel’s alleged “extermination” of Palestinians – when the population under Israeli rule has quadrupled since 1967 -- projects Palestinians’ ongoing anti-Zionist genocidal fantasy onto Israel.
Yet the Palestinian “Big Lie” strategy is working. Perpetually blaming Israel, constantly claiming that only they have rights to live in the contested West Bank, repeatedly elevating the improvised 1949 armistice lines into holy “1967 borders,” has obscured Israel’s legitimate rights, even among many Zionists.
We cannot forget the historical fact that the British mandate granted Jews rights to settle west of the River Jordan. Morally, those Israelis nevertheless willing to relinquish some territory they believe is theirs in order to seek peace express a deeper commitment to peacemaking than those who negate Israel’s rights there – leaving from land you believe you stole does not reflect much commitment to peace.
Moreover, as an American historian I emphasize that in 1967, the United States intentionally supported inserting an “s” and dropping a “the” in drafting Security Council Resolution 242 endorsing “withdrawal of Israel armed forces from territories” – NOT THE TERRITORY – “occupied in the recent conflict.” The linguistic subtlety affirmed Jewish rights, recognizing “the territory” as disputed. While I also acknowledge that within the Israeli government there was an intense debate about “the territories’” legal status, only under Jimmy Carter did American foreign policy start accepting the Palestinian narrative negating Israel’s legitimate legal claims.
The turning point occurred in March 1980, when the United States voted for Security Council Resolution 465, condemning Israeli settlement as a “flagrant violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention” – a harsh accusation that has now become routine. Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who remembered the Geneva convention’s post-Hitler origins, complained that the language implicitly compared Israel’s policies “to the Nazi practice of deporting or murdering vast numbers of persons in Western Poland—as at Auschwitz—and plans for settling the territory with Germans.” This false comparison, Moynihan noted, played “perfectly into the Soviet propaganda position” and the Palestinian projection that “Zionism is present-day fascism.” Fearing the political damage during his re-election effort, President Carter claimed miscommunication and eventually had his UN envoy Donald McHenry veto the next attack.
In December 1980, when the US again approved a Security Council resolution invoking the Fourth Geneva Convention against Israel, the Washington Post accused the Carter administration of “Joining the Jackals.” The editorial called the Security Council vote “the essential Carter,” unnecessary as a policy matter, naïve in futilely flattering the “virtuous souls of the Third World,” harder on America’s friends than America’s enemies, unduly trusting of the UN, diplomatically destructive as well as politically self-destructive.
The Obama administration should heed the negative lessons of the Carter years – and the Oslo debacle. Blindly appeasing Palestinian extremism while negating Israel’s legitimate rights will not produce a just or lasting peace. I desperately want the negotiations to succeed – but to succeed Israel must not act desperate and America must stand up to Palestinian desperadoes – originally a Mexican term describing brazen outlaws who refused to pay the required toll on new roads.
Gil Troy isa Professor of History at McGill University and a Shalom Hartman Engaging Israel Research Fellow in Jerusalem. His latest book, Moynihan''s Moment: America''s Fight Against Zionism as Racism was just published by Oxford University Press.Watch the new Moynihan''s Moment video