(photo credit: AP [file])
On Monday, Columbia University President Lee Bollinger slightly redeemed himself and his institution by charging President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad with "[exhibiting] all the signs of a petty and cruel dictator."
Yet this served mainly as a self-indictment. Is it not the role of a distinguished university to spurn, rather than invite and politely question, tyrannical demagogues?
Yesterday, President George W. Bush, speaking to the UN, stood up for human rights around the world. "In Belarus, North Korea, Syria and Iran, brutal regimes deny their people the fundamental rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration," Bush said.
Yet here too there was a disconnect. The speech seem to have been written almost as if the jihadi bid for global dominance did not exist. How is it possible to speak of human rights challenges in individual nations without prominently acknowledging the greatest threat to human rights globally, let alone outlining a strategy to address it?
Also on Monday, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni addressed the UN's Ad Hoc Liaison Committee, a body formed to coordinate aid to the Palestinians. She took the opportunity to express what she called "the self-evident": "A Palestinian state is an Israeli interest. On this principle, there is no conflict. On the contrary - Israel is committed to the establishment of a viable and vibrant Palestine, in the West Bank and Gaza, as a homeland for the Palestinian people and a peaceful neighbor to Israel. This is a shared vision, not a zero-sum game." Livni's speech went on in this spirit, listing all that Israel has done toward this goal, while bemoaning terrorism and defending Israel's right to defend itself.
All of this was understandable, particularly given the audience. But once again, there was the elephant in the room that was all but ignored.
"Arab and Muslim states, committed to the two state solution and threatened themselves by the rise of extremism, have a special role to play," Livni said. But what role, aside from financial contributions, she did not say, while the greatest threat to the whole process - the rise of an Islamofascist arc from Hamas in Gaza, to Hizbullah in Lebanon, to Palestinian terror groups in Damascus, to Iran's support for all of the above and to terrorists in Iraq - was left in the realm of allusion, rather than placed front and center with a strategy to address it.
The common denominator of these incidents is incoherence and moral confusion. Faced with a ruthless and determined enemy that celebrates death over life and poses an inimical threat to Western civilization, we dance gingerly around the problem, as if it is not quite a subject for polite company. We talk of "extremists" as if the threat were from random hooligans who come from nowhere, have no strategy and represent no agenda.
Further, our leaders talk blithely of real global problems, such as the environment, poverty and disease and human rights, as though it would be possible to comprehensively address any of them if the world descends into an abyss of escalating terrorism, spreading dictatorships and new nuclear powers sprouting like mushrooms.
If a house is on fire, there is little point in worrying about termites, let only the color of the drapes. Western global priorities are seriously misaligned. While it would be wrong to succumb to the global Islamist threat by ignoring other issues, it is even more wrong to ignore the overarching threat that, if it is not defeated, will prevent free nations from comprehensively advancing any of the other critical items on the global agenda.
By force of necessity, Israel has to place grappling with existential threats at front and center. While the country has done an astounding job of building a thriving democracy despite the continuous Arab war against our existence, our politics has been monopolized by matters of peace and security. All other concerns, from the environment to religious-secular tensions to socioeconomic gaps to battling corruption and reforming the electoral system, have had to be largely set aside by a public and political system that cannot adequately address such "side" issues until our existential dilemma is dealt with.
The existential threat to Israel is, of course, part of the Islamist threat to the West. Ignoring it, in either its local or global forms, will not make it go away. Nor can the international community begin to defeat it in earnest while we are still confused and in denial over the pivotal role the outcome of this struggle will have for all other global priorities.