It remains one of the Israeli-Arab conflict’s great mysteries and irritants – with numerous occurrences this September. Israel is trapped in an asymmetrical blame game, not just an asymmetrical war. The Arabs, particularly the Palestinians, are like the obnoxious younger sisters on those awful “tween” TV shows. They usually cause the mischief, yet somehow the Israelis shoulder the blame – like Drake and Josh when terrorized by Megan.
How is it that Egypt and Turkey, for their own respective domestic reasons, spoil relations with Israel – yet the American Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, echoing the conventional wisdom, chides Israel for becoming isolated?
How is it that, despite rejecting Ehud Olmert’s generous land swap, setting preconditions for negotiations, and negating Israel’s historic national rights, Mahmoud Abbas is considered “moderate” and, as the New York Times recently editorialized, “The main responsibility right now belongs to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel who refuses to make any serious compromises for peace?” This comes after Netanyahu, the alleged obstructionist, embraced a two-state solution and temporarily froze settlement growth – with no results.
And consider the mass outrage if an Israeli threw a rock at a passing Palestinian car, triggering a crash that killed a 25-year-old father and his one-year-old son, as happened with the recent, mostly overlooked, double-murder of Asher Palmer and Yonatan Palmer.
Or imagine the outcry – and the probable breach in relations – if Israelis protested against President Barack Obama by waving disgusting racist placards depicting him as a monkey – which happened at a Palestinian protest – yet no leaders denounced it. Actually, there is no need to imagine. Many leftists still loathe Netanyahu for implicitly inciting violence by not denouncing some extremists carrying posters depicting Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in Nazi uniform nearly twenty years ago.
Israel is neither perfect nor blameless, but the asymmetry is glaring – and insulting to Palestinians and Jews. Making the Palestinians the spoiled brats of the world, the perpetual victims, robs them of self-respect and what academics call “agency” – the dignity of owning their actions. This radical-left condescension, always treating Westerners or whites as responsible, good or bad, reduces Third Worlders to bystanders. Just as many of us, including Shimon Peres and Benjamin Netanyahu, condemned the “Price Tag” Mosque vandals last week, Palestinians and their leaders must repudiate bloodshed, from rocks to rocket fire, consistently, sincerely -- and stop inciting violence. Holding Palestinians morally accountable for their actions and actions taken in their name reflects respect, judging them by the same behavioral standards we impose on ourselves.
This tendency to understate Israeli moderation and overstate Israeli sins while overstating Palestinian moderation and understating Palestinian sins reflects the harmful effects of the lengthy delegitimization campaign against Israel.
Delegitimization – an ugly word for an ugly phenomenon – is a form of bigotry, a hateful exercise in selective perception, harping on Israeli foibles, ignoring Israeli virtues, now escalated into an obsession treating the Palestinian-Israel conflict as unduly central in world affairs. Even if it did not build on traditional anti-Semitism, this campaign would epitomize prejudice, actually, one of the last few politically correct prejudices in today’s world.
Delegitimization escalates the Palestinian-Israeli conflict from questions of borders and land rights conducive to negotiation and compromise to a life-and-death, zero-sum clash between good and evil. It elevates criticisms about controversial or wrongful state actions into doctrinal assaults such as “Zionism is Racism” and the Apartheid lie. This inflammatory approach is a major obstacle to peace.
Both the Palestinian free pass and the perpetual indictment against Israel stem from the late 1960s and 1970s. At the time, Yasir Arafat and the PLO, aided by skilled propagandists such as Columbia University Professor Edward Said, framed their local narrative of woe as part of a global struggle. Exploiting the rise of a global mass media, and what Said called the twentieth century’s “generalizing tendency,” the Palestinians hijacked Third World solidarity talk while hijacking their way onto the world’s agenda. Understanding that, post-Vietnam, weakness could be a PR virtue, they portrayed themselves as victims of Western imperialism and colonialism. Coached by Soviet propagandists, perversely comparing Israel to South Africa and Nazi Germany, they injected race into Palestinian nationalist rhetoric, culminating in the UN’s infamous 1975 Zionism is racism resolution.
Radical New Left elites welcomed this farce. A new totalitarian mindset among the Third Worldist Left subordinated facts to broader black-and-white political worldviews. Seeing the world through this ideological prism romanticized but infantilized those deemed to be people of color, casting them in the role of perpetual victim, automatically guilt-free, while demonizing those deemed white and thus powerful. The Palestinians embraced the identity as the ultimate victimized people of color treating Israelis as evil Western whites.
Four decades later, this delegitimization campaign is ubiquitous, like the unseen pollution fouling our air. Many people who consciously reject Palestinian extremism, abhor terrorism, and are not explicitly anti-Israel have absorbed the ideological equivalent of second-hand smoke. They have become conditioned to blame Westerners first in viewing most conflicts, blaming Israel most of all. This is the more subtle yet toxic anti-Israel bias that clouds many media, academic, and diplomatic discussions of Israel, resulting in what has become an instinctive, unconscious, ubiquitous myopia.
This Sukkot festival, as we think about the different structures humans construct -- real and imagined, good and bad, lasting and temporary -- let us try dismantling these harmful, artificial constructs. Rather than being bitter, we should build a Sukkat Shalom, of genuine peace based on mutual respect and acceptance of mutual responsibility leading to real reconciliation. May this Sukkah be authentic and lasting, containing neither the politically-correct magnifying glass that exaggerates every Israeli and Western imperfection nor the Harry Potter-style invisibility cloak that hides Israeli peace gestures and Palestinian provocations.
Gil Troy is Professor of History at McGill University and a Shalom Hartman Research Fellow in Jerusalem. The author of “Why I Am a Zionist: Israel, Jewish Identity and the Challenges of Today,” his latest book is “The Reagan Revolution: A Very Short Introduction.” [email protected]