The caricature crisis through Israeli eyes

It's difficult for an Israeli Jew not to be struck by a number of bizarre ironies.

afghan cartoon298 88 ap (photo credit: AP)
afghan cartoon298 88 ap
(photo credit: AP)
While much of the Western world looks aghast at the mayhem over the Danish cartoon lampoon of Muhammad, it is difficult for an Israeli Jew not to be struck by a number of bizarre ironies that the controversy has engendered. How ironic that IDF soldiers on Wednesday found themselves protecting members of the Temporary International Presence in Hebron (TIPH) whose office in the city was under attack by angry protesters. Ironic because it was the Palestinians themselves who demanded an international presence in Hebron in 1994 after Baruch Goldstein's massacre at the Machpela Cave. The Palestinians convinced the international community they needed protection from Israel. Indeed, UN Security Council Resolution 904 later that year called for an international presence in the territories to safeguard the Palestinians, and Yasser Arafat threatened that the PLO would withdraw from further negotiations with Israel unless Jerusalem agreed to an international presence in the city that would guarantee Palestinian safety and protection. But Wednesday, because of the Muhammad cartoons, it was not the international presence protecting the Palestinians from the Israelis, but the Israelis (and Palestinian police) protecting the international presence from the Palestinians. Ironic, too, is the concern and the hue and cry in Denmark and Norway over Arab boycott threats. Ironic because it was in these two countries that calls over the last five years to boycott Israeli products have been the loudest, and have had the most impact. In Norway, the regional council of the S r-Tr ndelag - a region with a population of some 270,000 - passed a motion some two months ago calling for a comprehensive boycott of Israeli goods. To add insult to injury, Norwegian Finance Minister Kristin Halvorsen backed the boycott, although the Norwegian Foreign Ministry made clear that this was not official government policy. Halvorsen, leader of the Socialist Left Party, was quoted in the Oslo tabloid Dagbladet as saying, "My and the Socialist Left's goal is for Norwegian consumers to decide to drop products and services from Israel, and make other choices in the shops." As far as Denmark was concerned, its large trade union, the General Workers Union in Denmark (SiD), was the first in Europe to advocate a boycott of Israel, and this just a month after 135 Israelis were killed in terrorist attacks in March 2002. In a statement issued in April 2002, the trade union said of the violence, "If no instant progress is made in terms of reaching a solution through negotiation, the SiD will recommend a boycott not only of goods from the occupied areas, but also of goods from Israel. In such a scenario, the SiD will work actively to uphold the boycott, for example, through the international organizations of which we are a member." After the head of an Israeli firm that suffered from the boycott went to Denmark to speak to union head Jens Peter Hansen and try to reverse the measure, SiD issued a statement that read, "There is no change in our position. We call for the hundreds of thousands of members of the union to refrain from buying products manufactured in Israel." The current Arab demand for a boycott of Danish and Norwegian products makes one pause to wonder what Halvorsen and Hensen think about boycotts now. While we don't know what they are thinking, we do know what Flemming Rose, the editor of the Danish newspaper that first published the offensive cartoons, is thinking. He told CNN that he was trying to coordinate with the Iranian newspaper currently running a cartoon contest to ridicule the Holocaust, so that he can run those cartoons, too. More irony. Rose is going to prove he is a champion of freedom of the press not by publishing something that would offend Danish or Christian sensitivities, but by lending his hand to trampling the sensitivities of the Jews. And this all while the Iranians are threatening a new Holocaust. Ironic is probably not the right word here; typical might be a better one - at least when viewed through these cynical and paranoid Jewish Israeli eyes.