The evil of banality - when blaming Israel becomes commonplace

John Kerry (photo credit: REUTERS)
John Kerry
(photo credit: REUTERS)
John Kerry’s peace process crusade has triggered moral vertigo in a region where false moral equivalence enables Palestinian extremism. Desperate to scare Israel into compromise, convinced that democratic Israel can be bullied more easily than the fractured, autocratic Palestinians, Kerry and company have targeted Israeli wariness more than Palestinian intransigence.
In that spirit, last week, The New York Times ran a cloying, overly-sentimentalized article about a freed Palestinian murderer trying to rebuild his life. This week, its foreign policy columnist Thomas Friedman outrageously compared Sheldon Adelson, a Republican billionaire who happens to disagree with Freidman, with Ali Khameini, the Iranian ayatollah who would happily kill Friedman. A half-century ago Hannah Arendt said Adolf Eichmann’s plodding, fill-in-the-dots bureaucratic amorality reflected the “banality of evil.”
Today we are seeing the evil of banality. Genuine bad follows when otherwise good people join the conventional pile-on that overly faults Israel while excusing Palestinians.
The Times profile “Remaking a Life, After Years in an Israeli Prison,” was terror porn. Using relativistic comparisons and focusing on every life’s banal, meaning mundane, aspects, the article humanized a freed terrorist and implicitly excused his crime – although in fairness it also introduced readers to his victim, Israel Tenenbaum, a 72-year-old Holocaust survivor. Still, “Muqdad Salah is a man in a hurry,” we learned, eager to compensate for his lost years.
This murderer is “one of 78 long-serving Palestinian prisoners freed from Israeli jails,” who are “Demonized as terrorists by Israelis and lionized as freedom fighters by Palestinians” – there being no objective standards.
These nice “middle-aged men” now work hard at “earning their first driver’s licenses, leveraging $50,000 grants from the Palestinian Authority to build apartments or start businesses, searching for wives and struggling to start families.”
Predictably, the Times found an accidental terrorist.
Despite being treated as a Palestinian “hero,” poor “Mr. Salah” reported of his crime: “I wasn’t planning it... I didn’t intend to kill him.”
Did the New York Times call Osama bin-Laden and his al-Qaida thugs people “demonized as terrorists by Americans and lionized as freedom fighters by Muslims?” Did any features follow poor “Mr.”
bin-Laden on the lam, unable even to patronize his favorite hummus place? Similarly, I saw no articles disrespecting the Boston Marathon victims by wondering how comfortable the younger bomber, Dzohkar Tsarnaev, is in his jail cell. What kind of Internet access does he have? Have his feelings been hurt by all the anger against him? The article notes that “Mr. Salah was welcomed...
by a cacophonous crowd in this village of 4,000 near the Palestinian financial hub of Nablus.” That proves that the PA celebrates killers. And if Palestinians have a “financial hub,” maybe there is more autonomy and better Palestinian quality of life under Israeli rule than the propagandists admit.
While this Times article was morally obtuse, Thomas Friedman’s column was obscene. Called “Sheldon: Iran’s Best Friend,” its tagline was “How Sheldon Adelson and Iran are both trying to destroy Israel.”
Really? Adelson is “trying” to destroy Israel? Adelson, an American patriot exercising his right of free speech, is an “ally” of the Tehran terrorists who squelch free speech? I understand. Sometimes as a columnist, your own shtick shackles you. Friedman thought he found a clever way to show that Israel’s most ardent supporters unknowingly aid Israel’s enemies by perpetuating a status quo Friedman abhors. But what might have worked as a rant over drinks seemed mean and amoral in print. In 1940, Franklin Roosevelt’s supporters did not compare Wendell Willkie to Adolf Hitler even though Willkie, a wealthy corporate executive, opposed FDR. Today, Friedman (and I) would object if someone called Barack Obama a Hamasnik because both the president and those Islamist hooligans oppose Israeli settlements.
Politics is not mathematics. The transitive property “a = a” cannot equate genocidal theocrats like Hamas and Khameini with democrats playing politics like Obama and Adelson. (Yes, that sentence may mark the first time Obama and Adelson are compared favorably or that Adelson is called a democrat!) Friedman’s diatribe also incorrectly called Israel’s settlements “colonialism.” Colonialism involves settling foreign areas, as England did with India. Israel’s legal, historical and ideological ties to the West Bank should force even Israel’s critics to use different words.
Friedman echoed Kerry’s camp in boosting the boycott movement as a threat to Israel, suggesting BDS is “gaining adherents.” These are vague weasel words.
The movement for conservative “red” states to secede from the US is also “gaining adherents” – one at a time in a nation of 300 million-plus – does that convince Friedman America should separate? I want Kerry to succeed. I wish Israel was leading the peace process, tapping its collective genius to solve this problem whereby the intractability of continued Palestinian intransigence nevertheless does not negate the impracticality of perpetual Israeli control over millions of unwilling subjects.
Similarly, I distinguish between the Boycott Israel crowd’s anti-Israel intent and the Blame Israel First crowd’s anti-Israel effects. The Boycotters diabolically mask harsh animus against the Jewish people with human rights rhetoric. Most Blame Israel Firsters are simply sloppily following a Western trend that excuses Palestinian sins.
Nevertheless, treating Israel as the problem is convenient albeit false, as PA President Mahmoud Abbas’s actions in sabotaging the peace process this week confirmed. But with his people cast as the innocent Jesus to the dastardly collective Jew, Abbas knows he can appear blameless.
If this peace process fails, expect more articles comparing Abbas and Netanyahu or Abbas and Adelson.
After all, Abbas and Netanyahu each have two “a”s in their last names, while Abbas and Adelson have names starting with an “a.”
But even as blaming Israel becomes banal, it will still have harmful, even evil, consequences, making peace more elusive than ever.
The author is professor of history at McGill University and the author, most recently, of Moynihan’s Moment: America’s Fight Against Zionism as Racism published by Oxford University Press.
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