Scary US views

In recent days, there has been a truly frightening articulation of the US administration’s perception of Israel vis-à-vis the Muslim world.

US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta 311 (R) (photo credit: REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque)
US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta 311 (R)
(photo credit: REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque)
In recent days, there has been a truly frightening articulation of the US administration’s perception of Israel vis-à-vis the Muslim world. On Friday, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta essentially blamed Israel for its own “increasing isolation,” urging the Jewish state to reach out to its neighbors.
He suggested that Israel make diplomatic inroads with the Muslim Brotherhood’s Egypt, Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s increasingly Islamist and anti-Israel Turkey, and vulnerable Jordan, a country whose leadership – for the sake of self-preservation – has been making concessions to its own Muslim Brotherhood.
And when asked at the end of his speech at the Brookings Institution in Washington what operative steps Israel could make to advance negotiations with the Palestinians, Panetta said: “Just get to the damn table.”
In other words, the clearly exasperated Panetta believes that if only stubborn Israel would make more concessions to the Palestinians, regional animosity toward Israel would miraculously evaporate after decades of incitement.
Just two days before Panetta made his disturbing comments, US Ambassador to Belgium Howard Gutman, the son of a Polish Holocaust survivor, basically blamed Israel for Muslim anti-Semitism in Europe.
Thankfully the White House later distanced itself from Gutman’s speech, made to a conference held by the European Jewish Union. Nevertheless, Gutman had carefully thought out what he said in advance. This was no slip.
First, he noted the “significant anger” and “yes, perhaps hatred and indeed sometimes an all too growing intimidation and violence directed at Jews generally as a result of the continuing tensions between Israel and the Palestinian territories and other Arab neighbors in the Middle East.”
But instead of denouncing Muslims who attack European Jews because Israel stubbornly insists on defending itself in, say, Operation Cast Lead – a military incursion into the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip to stop rockets and mortar shells fired at Israeli civilians – Gutman attempted to understand these outbursts of violence as a legitimate reaction and, therefore, fundamentally different from “traditional” forms of anti-Semitism.
Though one man was talking about Muslim perceptions in Europe and the other focused on Muslim political leadership in the region, both Panetta and Gutman had one thing in common: a maddening insistence on mixing up cause and effect.
No, Mr. Panetta, Israel’s isolation has not deepened as a result of anything that it has done (besides existing). In Turkey, in the Gaza Strip, in Tunisia and now in Egypt, governments have been voted into power – in democratic elections – that have, or soon will, pursue foreign policies exceedingly antagonistic toward the Jewish state.
After all, what interest would any Arab country in the region have in strengthening ties with Israel at a time when its citizens, given the chance to choose, are expressing a distinct preference for a particularly fundamentalist, illiberal and anti-Western – not to mention anti-Israel and anti-Semitic – strain of Islamic leadership?
What Panetta should have said – and didn’t – was that in light of the increasing hostility directed toward Israel by an increasing number of Muslim states in the region, the US reaffirms its commitment to Israel’s security.
And Mr. Gutman, the hundreds of attacks on innocent European Jews perpetrated by Muslims purportedly in response to Israel’s settlement policy in east Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria or in response to its attempts to defend itself through military means are no less irrational than any other type of anti-Semitism.
Just as Jews such as Gutman’s father were not responsible for the sort of anti-Semitism directed at them during the Holocaust, so, too, is it unfair to point to Israeli policies as triggering Muslim violence against European Jews.
As in the US, the number of anti-Semitic attacks in Western Europe outweighs anti-Muslim attacks, even though Muslims make up a significantly larger population. And a large percentage of those anti-Semitic attacks are perpetrated by Muslims. In contrast, the number of anti-Muslim attacks perpetrated by Jews is negligible, if they exist at all.
The sorts of views held by Gutman and Panetta are, unfortunately, not uncommon. But it is more than just unfortunate when these views are held by men who have a critical influence on US foreign policy. It is downright scary, especially in light of Israel’s growing need for American support as radical changes sweep the region.