The first 'core issue': Incitement

Terror and missiles are the hardware, propagating hatred is the software.

hamas kids 88 (photo credit: )
hamas kids 88
(photo credit: )
Last week the Israeli government reportedly started negotiations on the "core issues" of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: borders, settlements, refugees and Jerusalem - but not incitement and hate language. It is well to examine the consequences of Israel's past failures to demand an end to Palestinian and region-wide incitement and hate language, which are early warning signs of genocidal intent by their perpetrators. Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote that it was words, not machinery, that produced Auschwitz. If the rocks, daggers, guns, suicide bombs, Kassams and long-range missiles are the hardware of today's terror threats to Israel, it is the incitement that is the software. At Annapolis, the statement of principles called for "confronting terror and incitement - whether committed by Palestinians or Israelis." Prime Minister Olmert and President George Bush each used the term once - President Mahmoud Abbas ignored it. During Bush's visit, official statements provided no evidence of any intent to monitor and eradicate incitement and hate language from official Arab media, texts and places of worship; a colossal act of diplomatic negligence. Israel's politicians and opinion-makers, acting like abused children, have become habituated to regional incitement as normal. Incitement, like lead from gasoline, needs to be redefined as toxic - and unacceptable. MEMRI and Palestinian Media Watch provide frequent updates on endemic regional incitement in school texts, mosques, on the airwaves, media and Internet. AT ITS worst, incitement includes the dehumanization of Jews as "monkeys and pigs," the dissemination of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion and maps without Israel; Holocaust denial and propagation of many of the classic motifs of anti-Semitism, in which Israel and Zionism have replaced "Jews" as targets. Iranian leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's calls to wipe Israel off the map, along with his Holocaust denials, are the tip of the iceberg. An end to state-sponsored incitement to terror belongs right on top of the negotiating agenda, before any discussions on borders, settlements, refugees, Jerusalem, and all the other issues. The first "confidence-building measure" should be ending incitement, cutting off funding for those spreading such incitement, and prosecuting those who propagate hatred, not only in the PA, but its hinterland in Egypt and Jordan, and, yes, Saudi Arabia. As The Jerusalem Post reported, even "moderate" Arab papers showcased anti-Semitic cartoons ahead of the Annapolis summit. It is true that Israel has its own blue-and-white copycat inciters - such as Rabbi Yitzhak Batzri, who was indicted for calling Arabs "donkeys and beasts." But the decision of our legal authorities to prosecute Batzri is a role model for the region. My guess is that incitement in Israeli society is probably less by an order or two magnitudes than that in the Arab world, where state-sponsored educational systems, places of worship, printed media, Internet and airwaves are hardwired to disseminate it daily. THE FOLLOWING phrases have yet to enter the lexicon of the negotiating process: "Incitement kills," "An end to incitement," "Incitement is toxic" and "Incitement makes genocidal terrorists." In 1969, the Israeli government forcefully demanded removing and amending texts, including inflammatory content from Jordanian textbooks used in UN-supported refugee camps. But Israel has failed to exploit the precedent of the 1988 Knesset decision banning parties that incite to racism and violence. Incitement and hate language are the most toxic exposures of our time. They shape the socio-cultural environment that enables genocidal terror to become an accepted or approved social norm. Children and adolescents are the most vulnerable, and exposing them is a form of child abuse. They are indoctrinated to act on its messages, thereby ensuring intergenerational perpetuation of hate. It is state-sponsored incitement, - i.e. the messages on the loudspeakers, airwaves and the Internet - and not what is whispered between diplomats, that signals the intentions of states or their surrogate organizations. The blowback from "the street" makes the decision-makers captive to such messages. So long as incitement warps the minds of coming generations, no diplomatic solution of the conflict between Israel and the Muslim world will be sustainable. Israel should be demanding an end to funding by US, EU and UN agencies of all institutions of learning and education that tolerate or issue hate language. Until Saudi Arabia and Egypt put an end to the propagation of the ugly anti-Israeli and anti-Jewish motifs in their mosques, texts, universities and media, neither should have any credibility as a participant or intermediary in any peace process. Israel - and the world community - need to demand as the first "core issue" that we apply public health models of surveillance to identify and ban the use of hate language and incitement. In order to reduce the risk of perpetual conflict, we have to institutionalize surveillance of incitement. The purpose of such monitoring would be to trigger bans and punitive legal actions designed to deter the perpetrators of incitement and hate language. Using the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Code, which specifies that incitement to genocide is a crime against humanity, Israel should be leading the way in criminalizing incitement to genocidal terror as a central part of any future agreement coming out of Annapolis. I ASK President Bush and Secretary Rice: Has the US consul-general, who has been assigned to monitor "progress in compliance with the road map" been required to monitor how many times the words "pig," "cancer," "filth," "microbes" and "vermin" and the all the other anti-Semitic motifs appear in Arab textbooks, sermons, official Internet sites and media? The core values of all human social contracts need to guide resolution of the conflict with the Palestinians and their hinterland. Incitement to terror is a blatant assault on respect for the most basic of all human rights - human life and dignity - signaling genocidal intent by its perpetrators and practitioners. The road map explicitly calls for an end to incitement as an essential precondition for all future agreements. Official monitoring, reporting and sanctioning of incitement are the essential next steps to eradicating this fundamental obstacle to peace and threat to human life. The writer heads the Genocide Prevention Program at Hebrew University-Hadassah School of Public Health and Community Medicine and serves on the advisory board of Genocide Watch.