Israel’s campaign against terrorism has sparked tremendous controversy worldwide. In Europe, anti-Semites have burned synagogues. Elsewhere, Jews have been branded racists and supremacists. Many critics have denounced the concept of a Jewish state as morally indefensible; others have maintained the Jews have a right to a homeland but no right to defend themselves. Opposition has raised serious questions concerning the role of anti-Semitism in shaping the controversy—creating a chicken-or-the-egg scenario: is anti-Semitism on the rise due to the Israeli campaign, or is opposition to the campaign due to anti-Semitism?
After all, the Israeli retaliation has not deviated from the American stance against terrorism following September 11. After that tragedy, President Bush stated that no perceived grievance could ever justify the murder of innocent civilians, and he promulgated what has come to be known as the Bush Doctrine: anyone who harbors or aids a terrorist should be regarded as terrorists themselves and removed from power.
Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat certainly qualifies as a terrorist. In the past year and a half of fighting, Israel has sustained the proportional equivalent of seven World Trade Center attacks. The problem has not been that Arafat has not done enough to stop the terrorism but that he himself has been the source of the terror. He continually incites Palestinians and has called for jihad and a million martyrs—suicide bombers—to march on Jerusalem. Asking Arafat and the Palestinian Authority (PA) to control the numerous terrorist factions is equivalent to asking Osama bin Laden to control the al Qaeda terrorists. In Arafat’s Ramallah compound, Israeli forces have found anti-tank weapons, which were explicitly banned under the Oslo accords. In addition, the military has recovered documents that demonstrate the PA directly funds the suicide bombing campaign and was behind the recent Karine A weapons shipment.
If Arafat and the PA are so clearly in violation of the Bush Doctrine, then why do so many speak out against Israel’s right to root out terror? The answer is complicated, especially in America, where the desire to maintain support for an assault against Iraq obscures the issue. Nonetheless, some argue that although the Palestinian’s tactics are reprehensible, the motivation behind them is understandable, unlike al Qaeda. End the occupation, the argument goes, and the terrorism will cease.
Yet this hypothesis is inconsistent with historical evidence. The Palestinians have had three separate opportunities for a state, and they have rejected them all. First, in 1947, the United Nations voted to partition British Palestine into a Jewish state and an Arab one. The Jews, reeling from Nazi genocide and desperate for a homeland, accepted the partition plan; the Arabs rejected it and almost immediately launched an unsuccessful battle to destroy the Jewish state. In 1967, in response to an Egyptian blockade and militarization and the Egyptian President Gamal Abdel-Nasser’s insistence to “drive the Jews into the sea,” the Israeli air force made a preemptive strike against Egypt. Israel won large portions of land in the resulting Six-Day War, including the West Bank from Jordan, which joined in fighting against Israel. The land was offered up in exchange for peace—the Palestinian’s second opportunity for independence—but at a meeting in Khartoum that August, the Arab states famously rejected the opportunity, instead saying no to negotiation, no to recognition and no to peace.
The current wave of terrorism can hardly be blamed on Israel itself. From airline hijackings in the 1960s to the current intifada, the Palestinians have targeted civilians deliberately and heinously. In the summer of 2000, then-Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak presented the Palestinians with their third opportunity for a Palestinian state. Arafat rejected this offer, without a counter-offer, without the promise of further negotiations. The response to an outstretched hand was the lynching of Israeli soldiers and the bombing of more civilians.
To put it simply, many opponents of Israel are blinded by anti-Semitism. A recent poll stated that most Palestinians support the continuation of suicide bombings, the goal of which is to “liberate” Tel Aviv. Several Arab leaders openly allied themselves with Hitler during World War II. Even today, anti-Semitic propaganda is widespread across the Arab world. Just weeks ago, a Saudi government newspaper published an article saying that Jews used the blood of Christian and Muslim children in their Purim and Passover celebrations.
Casting the Jews as the oppressors has been a tool of history’s most notorious anti-Semites. We must not be swayed by intolerance.
If America is to retain its moral clarity in the fight against international terrorism, then it must allow Israel to proceed with its campaign in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. To tie Israel’s hands at this critical juncture will only put the country at risk of falling, which is exactly what the surrounding Arab states and anti-Semites of the world desire: to drive the Jews into the sea.
Yisroel Brumer and Emmanuel D. Tannenbaum are graduate students in chemical physics in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.