February 26, 2004

Arab Genetic Defect Watch

I know that everyone is talking about a certain Mel Gibson movie.

But does anyone else espy the painful historical ironies involved when a senior Israeli government official muses thus:

"The Likud's Deputy Defense Minister MK Ze'ev Boim apologized Wednesday night for saying that perhaps Arabs have a "genetic defect" that makes them tend to participate in acts of terrorism.

On Tuesday, Boim created a firestorm of outrage by rhetorically asking: "What is it about Islam as a whole and the Palestinians in particular? Is it some form of cultural deprivation? Is it some genetic defect? There is something that defies explanation in this continued murderousness
."

Boim has apologized.

Still, the sentiment speaks volumes about the Israeli national psyche at the moment.

Put simply, Israelis are feeling something of a Carter-like 'national malaise'.

They are deeply, deeply frustrated.

Deadlocked with the Palestinians--the outlook appears profoundly gloomy.

In addition, of course, there is real rage at the tactic of suicide bombings that fell hundreds upon hundreds of innocent Israelis.

But no nation has a monopoly on suffering. And no race is marred by overarching genetic defects.

An aside. Back in September of 2002, when I moved out of my New York City apartment on Elizabeth and Spring, it turned out that all my movers were of Jewish origin.

They did an amazing job in a narrow, tenement-style, fifth-floor walk-up Nolita building--fast, efficient, no attitude (don't get me started on the hugely inefficient and lugubrious London movers on this side of the pond).

We talked politics, of course. Two of the guys wanted to transfer the Arabs out of the Occupied Territories.

The other guy said, nah, that's not good enough. Arabs only understand the language of force. We need to kill a good number of them.

No, no, the other two movers mumbled (somewhat embarassed). Transfer, don't kill!

The guy who wanted to kill the Palestinians was the smartest and most charismatic of the bunch. He explained to me that he used to be left of Labor. He had been a Meretz supporter!

But the suicide bombing epidemic had changed him. Fed up, his basic message appeared to be they hate us and want to kill every last one of us, so f*ck 'em.

So we talked for awhile. I understood his frustration and deep anger.

But I tried to explain that, in my opinion at least, either of their policy prescriptions (population transfers, massacres/genocide) constituted brutish folly.

None of us persuaded the other of the merits of each other's arguments. But at least we listened to each other.

If only the Palestinians and Israelis could be pushed to at least get back to listening to each other under heavy prodding by a senior special American envoy (no, that's not John Wolf).

It would be better than the current increasingly tragic impasse that is brutalizing the tactics (suicide bombing, collective punishment) and rhetoric (push the Jews into the sea, an Arab genetic defect) of both sides to fresh post-Madrid lows.

Note: Before you hit the "send" button, I'm not equating suicide bombing with collective punishment such as general curfews or house demolitions.

I'm merely speaking of a general degradation of the moral fiber in both societies born of a grinding and frustrating conflict.

My point isn't to equate each parties specific conduct qualitatively. My point is to stress the urgency of renewed diplomatic efforts to move the Israeli-Palestinian conundrum forward. And how, despite all the Powell-bashing in the likely quarters, that it's in the long-term interest of both parties.

It's pretty much International Relations 101 that outside intervention in a conflict by a third party (U.S.) is favored by the weaker party (Palestinians) to the dispute and opposed by the stronger (Israelis). See Pakistan/India too.

But I believe that's a short-sighted view--even if you are viewing this from the Knesset rather than Ramallah. For one, Israel's democratic moorings become imperiled the longer this conflict drags on, given demographic trends in the region.

And an Israeli-Palestinian peace, by the way, is more important to vital long-term American national security interests than even Iraq. I'd bet Paul Wolfowitz would agree with me on that too.

More soon.

Posted by Gregory at February 26, 2004 12:16 AM
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