‘Team Obama’ excusing Arab anti-Semitism?

‘Team Obama’ excusing Arab anti-Semitism?

As Republican Presidential debaters vie for Jewish votes by professing infinite love for Israel (all except the uninvited Ron Paul, of course), there’s that brouhaha on Obama administration figures who don’t simply blame everything on the Arabs.  J.J. Goldberg writes amusingly of this in his column in The Forward:

[Ambassador to Belgium Howard] Gutman is under fire for a speech he gave to a November 30 conference on European anti-Semitism, which his critics say amounted to rationalizing and excusing anti-Semitism. In his remarks Gutman claimed that attacks on European Jews by local Muslims stem from a hatred “largely born of and reflecting the tension between Israel, the Palestinian Territories and neighboring Arab states in the Middle East.” …
Gutman said that educators and community leaders can help ease the fraught situation by “working to limit converting political and military tension in the Middle East into social problems in Europe.” But to make a real dent in European anti-Semitism, Israeli, Palestinian and neighboring Arab leaders have to sit down and talk peace.
Gutman’s most serious offense was to draw what most observers are calling a phony distinction between “classic” anti-Semitism and a supposedly new version spreading in Europe today. … the first refers to 1,000 years of repeated efforts by … Christian Europe to liquidate the Jewish people …. The second refers to a series of attacks and threats against European Jews over the past decade, including vandalism, verbal abuse and some violence, mostly by Muslim immigrant teenagers.

By the way, although it did not go viral, I was similarly criticized when I made much the same argument as Gutman in a May 2003 Forward op-ed, “Reconsidering Antisemitism“: 

…. Was not antisemitism on the wane until reignited by scenes of the intifada 32 months ago? We have forgotten … how much of the Arab world established a level of relations with Israel during Oslo’s halcyon days. …
If Oslo had succeeded, the odious convulsions seizing Europe and the Islamic world would not be happening. … Since most of the anti-Jewish or anti-Israel occurrences we deplore are reactions to a changed political landscape [the violence of the Second Intifada and Israel’s counterattacks], is it really best understood as antisemitism?

A contrasting view is expressed in this column by Benny Avni in the NY Post (Team O: Blaming Israel — Again“).  I responded in a letter to the editor prompted by a J Street colleague (otherwise I wouldn’t know or care what’s written in the NY Post):

Benny Avni eventually gets to the point … where he fully acknowledges the unprecedented military cooperation between Israel and the Obama administration, but he mostly raises dark concerns that this cooperation is not enough or not for real somehow.
Did the U.S. ambassador to Belgium “justify” Arab antisemitism, or did he … say that recent outbursts of Arab antisemitism are triggered or exacerbated by some Israeli policies? …  Israel’s Knesset has indeed passed, or is considering, a series of laws which downgrade the citizenship and free speech rights of Israeli Arabs, restrict press freedoms and discriminate against liberal non-governmental organizations.  [BTW, there’s now an indication that Prime Minister Netanyahu is holding back on the NGO bill.]
As to the breakdown in negotiations, everyone has stumbled: The Obama administration did indeed raise the bar too high in demanding a complete settlement freeze; and Abbas wasted a year in demanding exactly this when a partial freeze was enacted by Netanyahu; still, Netanyahu dug in his heels with a flat refusal to extend a partial freeze in order to keep negotiations going.  Yet we wouldn’t find an analysis of such complexities from Avni, who apparently just wants to score debating points against Obama.

NY Jewish Week’s Israel correspondent Michele Chabin’s straightforward analysis is entitled: “Israelis Stung By Official U.S. Criticism,focusing on the controversy related to three recent incidents:

…. Last week Defense Secretary Leon Panetta angered many right-wing and centrist Israelis by implying that Israel, not Arab intransigence, is the main impediment to peace. Speaking at the Saban Conference, an annual forum sponsored by entertainment mogul Chaim Saban and the Brookings Institution, Panetta urged Israelis to “reach out and mend fences” with Egypt, Turkey and others “who share an interest in regional stability.” He also said Israelis and Palestinians should “get to the damn table,” a reference to stalled Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.
The next day, during a closed-door session at the same conference, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton… reportedly skewered bills now before the Knesset that, their critics say, would limit non-Israeli funding of Israeli NGOs; give the Knesset control over who can be named a High Court judge; and make it easier for subjects covered in the media to sue journalists.
…. The bill, whose right-wing supporters initially introduced it to limit foreign funding of pro-Palestinian NGOs, would impose a 45 percent tax on contributions received by all Israeli NGOs from foreign countries, according to Haaretz.
Making matters worse, U.S. Ambassador to Belgium Howard Gutman created yet another controversy last week in a speech in which he said, “A distinction should be made between traditional anti-Semitism, which should be condemned, and Muslim hatred for Jews, which stems from the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.” Gutman, the son of Jewish Holocaust survivors, also said that the solution to most Muslim anti-Semitism “remains in the hands of government leaders in Israel and the Palestinian territories and Arab countries in the Middle East.” ….

This Jewish Week editorial is defensive on the same subject, “Cataloguing Palestinian Duplicity,” 
ridiculing Panetta’s “Just get to the damn table”out-of-context outburst. This is what the editorial goes
on to claim:

…. that administration after administration in Washington since the Oslo agreement of 1993 has ignored the essential stumbling block to real peace between the Israelis and Palestinians. That’s the refusal of the Palestinian leadership, including the “moderate” Palestinian Authority in Ramallah, to acknowledge Israel’s right to exist.
Just this week an important new book arrived that details in exhaustive fashion the duplicity of the PA, under President Mahmoud Abbas….
The book, “Deception: Betraying the Peace Process,” by Itamar Marcus and Nan Jacques Zilberdik of the Palestinian Media Watch, chronicles the statements and actions of the PA during the renewed peace talks of 2010 and through this year.
Citing Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s pledge to Congress in 2009 that the U.S. would only work with the PA after it commits to non-violence, recognition of Israel and ending incitement against Israel, the authors catalogue how none of those criteria has been met. And further, that violent acts against Israel are on hold only for tactical reasons. The book offers extensive proof that the Palestinian leadership endorses and promotes the belief that there is no room for a Jewish state in the region and that Jews, not just Israelis, are evil and must be eliminated. …. 

I can’t say that this is entirely wrong, but it seems to be an exaggeration.  Some within the PA appear belligerent or even dishonest at times, but this editorial also ignores a recent Israeli television appearance by Mahmoud Abbas, as reported by Haaretz columnist Carlo Strenger.  Still, I’d say that the PA needs to do a better job of reassuring Israel of its good will — and vice versa, of course. 
By | 2011-12-08T16:57:00-05:00 December 8th, 2011|Blog|0 Comments

Leave A Comment