January 7, 2000
Op-Ed by Charles Krauthammer
On Jan. 4, Israel signed an agreement giving up yet another block of West
Bank territory to the Palestinian Authority. A week earlier, the official
Palestinian Authority newspaper, Al Hayat Al-Jadida, ran the cartoon printed
above. The old man is labeled “the 20th century,” the young man “the 21st
century.” The dwarf standing between them and wearing a Jewish
skullcap and a Star of David is labeled “the disease of the century.”
Blessed are the peacemakers.
On the other ‘peace’ front, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak meets with the
Syrian foreign minister in Shepherdstown, W.Va., to negotiate Israel’s
giving up the Golan Heights, which protect Israel’s northern frontier from
Syrian tanks. Just a few weeks earlier, in the Damascus weekly of the Syria
Arab writers’ association (Al-‘Usbu’ Al-Adabi), the following appeared:
“The Talmud’s instructions, soaked in hatred and hostility towards humanity,
are [stamped] in the Jewish soul. Throughout history, the world has known
more than one Shylock . . . more than one Toma as a victim of these Talmudic
instructions and this hatred.”
Peace be with you.
Toma is the Capuchin missionary, Father Thomas, who was murdered in Damascus
in 1840. The Jews of Damascus were accused of having killed him to use his
blood in Passover matzohs.
This blood libel is one of the oldest and most insane medieval fantasies
about Jews. Centuries ago it was believed enough that many Jews were
murdered on its account. In our era, those who continue to purvey it are
either lunatics or Syrians.
It is not just their writers. In 1984, a book
called ‘The Matzah of Zion’ was published in Damascus–with a preface
defending the 1840 blood libel as truth, written by Mustafa Tlass, Syria’s
minister of defense! In 1991 the Syrian delegate to the U.N. Commission on
Human Rights urged the commission to read the book in order to learn the
“historical reality of Zionist racism.”
When in the United States, Syrian spokesmen don’t bring up blood libels.
(It was the Middle East Media and Research Institute that discovered the
revival of the Father Thomas incident.) They speak soothingly instead of
their deep desire for “the peace of the brave.”
Looking at what their leaders tell their own people about Jews, however,
one gets the distinct impression that their ultimate goal is the peace of the grave.
These campaigns of antisemitism–not anti-Zionism, as some pretend, but raw,
brute anti-Jewish calumnies–are commonplace in the Arab world, particularly
in the state-controlled Palestinian, Syrian and Egyptian press.
Americans got an accidental glimpse of the virulence of this hatred during Hillary
Clinton’s visit to Israel last November when Suha Arafat accused Israel of
causing cancer in Palestinian women and children by means of poison gas.
Media attention focused on Clinton’s lack of response. The real story,
however, was this glimpse at the savagery of the Arab elite’s commonplace
discourse regarding Jews and Israelis. This, after all, was not some
ignorant functionary speaking, but the first lady of Palestine.
And it raises a very acute question: What type of peace do such people–who
call Jews the disease of the 20th century, who claim that Judaism commands
the slaughter of Gentiles for the ritual purpose of eating of their
blood–really have in mind?
The optimists, or call them fantasists, led by the Clinton administration
simply ignore these manifestations of pathological bigotry. They insist
that the peace that Arafat and Assad want to make with the perfidious Jews
would be a permanent one.
Ehud Barak, no fantasist, is quite familiar with the press of his neighbors
and what it preaches about Jews. Which is why he is trying to obtain a
peace, both with Syria and the Palestinians, that will leave Israel with
enough territory, enough strategic depth, enough defensible positions to be
able to withstand a renewed war in case the Arabs find their hatred for Jews
not quite fully assuaged by paper agreements.
Bill Clinton is another matter, however. He is in desperate search of a
legacy. And that for him means an agreement–any agreement–that he can
trumpet on the White House lawn. He doesn’t really care about its shape and
content. He wants the ceremony.
But there is another legacy at stake in these negotiations. And that is the
legacy of the 5 million Jews who live in Israel. Who in turn carry the
legacy of the 6 million who died in the Holocaust, and of the countless
others martyred over the millennia.
Their legacy is to bequeath to future generations a reborn Jewish state that
can defend itself. When push comes to shove in the negotiations, their
desire for a secure future will come into conflict with Clinton’s desire for
an ostentatious diplomatic success. The question for Clinton is whether he
will have the statesmanship to subordinate his personal political needs to
the more enduring needs of an enduring peace.