By Robert S. Wistrich, a professor of modern European history at the Hebrew
University of Jerusalem and author of the newly published Hitler and the
October 19, 2001
The greatest spectre still haunting Israel and the Jewish people at the beginning
of the 21st century is the wave of Arab, Muslim and Palestinian terrorism which
has engulfed the Jewish state during the past year.
In itself, this is not a novel threat since Arab terror has accompanied the State
of Israel throughout its 53 years of existence and has been a constant presence
throughout the 100 years war over Palestine/Eretz Yisrael.
Nor is this an isolated problem since terrorism knows no boundaries and
has accompanied many other ethnic, religious and political conflicts in different
parts of the world.
The 6,000 or more fatalities in the United States after the devastating Muslim
terrorist assault on New York’s Twin Towers and on the Pentagon are a
particularly horrific reminder of the threat posed by global terrorism to the lives
of every single American.
Beyond that, the message behind this slaughter was correctly perceived
as being one of all-out war against Western society, the modern Western way
of life and Western values per se.
From the Islamic point of view, the source of this onslaught has, of course,
been the perceived threat of Western democracy, freedom of thought,
secularism and capitalism to Muslim religious traditions and beliefs.
Despite the reluctance of many Western observers to accept it, this is
indeed a “clash of civilizations” and it most certainly is a confrontation between
Islam (especially its radical branch) and the West.
Jews have been as reluctant as many Europeans and Americans to see the
conflict in these terms for obvious reasons.
After all, if we are really talking about a civilizational conflict which has
an intractable religious as well as territorial and political dimension, then the
prospects for compromise, negotiation towards final resolution, and a genuine
peace become far more remote. But denial of reality can have dangerous
consequences, as we have recently seen in the extraordinarily lax attitudes of
Western governments and intelligence services before the massacre in the U.S.
The fact is that America and Israel have long been twinned as the “Great” and
the “Little” Satan by a resurgent Islam. Since the Islamic Revolution in Iran of
1979 (a pivotal event in 20th century history), both have been demonized and
targeted as the source of all evil in the world and the greatest single danger to
the Muslim umma (nation).
This is not merely because America is seen as bankrolling and supporting
Israel “occupation” of Muslim-Arab land (as much of the Western political,
media and the intellectual elites like to claim — thereby fully swallowing Arab
propaganda), it is also because, for the Islamic radicals, the U.S. is the prime
supporter of “heretical” Muslim regimes which help to prop up its imperialist
Like most of the Western establishment, many Jews (and even some Israelis)
are equally reluctant to grasp how profoundly anti-Semitic the Muslim radicals —
and indeed the bulk of the Muslim world (by no means only the Arabs) — have
become as a result of more than two decades of relentless intoxication by their
medias, by their own intellectuals and religious as well as political leaderships.
Was it an accident that New York was the prime target of the terrorists — being
not only the financial center of the Western world, but also the largest Jewish
city on the planet? Is it by chance that Osama bin Laden and the myriad groups
that support him see their struggle as one against the “Crusaders” (meaning the
capitalist, Christian West) and the “Zionists” (meaning international Jewry)?
Ten years ago, in my book Antisemitism, the Longest Hatred, I warned
about the deadly consequences of the fantastic conspiracy theories about Jews
prevalent in the Muslim world and where it could lead. The writing was on the
wall for anyone who was willing and able to read it.
One would like to believe that September 11, 2001 will provide a final wake-up
call for the West, Israel and the Jewish people, but I doubt it.
Unfortunately, despite President George W. Bush’s initial declarations of
a sustained and relentless war against international terrorism, America, too, is
slowly sinking into the trap of believing that its war against terror might
succeed if only the Israel/Palestine conflict were settled on terms favorable to
Already we have been hearing the insidious voices that tell us Palestinian terror
is basically different from that of bin Laden and his ilk.
What a theater of the absurd it is when the godfathers of terrorism are courted
by the West to join the great coalition against terror!
When Iran, Syria, Pakistan, the PLO and others have to be on board and
part of the banquet, but Israel (the prime victim of this brutal campaign for so
many decades) is treated as a pariah state to be kept in hiding and periodically
scolded for “excessive use of force” when it seeks to defend its own citizens
It is not difficult to foresee the enormous pressure that will be brought to bear
on Israel to accept a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital, in return for
utterly worthless paper guarantees and a continuation of the Palestinian
terrorist war from a more favorable strategic position. Those in the West (and
they include more Jews than one would like to think) who favor this outcome
are building on Arabian sand and they will suffer the consequences.
For nothing would encourage Muslim terrorists, the mass murderers of
Twin Towers’ style operations and militant Islam, more in their jihad against the
West than such an act of appeasement.
At the derisory and hateful UN anti-racism conference in Durban this summer,
an all-out effort was made by Arab and Muslim states to resurrect the Third
World coalition of the 1970s that branded Zionism as racism. Once again, the
Palestinian cause had hijacked and sidelined other issues — many of them no
less worthy of attention.
Naturally, the fact that Israel itself is a democracy surrounded by
dictatorships and serial violators of basic human freedoms or that the
Palestinian Authority is a swamp of corruption and repression, was drowned
out by the tyrannical majority.
Equally grotesque in an “anti-fascist” forum was the unrestrained anti-Semitic
bigotry — the prevailing mood of hostility and hate towards Israel and the United
States. The massacre in America was in many ways a logical consummation of
this kind of demonization.
Such terroristic acts are not conducive to any kind of compromise any more
than a “peace process” with the Muslim enemies of Israel would miraculously
neutralize their implacable opposition to the Jewish State.
The heart of the matter is neither Zionism nor the “Palestinian question” nor the
“colonialist” sins of the West, but a fundamental question that Muslims all over
the world will have to resolve, if we are not to slide into ever more apocalyptic
scenarios — namely the question of jihad.
Either the Muslims of their own free choice (and especially the wiser and
more moderate heads among them) quietly shelve the totally anachronistic
concept of “Holy War” and come to terms with modernity, or they will doom us
and themselves to war without end.
In that scenario, there will be no winners.