Scary US views
12/05/2011 23:41

In recent days, there has been a truly frightening articulation of the
US administration’s perception of Israel vis-à-vis the Muslim world.
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In recent days, there has been a truly frightening articulation of the
US administration’s perception of Israel vis-à-vis the Muslim world.
On Friday, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta essentially blamed Israel
for its own “increasing isolation,” urging the Jewish state to reach
out to its neighbors.

He suggested that Israel make diplomatic inroads with the Muslim
Brotherhood’s Egypt, Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s increasingly Islamist and
anti-Israel Turkey, and vulnerable Jordan, a country whose leadership
– for the sake of self-preservation – has been making concessions to
its own Muslim Brotherhood.

And when asked at the end of his speech at the Brookings Institution
in Washington what operative steps Israel could make to advance
negotiations with the Palestinians, Panetta said: “Just get to the
damn table.”

In other words, the clearly exasperated Panetta believes that if only
stubborn Israel would make more concessions to the Palestinians,
regional animosity toward Israel would miraculously evaporate after
decades of incitement.

Just two days before Panetta made his disturbing comments, US
Ambassador to Belgium Howard Gutman, the son of a Polish Holocaust
survivor, basically blamed Israel for Muslim anti-Semitism in Europe.

Thankfully the White House later distanced itself from Gutman’s
speech, made to a conference held by the European Jewish Union.
Nevertheless, Gutman had carefully thought out what he said in
advance. This was no slip.

First, he noted the “significant anger” and “yes, perhaps hatred and
indeed sometimes an all too growing intimidation and violence directed
at Jews generally as a result of the continuing tensions between
Israel and the Palestinian territories and other Arab neighbors in the
Middle East.”

But instead of denouncing Muslims who attack European Jews because
Israel stubbornly insists on defending itself in, say, Operation Cast
Lead – a military incursion into the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip to
stop rockets and mortar shells fired at Israeli civilians – Gutman
attempted to understand these outbursts of violence as a legitimate
reaction and, therefore, fundamentally different from “traditional”
forms of anti-Semitism.

Though one man was talking about Muslim perceptions in Europe and the
other focused on Muslim political leadership in the region, both
Panetta and Gutman had one thing in common: a maddening insistence on
mixing up cause and effect.

No, Mr. Panetta, Israel’s isolation has not deepened as a result of
anything that it has done (besides existing). In Turkey, in the Gaza
Strip, in Tunisia and now in Egypt, governments have been voted into
power – in democratic elections – that have, or soon will, pursue
foreign policies exceedingly antagonistic toward the Jewish state.

After all, what interest would any Arab country in the region have in
strengthening ties with Israel at a time when its citizens, given the
chance to choose, are expressing a distinct preference for a
particularly fundamentalist, illiberal and anti-Western – not to
mention anti-Israel and anti-Semitic – strain of Islamic leadership?

What Panetta should have said – and didn’t – was that in light of the
increasing hostility directed toward Israel by an increasing number of
Muslim states in the region, the US reaffirms its commitment to
Israel’s security.

And Mr. Gutman, the hundreds of attacks on innocent European Jews
perpetrated by Muslims purportedly in response to Israel’s settlement
policy in east Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria or in response to its
attempts to defend itself through military means are no less
irrational than any other type of anti-Semitism.

Just as Jews such as Gutman’s father were not responsible for the sort
of anti-Semitism directed at them during the Holocaust, so, too, is it
unfair to point to Israeli policies as triggering Muslim violence
against European Jews.

As in the US, the number of anti-Semitic attacks in Western Europe
outweighs anti-Muslim attacks, even though Muslims make up a
significantly larger population. And a large percentage of those anti-
Semitic attacks are perpetrated by Muslims. In contrast, the number of
anti-Muslim attacks perpetrated by Jews is negligible, if they exist
at all.

The sorts of views held by Gutman and Panetta are, unfortunately, not
uncommon. But it is more than just unfortunate when these views are
held by men who have a critical influence on US foreign policy. It is
downright scary, especially in light of Israel’s growing need for
American support as radical changes sweep the region.