May 9, 2003

Antiwar and anti-Semitic?

For those who have read this column before, it is no secret that the anti-war movement and I disagree on many issues. However, one issue that we should agree on is support for Israel. But we don't. The messages and programming being produced by groups such as No War In Iraq and Not In Our Name has significant anti-Israel undertones, and this should change.

Above all else, these groups claim that peaceful diplomacy without the use of force should be sufficient to solve a conflict and that the concept of preemptive military action is absurd. It is true that since the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians began, Israel has frequently made preemptive strikes on locations housing terrorists, but let us not forget who initiated the latest phase of the conflict. On September 28, 2000, Ariel Sharon, leader of the then-opposition Likud party, visited the ancient Temple Mount in Jerusalem. Although it was no doubt a controversial move, no one could have predicted the Palestinian reaction. The next day, a Palestinian police officer who was on a joint Israeli-Palestinian patrol with an Israeli police officer shot and killed his counterpart. Later, masses of Palestinians swarmed the Western Wall, Judaism's holiest site, and hurled rocks at Jews at Rosh Hashanah services. The Second Intifada had begun.

This was an even greater disappointment because just two months earlier, the two parties had been so close to lasting peace at Camp David. Israeli Prime Minster Ehud Barak, arguably the most liberal in Israel's history, offered a peace plan, including the establishment and recognition of a Palestinian state in 96% of the West Bank and Gaza Strip territories, with Jerusalem as a divided city. It was by no means a perfect offer, but it did give the Palestinians a chance at a state and an end to Israeli occupation. They refused. Camp David was supposed to be a negotiation. No one expected the first offer to be accepted as is. It was understood that there would be a back-and-forth until an agreement could be reached. When the Palestinian government turned down Barak's offer, they refused to offer any kind of alternative or modification, and instead withdrew completely from negotiations.

The Palestinians declared war on Israel. They chose war over negotiation. They chose force over diplomacy.

I am by no means suggesting that the anti-war movement pull a u-turn and claim unconditional support for Israel, but it should be known that Israel was not the party that abandoned diplomacy.

The second major stance of the anti-war movement is an objection to governments oppressing populations. Israel, as a Western democracy, maintains the freedoms of press and speech. When Israel makes mistakes, it hears about them from its citizens. When Israel's soldiers or government officials commit crimes, they are prosecuted, punished, and held responsible for their actions. The Palestinian government is obviously not the finest institution in the world, but we don't hear about it. A Palestinian in the West Bank or Gaza who speaks out against Palestinian President Yassir Arafat or the government is putting him or herself in extreme danger. In fact, the demonstrations that the anti-war movement holds in the U.S. and Israel protesting those governments, would not be allowed in the Palestinian territories if they were protesting the Palestinian government. The very right to protest what the anti-war movement cherishes is not permitted by Arafat's government.

And in addition to all of this, the Palestinians and their sympathizers, as recently as last week, use the anti-war cause and Israel's democratic ways to commit murder. Last week, two British Muslims walked into Mike's Place, a pub on the beachfront boardwalk in Tel Aviv. One of the men blew himself up, taking three civilians with him; the second man fled the scene after his bomb did not detonate. The Palestinian terrorist groups Hamas and Al Asqa Martyrs Brigade--the terrorist wing of Arafat's Fatah movement--claimed responsibility for the attack. In the investigation, it was found that both bombers entered Israel as peace activists and met with members of the International Solidarity Movement, a pro-Palestinian "peace" group, just days before they murdered three Israeli civilians.

Taking all of this into account, it seems obvious which side the anti-war movement should support.