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What They Are Saying Week of Dec. 1, 2005

December 1, 2005
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Charles Moore
Israel and the West: Any Similarities?

Journalist Charles Moore writes in London’s Daily Telegraph (www.opinion.telegraph.co.uk) on Nov. 26 that Israel’s story is the story of the West:

“If you had followed the British media, particularly the BBC, with average attention over the past 25 years, you would have concluded that [Israeli Prime Minister Ariel] Sharon was an intransigent, murderous semi-fascist.

“So you would have been perplexed by his sudden announcement this week that he is to leave the ‘right-wing’ (favored Western terminology) Likud party and form a ‘centrist’ party of his own. Suddenly, Sharon becomes visionary, peace-seeking. Little would have prepared you for it.

“And that is the trouble. Little prepares the post-Christian European audience to understand Israel. By ‘understand,’ I partly mean sympathize with, and partly, just comprehend.

“Sharon’s career is a good place to start, because it spans the history of the Jewish state. If one stands back from the moral argument that rages round Israel and just looks at this as a story, it reminds one of that of ancient Israel’s enemy, the Roman republic.

“An austere nation builds its power in the face of enemy neighbors. It does so by great feats of arms, and so its soldiers often become its political leaders. The commitment those leaders must give to the nation is absolute, lifelong, life-threatening. The deeds done in the nation’s defense are frequently brave, sometimes appalling. Some would see Sharon as Milosevic, but might he not be Caesar?

“But there’s also an important difference from Rome: The purpose of victory has been more about security than conquest for its own sake. Israeli politics for the past dozen years has been the attempt to reconcile extrication from territory with security. That is what Sharon thinks about, as did his Labor predecessors, Yitzhak Rabin and Ehud Barak.

“In the history of the West, such a narrative used to command fascination and respect. The sympathy was made stronger by the fact that the new state was robust in its legal and political institutions, free in its press and universities — a noisy democracy.

“Anti-imperialists and the left also found much to admire. They admired people whose pioneer spirit kept them equal, who often lived communally, who fled the persecution of old societies to build simpler, better ones.

“Israel, which was attacked, has come to be seen as the aggressor. Israel, which has elections that throw governments out and independent commissions that investigate people like Sharon and condemn him, became regarded as the oppressive monster. In a rhetoric that tried to play back upon Jews their own experience of suffering, supporters of the Palestinian cause began to call Israelis Nazis.

“Western children of the Sixties like this sort of talk. They look for a narrative based on the American civil-rights movement or the struggle against apartheid. They care little for economic achievement or political pluralism. They are suspicious of any society with a Western appearance, and in any contest between people with differing skin colors, they prefer the darker. They buy into the idea, now promoted by all Arab regimes and by Muslim firebrands with a permanent interest in deflecting attention from their own societies’ problems, that Israel is the greatest problem of all.

“All I want to ask my fellow Europeans is this: Are you happy to help direct the world’s fury at the only country in the Middle East whose civilization even remotely resembles yours? And are you sure that the fate of Israel has no bearing on your own?”

The Prophet of the Zionist U-Turn

Former ABC newsman and current head of Boston University’s Department of Journalism Robert Zelnick writes in The Boston Globe (www.boston.com) on Nov. 23 that the breakup of the Likud was inevitable:

“When I heard that Ariel Sharon had decided to abandon his quest for support from his Likud Party and run instead on his new Party of National Responsibility, my first thought was that Tsipi Livni was wrong and Ehud Olmert was right.

“Livni is the minister of justice. When I interviewed her at her office in Jerusalem last Aug. 14, she insisted that except for the religious right, which opposes giving up any part of biblical Israel, the differences within Likud involved means and not ends.

“Three days later, I visited Deputy Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, the gravel-voiced, cigar-smoking former Jerusalem mayor who had become Sharon’s closest confidant. Olmert had long been convinced that the failure of Western Jews to immigrate in large numbers meant that the notion of Greater Israel must yield to the demographic necessity of a two-state solution.

“When Sharon finally embraced unilateral separation, Olmert pledged his 100 percent support. ‘I told him, ‘You have to get ready for a dramatic political change, because the Likud will not survive this.’

“While Olmert favored a far more ambitious withdrawal, he felt the numbers were not the most important thing. ‘What matters is that for the first time in the history of the Zionist movement, the Jewish people decided to turn the tide and to make a U-turn, if you will, in the most sensitive point of the Zionist ethos, which is settlements.’

“Ideology cuts both ways. When the ‘peacenik’ Amir Peretz wrested control of Labor from the accommodating Shimon Peres and promptly withdrew from a coalition with Sharon, the prime minister knew that if he didn’t create his own center, he would be hostage to one or the other extreme.”

Bulldozing His Way Through Politics

Columnist Richard Z. Chesnoff writes in the New York Daily News (www.nydailynews.com) Nov. 24:

“They don’t call Ariel Sharon ‘The Bulldozer’ for nothing. In a move that may reshape the Mideast map, the Israeli prime minister announced this week that he was plowing through Israel’s convoluted coalition politics by dumping his right-wing Likud bloc, pushing aside the leftist Labor Party and mounting a new Israeli centrist party. As ‘Arik’ put it to friends: ‘I don’t have any time to waste.’

“He’s right. At 77, Sharon is among the last of Israel’s founding generation heroes. And the aging soldier/politician wants his legacies to include a decisive agreement on the Jewish state’s international borders.

“Sharon’s first step in that direction came last August, when Israel unilaterally withdrew from the Gaza Strip and four small Israeli settlements in the northern West Bank. Both moves infuriated his own Likud Party. A growing band of rebels announced plans to block any more significant territorial compromises with the Palestinians — no matter how much that might help bring about peace. As for Sharon’s opponents in the left-leaning Labor Party, they demand even wider-ranging territorial concessions than Sharon is ready to consider.

“[He] wants something in-between: holding on to enough of the West Bank to ensure an Israel with truly secure eastern borders, while giving up enough to satisfy the Palestinian leadership, as well as the West.

“Sharon — who helped shape Israel’s armed forces, and fathered Israeli settlements in the West Bank and Gaza — is the only current Israeli leader strong enough to accomplish this mission.”

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