Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Accepting Israel

I lived in Dubai for nearly two years. Contrary to most expats living in the emirates my experience living and working among Arabs caused me not to jump on the Israel bashing bandwagon but to actually separate myself from it as clearly as possible. Let me explain why. The main difference between an Israel basher and an Israel supporter is that the former believe that Palestinians hate Israelis because of what the Israelis do where as the latter claim its because of who and what Israelis are. I think any reasonable person will admit that its actually a combination of both. However, during my time in the UAE and traveling throughout the Arab world generally I frequently witnessed and heard things that made it obvious to me that raw Arab hatred of everything Jewish is behind much of the Arab world's opposition to the state of Israel.

In a recent Newsweek article journalist Josef Joff elaborated on this issue. Below is an extract of that article.

For a European, it all feels uncomfortably familiar. Take the cartoons one sees in the government-controlled Arab press. They feature The Jew as a murderous conspirator, a capitalist bloodsucker or Satan himself—the classics. He even looks like his predecessors in Der Stürmer, with his hooked nose, thick lip and sinister beard.

Open Egypt's Al-Gomhuria newspaper, and there is The Jew as a serpent strangling Uncle Sam over a caption that reads "The Jews taking over the world." On Al-Nas TV, Egyptian cleric Ahmad Abd al-Salam tells his viewers, "I want you to imagine the Jews sitting around a table, conspiring how to corrupt the Muslims … The Jews conspire to infect the food of Muslims with cancer [and] to ship it to Muslim countries." Al-Salam's colleague, Zaghloul al-Naggar, has called Jews "devils in human form." And this is a country at peace with Israel. Joseph Goebbels, the Nazis' chief propagandist, would be proud.

Meanwhile, Saleh Riqab, Hamas's deputy minister of religious endowment, has picked up smoothly where European anti-Semitism leaves off, declaring on TV that "the protocols of the elders of Zion discuss how the Jews should seize control of the world. In Europe, and especially in the U.S., there was a quick Jewish takeover of the major mass media." One Egyptian cleric has even voiced the widely shared opinion that "Judgment Day will not come until the Muslims fight the Jews." So much for a two-state solution.

I witnessed this form of anti semitism first hand during my time in the UAE. Perhaps unlike most expatriates my interest in world politics convinced me not to avoid sensitive conversations with locals about regional issues. As a result it soon became clear to me that Arab hatred of Israel is about much more than the Israeli occupation of Palestine. In previous attempts at seeking peace in the Middle East this problem has largely been ignored as it was decided to focus on borders, refugees and settlements. I believe that this is about to change.

President Obama has indicated his desire to prioritise Middle East peace by sending George Mitchell to the region as a special envoy. Tony Blair has also been working feverishly behind the scenes for nearly two years now in his role as a special representative of the quartet. So what exactly have Mitchell, Blair and others been doing all this time. I believe that as part of an overall peace plan they have been journeying to Arab capitals attempting to convince Arab leaders to sign up to a deal that includes universal Arab recognition of Israel in exchange for a complete Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank including settlements. There is one obvious problem with this. How could an Arab leader sell to his people a deal that recognises Israel when they have tolerated and even encouraged for so long the type of anti Semitic rhetoric described in the above article.

Tony Blair meets King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz in Riyadh last January to discuss issues over the Gaza/Israel ceasefire and further regional issues

This is where Blair and Mitchell come in. This deal, the details of which I believe will burst on the international scene later this year, goes further than mere recognition of Israel. After all, Egypt and Jordan recognise Israel yet they are among the worst offenders when it comes to Jew bashing. This deal will I believe emphasise that recognition on paper is not sufficient and in order for there to be a lasting peace between the Arab league nations and Israel the Arab nations are going to have to refrain from and ultimately combat the anti semitism that manifests itself in Holocaust denial and "blame it on the Jews" type of politics. This is vital for the following reasons. In order for there to be permanent peace between Israelis and Palestinians there must be an end of Arab opposition to Israel. Realistically, for a peace deal between Israel and Palestine to last it must be supported in the wider Arab world. This cannot happen as long as anti Semitism is so acceptable in Damascus, Riyadh and Abu Dhabi.

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