Who Speaks for Israel?

In a recent Boston Globe column titled "God Wills It? No, God Doesn't," James Carroll remarks on the Bush administration's poor choice of the word "crusade" early on to describe our country's response to the terrorist attack of September 11, 2001. Carroll and many others questioned the wisdom of using this term because, in the minds of Muslims, it conjured images of the Catholic Crusades against Islam for control of the Holy Land between 1096 and 1291. Americans must be sensitive to these painful memories, we are told, as we contemplate our response to the acts of murder committed on our soil.

But what about our sensitivity to other painful legacies? Carroll also points out that the first Crusade, launched by Pope Urban II, ignited "the movement from religious anti-Judaism of the early church toward the lethal anti-Semitism of modernity." This "lethal" form of anti-Semitism is alive today -- not only among some who call themselves Christians, but among all Muslim terrorists and large numbers of non-terrorist Muslims, be they in the Middle East or the rest of the world.

More than 900 years after the start of the first Crusade, we instantly retreat from using a word that still offends the sensibilities of the Muslim world -- and in far less time than it took Saudi Arabia to cut off its support for the Taliban. Such solicitousness is necessary, we think, because we are forming a coalition of nations to join in our "campaign" -- newly renamed "Operation Enduring Freedom" -- to fight those who employ terrorist tactics in the name of Allah to establish fundamentalist Islamic hegemony. (Still seems like a "crusade" to me.) Most strikingly, though the process of coalition building will enlist the support of many predominantly moderate Muslim countries, we are also recruiting countries such as Iran, Syria, Lebanon, and Sudan, all of which currently support, harbor, fund, and/or train terrorist organizations -- including Osama bin Laden's Al Qaeda. (Just ponder that irony, and then consider this one: Iran, a country whose citizens hardly know the word "freedom," participating in a campaign called "Operation Enduring Freedom." As we go to press, news comes down that Iran won't join. What a surprise.)

But one Middle Eastern partner seems forgotten in all this. I assume I am not the only person who, upon viewing videos of anti-American demonstrations by bin Laden supporters in Pakistan and elsewhere, noticed that the dancing, effigy-burning participants, and those who cheered them on, carried signs on which were etched (among very few discernible English words) USA and JEWS. I also assume I am not the only person who knows that until September 11, 2001, at every call to prayer in Iran, worshipers were exhorted to destroy the United States and Israel -- and that after September 11, 2001, only the call to destroy Israel remained. I assume I am not the only American, Jewish or otherwise, to have looked at the maps of the Middle East and Western Asia and noted the vastness of Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Sudan, Egypt, and others, and compared them to the ant-on-the-back-of-an-elephant size of Israel -- whose population is only 6.5 million.

Nor do I presume that after all the talk of coalition building and the roles these nations can play in our "campaign," and of all the financial "incentives" we are offering as further enticement, I am the only one to note the deafening silence regarding Israel and its long-standing role as our ally in this battle. Indeed, just about the only things we hear regarding Israel -- and let's not forget that it is the only democracy among these nations -- concern whether its leaders are willing to pursue peace talks with Arafat, and when the Israelis will end the violence and "settle" their conflict with the Palestinians. Where, one might legitimately ask, is the concern for the sensibilities of Israelis -- or, for that matter, Jewish Americans?

It is no secret that our greatest hurdle in persuading the majority of Muslim nations to join with us is our long-standing support of Israel's right to exist. With the exception of those regimes that actively support terrorism, no Muslim nation should be unwilling to join our campaign against terrorism, because their own seats of power are most gravely threatened by terrorists. And yet it is with profound hesitancy that even Saudi Arabia and Kuwait have signed up, for as much as they fear the terrorists, they also fear their own people's reaction to their support for the world's strongest ally of their most hated enemy, Israel. The friend of my enemy is my enemy. Recent reports have even suggested that the new leader of Syria -- Bashar al-Assad, the ophthalmologist son of the deceased dictator -- has expressed desire to make his government more open. Yet when the pope visited Syria several months ago, Assad stood steadfastly by his hatred of Israel. It may be expedient, but how is it appropriate for Syria to join something called "Operation Enduring Freedom?" In none of the talk of coalition building, however, do we hear our president, our secretary of state, or our secretary of defense wonder how establishing such ties might look to America's Jewish citizens or America's ally Israel. Instead, we hear some columnists and radio-talk-show hosts suggest that it's time for Israel to "give it up."

As government leaders across the political spectrum and clergy of all denominations exhort us to understand that it is only the Muslim fanatics, the hatemongers, and the crazies of the Muslim world who need to be held accountable, brought to justice, and eliminated, we hear nothing about our nation's newfound understanding of what Israeli Jews have been living with daily for decades. We hear nothing about our continued solidarity with the state of Israel. Why, I wonder, is that the case? Is it fear of another kind? Whatever it is, it is time that we talk about it openly: the spirit of "Operation Enduring Freedom" demands it.

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