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 Clarifying Premises 

October 21, 2003

Not again!

Another international flap over putative anti-Semitism, this time in a speech at a Muslim summit meeting. Mahathir Mohamad, finally retiring as Malaysia’s prime minister, got a standing ovation after telling his audience that the Muslim world — 1.3 billion strong — is on the wrong track in its struggle with its tiny enemy, the Jewish state of Israel.

But it wasn’t Mahathir’s scathing criticism of his fellow Muslims that caused uproar in the West; it was his relatively brief animadversion against the Jews.

“The Europeans killed six million Jews out of twelve million,” he said, “but today they rule the world by proxy. They get others to fight and die for them.” These are pretty broad strokes, not only about the Jews but about the Europeans. Yet, he added, “even among the Jews, there are many who do not approve of what the Israelis are doing.”

He went on: “We are up against a people who think. They survived two thousand years of pogroms not by hitting back but by thinking. They invented socialism, communism, human rights, and democracy, so that persecuting them would appear to be wrong, so that they can enjoy equal rights with others. With these they have now gained control of the most powerful countries and they, this tiny community, have become a world power.... Of late, because of their power and their apparent success, they have become arrogant.”

Despite its overgeneralizations, this is not an altogether unflattering portrait. Mahathir was contrasting the intelligence and purpose of the Jews with the fecklessness of the Muslim world, with its irrational violence, “killing just about everybody, including fellow Muslims” and sending “our young people to blow themselves up and kill people and invite the massacre of more of our own people.” Some might call Mahathir a self-hating Muslim.

President Bush called the speech “wrong and divisive” and said it “stands squarely against what I believe in.” He seems to believe in the view, fashionable among some Protestant fundamentalists, that God gave the Holy Land to the Jews forever.

[Breaker quote: Are we hostage to Bush's religious beliefs?]Even most Zionists don’t believe that. Zionism began as a secularist movement, without religious underpinnings. The early Zionists even considered settling in Africa rather than the Middle East. When the British government mandated a Jewish homeland in Palestine, it stipulated that the rights of the native population must be respected. Of course it didn’t work out that way. And there’s the rub.

It seems to be extremely hard for Israel’s supporters, Jewish and Christian alike, to grasp that if you reject the premise that the Jews have an absolute and eternal claim to the land, there can be no moral justification for driving the Palestinians out of their homes, stripping them of normal human rights, and even killing them to secure the claim.

Premises are everything. You can’t expect people to reach your conclusion from their own, very different premises. Why should non-Jews accede to Jewish sovereignty, especially when it means losing their homes and their rights? Israel demands that the Arabs recognize its “right to exist,” but, as Bill Clinton might say, it all depends what you mean by exist. In this case, existing means oppressing non-Jews.

Writing in The New York Review of Books, Tony Judt, himself Jewish, reflects that Israel has actually become “bad for the Jews.” It claims the loyalty of all Jews and purports to speak and act on their behalf, but now makes them appear, in the eyes of the world, culpable in Israel’s crimes. And many Jews do feel they must support Israel, no matter what it does. So, it seems, do many Christians, including our president.

It also seems that America is hostage to Bush’s religious beliefs. He owes it to us, and to the world, to make clear what his own premises are. How much does he think we owe Israel? Is it mere coincidence that his “axis of evil” is composed of Israel’s enemies? How many more wars in the Middle East must we be prepared to fight? He refuses to concede that Mahathir’s speech had even a grain of truth, so it would be interesting to hear his own explanation of some striking geopolitical realities.

Mahathir Mohamad makes his point roughly, but he does have a point. The rest of the world, and not just the Muslim world, sees clearly enough that our politicians are subservient to the Jewish state.

The fact can hardly be justified, so it has to be denied. As usual, iniquity is shielded by hypocrisy.

Joseph Sobran

Copyright © 2003 by the Griffin Internet Syndicate,
a division of Griffin Communications
This column may not be reprinted in print or
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