Israel does not have "A party of God"

Posted in Israel / Palestine | 10-Dec-07 | Author: Judith Apter Klinghoffer| Source: History News Network

I have often wondered if there is any price Tom Friedman would not pay to stay in the good graces of the media? Is there a lie too big for him not to legitimize? Does he have any red lines he would not cross? "Making Peace with Pieces" finally convinced me that the answer to all three is no. Consider the following paragraphs:

Each of the Arab countries and Israel has “its own Gaza,” said Mamoun Fandy, director of Middle East programs at London’s International Institute of Strategic Studies. “That is, an antipeace, fundamentalist, xenophobic faction, which wants to hold back any reconciliation. ... Until each country confronts its own Gaza, it will have problems.” . . .

“All these countries are like unfinished novellas,” said Stephen P. Cohen, author of the upcoming “Beyond America’s Grasp,” a history of the modern Middle East. Indeed, if you looked at just the key players — Israel, Lebanon, the Palestinians, Egypt and Saudi Arabia — “their leaders who went to Annapolis were all embroiled in struggles with domestic opponents,” which limited their room to maneuver, he said.

Each one, he added, has a “Party of God” back home “that believes it doesn’t have to pay attention to what the government says because it doesn’t recognize that government’s legitimacy to make big decisions.”

He kowtows to media sensibilities by failing to distinguish between democratic and autocratic forms of governments. He lies by arguing that Ulmert's room to maneuver is limited by those who do not accept the legitimacy of his government and he crosses a red line when he equates behavior of a group of Israelis (he does not name them) with that of Hamas and Hezbollah. After all, that thesis was tested during the evacuation of Gaza when the international media descended on samll strip to watch Israeli "fundamentalists" demonstrate that they are just as violent as other Middle Eastern fundamentalists.

I must assume that when Friedman writes about a Jewish party of God he does not mean Neturei Karta, the tiny Orthodox group which does not recognize Israel (but supports Ahmadinejad) because the Messiah has not yet come. In any case, they do not have a political party. Nor do I believe that Friedman refers to Israeli Arab parties which come closest to challenging the legitimacy of the Israeli government. I suspect he is referring to the much demonized "settlers" disregarding the fact that the settlers are not a political party nor do they challenge the legitimacy of the Israeli government as they have demonstrated in August 2005.

Unlike Hamas or Hezbollah, Jewish settlers did not kill Israeli soldiers regardless of the provocation. Instead, they left their home, business, schools and synagogues to be demolished or desecrated by celebrating enemies sworn to their demise. Even CNN reported:

Some sobbing, others stone-faced, but all walking peacefully, the final group of Israeli settlers in Gaza boarded buses Monday, leaving the small strip of land at the center of a geopolitical firestorm.

In their final moments at the site that has been their home for decades, the settlers sang, danced and prayed together with Israeli troops who were there to evict them. . . .

Israel originally expected the pullout from Gaza to take weeks; instead it took five days to clear out the settlements. Forced evacuations began Wednesday, stopped during the Jewish Sabbath and ended Monday.

Harel praised Israeli soldiers and police for doing their work "wisely" and "with a lot of compassion to the settlers."

He also lauded the settlers for walking out "with straight backs" and in "an honorable way."

Friedman is as aware of that reality as is any mildly informed observer. Yet, he has no qualms dishonoring and debasing the Israeli polity which passed such an existential test with flying colors. Israel is a vibrant democracy which should not be placed in the same column with failed "would be states" such as Lebanon and the PA, autocracies such as Egypt or theocracies such as Saudi Arabia.

If Olmert feels unable to repeat the Gaza exercise in the West Bank it is not because he fear a non existent Israeli Party of God but because of the disastrous consequences of the Gaza eviction evidenced by the fate of Sderot.

For when all said and done, the settlers have been proved right. They were Israel's first line of defense. With them gone, Sderot and soon Ashkelon have become that line. Tobias Buck of the FT descibes it as Another day, another bombardment:

The small Israeli town of Sderot is enveloping itself in a blanket of concrete. The grey material is everywhere. Schools and nurseries crouch below hulking canopies, dozens of bomb-shelters dot the urban landscape and even the bulletproof windows of one school have been provided with thick overhanging slabs.

One by one, the town’s open-air bus stops are being replaced with concrete cubicles. Painted bright yellow, the roadside shelters are adorned on the inside with hastily scribbled insults to Hamas, the Islamist group, and other graffiti, one of which reads: “Relax – we are praying.”

The profusion of concrete is a determined, but ultimately futile, attempt to shield Sderot’s 20,000 citizens from the Qassam rockets that are fired into the town every day. Launched by Palestinian militants from northern Gaza, the home-made rockets have just a few kilometres to travel before impact, leaving residents with no more than 20 seconds to seek refuge.

“It’s like Russian roulette. If it’s your day you are finished,” says Tiger Avraham, the head of the local paramedic team. “Children don’t go outside and you cannot walk far from home. It’s hard to live like this.”

But Tom Friedman does not want to acknowledge the problem called Sderot any more than we wants to acknowledge the lesson of Judenrein Gaza. It just may force him to reconsider his belief that all Middle Eastern states and all religious persons are alike.

No, they are not but ideologically motivated intellectuals are and Tom Friedman is one them. So, why do I care? Because he is not the only one and he is such a darn influential one. Together, they have helped legitimize real "parties of God" and delegitimize democracies in the Third world with disastrous results.

Judith Apter Klinghoffer is member of the WSN International Advisory Board.