Reprinted with permission from The Jewish Journal of Los Angeles.
During the first weeks following the terror attacks on New York and Washington, Israel's Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem instructed officials charged with explaining Israel's position to avoid, when possible, interviews and media queries. Meirav Eilon Shahar, Israel's consul for communications and public affairs in Los Angeles, recalls a prevailing sense within the diplomatic community that no matter how sympathetic they were to America's plight or how good their terrorism expertise, Israelis should realize this was not their fight.
"The concern seemed to be that if we assumed a high profile, we might find ourselves blamed, somehow, for attracting terrorism to these shores," Shahar told The Journal.
|Charges of Israeli culpability have become commonplace not only in bin Laden's videotaped pronouncements, but at barber shops and beauty parlors, and wherever else Americans regularly convene.|
Less than a month later, even as Israel is rocked by a political assassination of a top Cabinet minister, charges of Israeli culpability have become commonplace not only in Osama bin Laden's videotaped pronouncements, but at barber shops and beauty parlors, bingo halls and bowling alleys, and wherever else Americans regularly convene and commiserate.
Media pundits have outdone themselves in accounting for Al Qaeda's motives, its inherent nihilism, its intent to reverse the current world order. Americans have heard them repeatedly explain bin Laden's animus in terms of the "infidel presence" in Saudi Arabia, and the continued Western sanctions against Iraq. Bin Laden-watchers like Abdel-Bari Atwan of the London-based newspaper Al-Quds al-Arabi have stressed that opposition to Zionism and support for Palestinian rights remain a sideshow of a sideshow, not the causative force claimed in bin Laden's most recent video.
But for a growing number of Americans, blaming Israel is easier than wrestling with the more arcane or esoteric sources of Islamic discontent cited recently by specialists. A refrain of anti-Israel statements has become common on American talk radio, as it has been in Europe for years. For example, the French Foreign Ministry cites "excessive support for the Jewish State" as a root cause of all Mideast terrorism. This week, the Simon Wiesenthal Center called on TV Asahi, a leading Japanese TV network, to immediately remove Koji Kawamura as an "expert commentator" from its programming after he alleged on air that the "common threat liking the targets of anthrax attacks was the they were Jews."
Among Americans, 58 percent said that U.S. support for Israel was a key motive behind the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, according to a Pew Research Center poll done for Newsweek. And 46 percent of respondents agreed that it might be time to reconsider America's traditional support for the Jewish State. Yet despite these findings, nine out of 10 Americans support the campaign in Afghanistan, while 81 percent would like to see the president move into Iraq to clean up the mess left a decade earlier by his father. And nearly three out of every four Americans asked say they'd like to see terrorists pursued as far afield as the Sudan or the Philippines.
"Sure, it looks a little nuts at first," says Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. "We're one month out from an event that was bigger than Pearl Harbor, and the parameters of this war are no more clear than during the first few days. We don't have Osama yet, but you do have incidents of anthrax, and things are clearly going to get worse before they get better. We are beginning to understand that this is a war without borders, waged against an enemy without soldiers. No one expects immediate closure. But people want the terrorism to stop.
"On the other hand, people are telling themselves, 'Gee, if only the Israelis would just cut a deal with the Palestinians, maybe the rest will fall into place.' After all, Sharon started talking about the need for a Palestinian state even before Bush or [Secretary of Defense Donald] Rumsfeld. OK, given the absence of a language of compromise elsewhere in the Islamic world, it's probably not going to work. But maybe this looks like a quick fix to a situation where none is in sight."