AUSTIN, Texas — Great, now everyone who thinks Ariel Sharon is a screaming disaster for Israel has been read out of the pro-Israeli camp. This excommunication comes not from Israel — where quite a few people think exactly that — but from William Safire and his fellow grandees of the journalistic right, who apparently have no doubt about their own authority to decide who is for Israel and who is not. Some of us who think Sharon is a walking catastrophe have been under the apparently misguided impression that we, too, were devoted to Israel's best interests.
But ever since Attorney General John Ashcroft informed me that worrying about cancellation of the Constitution was the same thing as aiding terrorists, it has been clear to me that I mustn't think what I think. I need to be instructed what to think by people who think the way he does. This is the same attorney general who spent $8,000 to cover up the tits on a statue and who believes calico cats are a sign of the Devil, but I am not allowed to conclude that the attorney general is something of a nincompoop, because that would aid terrorists.
Likewise, the evidence before my eyes is insufficient for me to notice what a perfect blessing Ariel Sharon has been for his country in every way. From Qibya (a massacre of Palestinian civilians by Sharon in 1953), to the invasion of Lebanon, to Sabra, Shatila, the visit to the Temple Mount, the policy of reprisal — boy, hasn't all of that just added a whole lot to Israel's safety, not mention its reputation and standing in the world? Just the other day, one of the grandees announced, grandly, that it is Unfair to point out that this Intifada was started by Sharon's own reckless and deliberately provocative visit to the Temple Mount. It is? But, it was.
And here are the results: From September of '93, when the Oslo peace process started, to September 2000, when Sharon visited the Temple Mount, 519 Palestinians and 287 Israelis were killed in the conflict. From September 2000 to mid-April, 1,620 Palestinians and 440 Israelis were killed. Would somebody tell me why that's good for the Jews?
Just when I began to fear the Clinton-haters were giving up the ghost, they come back with the prize assertion of all the history of Clinton-hating. The Blame Bill First crowd has really outdone itself this time. Here's their latest deal: Bill Clinton tried really, really hard to bring about peace in the Middle East. It didn't work. George W. Bush did not try at all to bring about peace in the Middle East. That didn't work either. Therefore, the current mess is all Clinton's fault.
I swear to God, that is the actual line of reasoning the right wing is now using. I am not making this up — you can read it in their own columns. Personally, I think it's stranger than calico cats from the Devil, but Clinton-haters always would believe anything.
The last thing the Israelis or the Palestinians need is one more iota of rage added to this mess, one more scintilla of self-righteousness, one more soupcon of moral certainty and even a trifle more of feeling victimized. An hour on a call-in show the other morning reminded me of that the right seems to have a need to be terribly angry about something. It's so unhelpful.
It does not harm Palestinians to acknowledge Israel's right to exist. It does not harm Israel to acknowledge that Palestinians have legitimate grievances that must be addressed. Israelis and Palestinians have gone for relatively long periods without a lot of killing — peace is not some impossible dream. But America can't help achieve peace if we can't keep our own heads cool.
In the current issue of The Nation, Richard Falk makes several cogent points, directly addressing a problem that has been with us since Sept. 11: how to define terrorism. Falk reminds us the word itself comes from the bloody excesses by the government during the French revolution, a true case of "state-sponsored terror."
"By overgeneralizing the terrorist threat posed by the Sept. 11 attacks, Bush both greatly widened the scope of needed response and at the same time gave governments around the planet a green light to increase the level of violence directed at their longtime internal adversaries," Falk writes. "By not limiting response to the Al Qaeda threat, (the administration) has taken on a mission impossible that has no end in sight. ... Related to this broadening of the goal is the regressive narrowing of the concept of terrorism to apply only to violence by nonstate movements and organizations, thereby exempting state violence against civilians. ... (It does not regard) state violence as terrorism even when indiscriminately directed at civilian society."