October 21, 2018

The power of Jew-hatred

With the most recent violence flaring up in Jerusalem and throughout Israel, I’ve been reflecting on the kind of hatred that could animate such cold-blooded murder of innocents.

We all have dark thoughts, but very few of us act on them. Through the power of language, we are conditioned to manage our dark impulses. We learn the right words that codify moral behavior—words like “human values,” “forgiveness” and “consequences.” When language fails us, though, we can easily crack.

The darkness that continues to emanate from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is very much connected to the language of Jew-hatred that permeates Palestinian society.

This Jew-hatred is especially lethal because it originates at the top – with the government, media, schools, mosques and other institutions. Even “moderates” like Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas routinely set the tone, as when he said recently that Jews have no right to “defile” the Temple Mount, the holiest site in Judaism, with our “filthy feet.”

When this hatred builds to a breaking point, the hater cracks and Jews become demons, which makes it easier to murder them. And since it is officially sanctioned, officials can’t put the genie back in the bottle. The hatred becomes codified, like a constitutional amendment.

This is the tragic paradox of the Palestinian people: They’ve been taught to hate the Jewish state more than they’ve been taught to love a Palestinian state.

This Palestinian-centric narrative must be jarring to Israel critics who focus only on Israel's disputed occupation of the West Bank. But such criticism of Israel should not cover up the fundamental, game-changing Jew-hatred that long predates the occupation.

This is the tragic paradox of the Palestinian people: They’ve been taught to hate the Jewish state more than they’ve been taught to love a Palestinian state.

Decades before the first Jewish settlement was ever built, there was a deep aversion toward Jews and Zionism. Between 1948 and 1967, when the West Bank was in Jordanian hands, and Israel was busy building a state while fighting off Arab armies, it was anti-Israel aggression that dominated Palestinian-Arab society, not the yearning for a state. The Palestinian national movement sprung to life only after Israel took over the West Bank and Gaza Strip during the Six Day War of 1967.

Since then, despite an emotional and biblical attachment to the West Bank, Israel has made several offers to end the occupation to allow Palestinians to build their own state. Yet, Palestinian leaders walked away each time, without even making counter offers. If you follow their narrative, who could blame them? Once they had taught their people to despise Zionists, how could they turn around and teach them to make peace with them?

I’m not suggesting that Palestinians had no reason to feel aggrieved by Israel, or no right to feel humiliated by the creation of the Jewish state. What I’m suggesting is that the resentment has been so internalized that it has become virtually impossible for Palestinian leaders to lose their obsession with Israel and seize opportunities to build their own state.

This resentment is reinforced by the perception of Israel as a “colonial and imperialist entity” that deserves to disappear. As Jewish Journal political editor Shmuel Rosner wrote this week, quoting Israeli scholar Shlomo Avineri, the conventional wisdom that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a struggle between two national movements may well be an “illusion.” Palestinians have been taught that the whole notion of a Jewish state is illegitimate. That's why the hatred goes so deep.

This hatred for Zionism has had another, rarely spoken of, side effect. If it's true that a Palestinian state would save the future of Zionism—by allowing Israel to remain a Jewish democracy— then why would Israel-hating Palestinian leaders want to help “save” Zionism? 

When I hear that globe-trotting Palestinian politicians are “frustrated” by the status quo, count me in as a cynic. The status quo means they can continue to bash Israel in international circles and undermine its legitimacy. Also, many of these leaders are corrupt. They know that as long as the occupation continues and Palestinians remain the victims, they'll keep collecting billions in international aid to fill their Swiss bank accounts.

Given all that, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict today has become a perfect storm of paralysis, with no incentive to move forward. Throw in the violence and instability erupting throughout the region, and the prospect that a Palestinian state will arise anytime soon is as likely as Syrian president Bashar Assad joining Peace Now.

Yes, the current tone-deaf government in Israel hasn't helped things by just digging in and failing to show a future vision of Israel as a Jewish democracy. But we shouldn't let any distaste for this government cloud the reality that what really killed the two-state solution was the very birth of the Zionist state some 67 years ago — what the Palestinians call the nakba, or catastrophe.

During those fateful days when the United Nations approved a partition plan for an Arab and a Jewish state, Palestinian leaders had a choice. They could choose the destructive language of victimhood and Jew-hatred, or they could choose the constructive language of moving forward and building their own state.

Unfortunately, instead of following Israel's lead, they followed the lead of the Arab world and chose Jew-hatred. Thus began a long, destructive journey that has hardened hearts on both sides, turning Israel into a besieged country without official borders and many Palestinians into chronic haters who prefer to burn rather than build. 

In this land of confused dreams, where violence coincides with festive Jewish holidays, the language of hate is overtaking the cries for hope.

David Suissa is president of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal and can be reached at davids@jewishjournal.com.