Demonization — or peace talks?

Throughout Jewish history, it has been necessary, time and again, to fight prejudice and false accusations. To mention just one notorious example, there is the blood libel of Pesach, which accuses the Jews of using the blood of Christian children for the baking of matzot — a blood libel that is again being disseminated, in our days, in Arab countries and even in Russia.

As a matter of fact, many more false accusations are being circulated nowadays: Israel stands accused of ethnic cleansing, of the purposeful killing of innocent people, and especially children, and of endless atrocities in the “illegally occupied” territories.

Jews all over the world are trying in every possible way to refute these terrible accusations. Lately, however, one often has the feeling that Israel’s leaders are not taking the active part they might be expected to take in the struggle against the demonization of the Jewish state. What is behind this strange silence? Is there no concern in Israel that the steady repetition of blood libels and false accusations against Israel that remain unanswered will gradually change the world’s attitude toward the Jewish state? Is it not alarming that 52 percent of respondents in a recent worldwide poll declared that Israel has “a mainly negative influence in the world” (edged out only by Iran!)

Here are some examples of incidents in which the leaders of Israel failed to stand up in defense of Israel’s moral integrity:

1. Moral Equivalence at Annapolis

In Annapolis a mutually signed agreement was released which declares that “both sides” — Israel and the Palestinians — should end terror and incitement. Thus it is officially documented that Israel and the Palestinians are equally guilty of these inhuman activities. So now we know: Israel declares, in a statement published worldwide, that it conducts incitement and terror against the Palestinian Authority — a singular success for Abu Mazen. How could Israel sign such a statement?

All the official organs of the Palestinian Authority, including schoolbooks, TV programs (including children’s programs), and newspapers disseminate the most heinous lies about Jews and Israel, poisoning the hearts and minds of a new generation which should become part of a peace process. Yet none of this is exposed in Israel’s state media or education programs. So again we must ask: How could Israel put its signature on a document that, in effect, nullifies all our efforts to explain the difference between Palestinian incitement against the Jews and Israel’s continuing efforts to create an atmosphere of mutual understanding?

2. The “Illegal Occupation” Myth

During his recent visit in Israel, President Bush declared in a public appearance that Israel has to end “the harmful occupation.” Nobody got up at that point to state that the areas administered by Israel since the 1967 war are in no way part of an “occupation” (with all the negative connotations of the word). On the contrary, these areas, which were promised by the League of Nations to be the basis for Jewish settlement of the land, were taken in 1967, in a defensive war, from Egypt and Jordan. There never had been a Palestinian entity there.

It may well be that, for the sake of a peace treaty with the Palestinian Arabs, Israel will have to agree to a territorial compromise. But when there is talk of “occupation,” there can be nothing to discuss: All areas that have been in Israel’s possession since 1967 (including half of Jerusalem and settlement block like Gush Etzion) will have to be handed over to the Arabs.

Why, we must ask, did Israel’s leaders keep silent and let the world media accept this definition by President Bush, according to which even large parts of Jerusalem, which were forcefully taken from the Jews by the Jordanians in 1948, must today be considered “occupied territory”?

Why did the eloquent prime minister of Israel not utilize this auspicious opportunity to explain the situation in the light of Israel’s moral, historical and legal rights?

And when Condoleezza Rice, the powerful foreign minister of the United States, in an emotional statement, compared the miserable condition of the Palestinian Arabs with the past condition of the blacks in America’s South, thus implying that Israel is a racist entity, did anyone get up to reject this absurd comparison?

3. Abu Mazen’s Lies

Worst of all the lies and the deliberately false accusations uttered by Abu Mazen and his colleagues, Israel’s “partners: in the so-called peace talks.

How could Abu Mazen speak, as he did some time ago in Damascus, about Israel pursuing ethnic cleansing in Jerusalem?

How could Abu Mazen say explicitly that “the time may come: when he will return to the track of terrorism?

How could Abu Mazen speak about “the Holocaust” allegedly committed by Israel in Gaza, in response to the endless rocket attacks on Sderot?

Above all, how could Abu Mazen and his colleagues allow the official teaching materials in the school and the media outlets of the Palestinian Authority to spread lies and incitement to violence, and to describe the worst terrorists as heroes and role models?

Again, no one in Israel’s government denounces theses demonizations of Israel in strong terms. And we ask: How can Israel engage with these “moderate” leaders in peace talks without reacting strongly to what is said and published by its “partners”?

If it is felt that Abu Mazen has to accuse Israel of all these atrocities in order to survive as a leader, he surely cannot be a partner in peace talks. An agreement with the Palestinian Arabs (and with the Arab states of the region) is not merely a question of geopolitical issues. Mainly, it is a question of mutual acceptance and understanding. Only people who are ready to give up outright lies and false slogans will be able to engage in a fruitful dialogue and serve as true partners in a peace process.

Israel must reject, in the clearest terms, all the blood libels and demonizations against the Jewish state. Israel must demand that the established facts pertaining to Israel’s past — from the Kingdom of David in Jerusalem to the horrors of the Holocaust — are accepted. Israel’s leaders must put on record, on every possible occasion, that Israel’s fight for survival is based on a solid ethical foundation of historical and moral rights.

Arthur Cohn is an international film producer whose films include “The Garden of the Finzi-Continis,” “Central Station” and “One Day in September.