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ISRAEL

Dark Thoughts and Quiet Desperation

Jews well understand the consequences of passively accepting doom.

April 07, 2002|DAVID D. PERLMUTTER | David D. Perlmutter is an associate professor of Mass Communication at Louisiana State University and a senior fellow at the Reilly Center for Media & Public Affairs. He is the author of "Visions of War."

BATON ROUGE, La. — When I was in college, an Armenian American acquaintance told me about his grandfather's obsession with the Turkish genocide against his people in the early part of the 20th century. To a comment of "nice weather today," the old man habitually would reply, "What does it matter since our people were slaughtered?"

I wonder if I will be like him 40 years from now. For the first time in my life, I see the shadows of Israel's destruction, if not by Arab armies all at once, then by suicide bombers, one Jewish child and mother at a time. I see an anti-Jewish European press sadistically attacking Israel's defensive measures. I see a clownishly hypocritical United Nations condemning Israel's bulldozing of a building while millions die in the Sudan or Tibet. I see my fellow academics musing and posturing in praise of demons who would cut their throats merely for being non-Muslims.

Small items, too, prick hard. I find myself getting irritated at a Jewish social organization I belong to for raising its dues: Why don't we send all the money to buy Israeli war bonds instead? I am furious when I read that some Jewish media mogul just gave $7 million to the Democratic National Committee. Where is the opposition of our good friends in the Democratic Party to President's Bush's persistent coddling of Yasser Arafat and the House of Saud?

I simmer, too, about how I see Jews fighting consistently for the good of all--from the civil rights movement to the salvation of Bosnian Muslims--but when the hangman comes for us, we find ourselves standing alone.

Mostly, I cannot stand watching the news--with its tired cliches of "cycles" of violence. Today, I see Arafat, sitting in his bunker, talking to "international activists" and proclaiming that the Israelis are just like Nazis. I wonder: Did Adolf Hitler allow his enemies press conferences? I daydream--if only! If in 1948, 1956, 1967 or 1973 Israel had acted just a bit like the Third Reich, then today Israelis would shop, eat pizza, marry and celebrate the holy days unmolested. And of course Jews, not sheiks, would have that Gulf oil. In contrast, if the Arabs had conquered Israel, does anyone think a single Jew would today be alive between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean?

This is what I'm reduced to: thinking like a Nazi when an Arab accuses Jews of acting like Nazis.

I'm unhappy as well--especially since I teach political communication--at Israel's unsophisticated, unplanned media policy. Since the Lebanon war, the seven squabbling Israeli ministries that claim to control press relations have been notorious for either ignoring or failing to understand the needs of modern journalism. One journalist noted to me: "The Palestinians will go to the news bureaus each day and pitch stories, and go out of their way to help arrange interviews and suggest places to shoot. From the Israeli government, all you get is statements, silence or red tape."

A more ominous reason that the evening news is so laden with images favorable to the Palestinians is that they are chosen and shot by Palestinians. Israeli reporters are banned from working in Palestinian areas; foreign journalists are subtly or violently pressured to either keep out or report with a pro-Palestinian bias. The result is that most television networks and news bureaus use Palestinian stringers for spot news coverage and also for translations. So, Arafat and his allies are allowed to make statements like, "We are the only occupied people in the world" without an accompanying laugh track.

But what to do? I have other dreams as well--apocalyptic ones. I think:

Israel has been building nuclear weapons for 30 years. The Jews understand what passive and powerless acceptance of doom has meant for them in the past, and they have ensured against it. Masada was not an example to follow--it hurt the Romans not a whit, but Sampson in Gaza? With an H-bomb? What would serve the Jew-hating world better in repayment for thousands of years of massacres but a Nuclear Winter. Or invite all those tut-tutting European statesmen and peace activists to join us in the ovens?

For the first time in history, a people facing extermination while the world either cackles or looks away--unlike the Armenians, Tibetans, World War II European Jews or Rwandans--have the power to destroy the world. The ultimate justice?

These are my dark thoughts and quiet desperations. Who will dissolve them? Who will silence the madness? Will I even be allowed to become an old, bitter man? Will any of us have the chance to look back on these days beyond the mushroom clouds of tomorrow?

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