"With joy in my heart": greeting a killer
EVEN ABSENT MONICA LEWINSKY'S emergence as a national personality, it's unlikely that last week's back-to-back White House visits by Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and PLO chairman Yasser Arafat would have generated major news: In fact, it was clear before the two men arrived here that the chances of a diplomatic breakthrough were minuscule.
The near-total absence of media coverage may actually have redounded to the benefit of the administration's permanent Middle East settlement-seekers. Certainly, these folks were helped by the limited coverage accorded one controversy that attended Arafat's visit -- a controversy created by the Clinton administration itself.
As regards Israel and the Palestinians, U.S. policy, for practical purposes, has long been on autopilot; indeed, this circumstance has been compounded by the fact that American policy in this realm is guided by the very same people who first established it -- way back in the Bush administration. The senior statesmen in this caucus are Dennis Ross -- once a protegee of Secretary of State James Baker and now Clinton's special Middle East envoy -- and Ross' fellow Bush administration alumnus, Aaron Miller, who remains Ross' top deputy.
The anti-Netanyahu bias of Ross, Miller, National Security Adviser Sandy Berger and senior State Department official Martin Indyk has been apparent since the very day Shimon Peres was defeated. But last week's episode -- in its obscene insensitivity -- reflects a sympathy for Arafat more profound than even the most cynical might have imagined.
In this context, the fact that Washington's four key Middle East policy-makers are Jews is decidedly relevant: First, this circumstance enables Ross & Co. to persuade the president that the vocal anti-Netanyahu camp with which they identify isn't merely a marginal element within the fractious parliament of American Jewish life. In addition, a non-Jew -- in view of the delicate nature of the issue -- would have shied away from setting in motion last week's insidious controversy.
Aaron Miller, it seems, hit upon a notion that he and his colleagues deemed a public relations masterstroke. Miller decided that a ceremonial Arafat appearance at the U.S. Holocaust Museum could not but enhance the PLO leader's international standing. Miller, thereupon, called Miles Lerman -- a death-camp survivor who chairs the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council, the museum's governing body -- and "requested" that the PLO chief be issued a formal invitation. The Clinton aide made it plain that Arafat was to be greeted as if he were a visiting head of state.
After consulting the museum's executive director, Dr. Walter Reich -- a physician and historian whose parents were Holocaust survivors -- Lerman telephoned Miller and nixed the notion of an "official" Arafat-centered event. Obviously, the PLO chief remains free to visit the federally funded memorial. And museum officials would undoubtedly make appropriate provisions to ensure his security.
Thus, when an enraged Miller told Lerman to change his mind, the issue at hand wasn't simply a tour of the museum.
Requiring a survivor to escort through a Holocaust memorial a terror chieftain whose hands are drenched with Jewish blood -- and who presides over one of the world's largest Holocaust-denial industries -- bespeaks stunning audacity and rare insensitivity. But the intense pressure placed on Lerman caused him to worry about the museum's very future. Eventually, Lerman reversed his stance, blamed his initial "fallacious decision" on Reich and announced that he was looking forward -- "with love in my heart" -- to greeting the PLO chairman and serving as his guide.
It's hard to read these fawning remarks -- forced from the lips of a Holocaust survivor by American officials concerned with nothing beyond their own misguided diplomatic quest -- without wincing in embarrassment. Only Dr. Reich retained his dignity; the museum director let it be known he himself would no take part in an effort -- using a memorial to the 6 million Jewish deaths as a backdrop -- to honor Yasser Arafat. (Reich, to be sure, may well pay a price for his unwillingness to abandon principle; many in Washington believe that once the dust settles, he'll be dismissed.)
In the end, the PLO chief canceled his prospective visit. Citing an overcrowded schedule, he asked for a rain check. (Lerman, thereupon, visited Arafat in his hotel room -- in order to apologize personally for his "terrible mistake.")
Needless to say, no one -- save for Aaron Miller -- actually made a mistake. After all, the role played by Arafat and his minions in casting doubt on the whether or not the Holocaust actually took place renders obscene the notion of a VIP tour of the memorial for the century's most prominent terrorist.
Consider: All media outlets in the Palestine Authority are state-controlled. In this context, news stories in PA media are rightly seen as carrying Arafat's seal of approval. In this light, it's well to note a September article in the quasi-official PA daily (al-Hayat al-Jadida); it discusses Nazi-Zionist collaboration during the Holocaust and examines "the forged claims of the Zionists regarding alleged acts of slaughter perpetrated against the Jews." Note that the piece in question -- which reads as if it were published in the Institute for Historical Review's loony-right, anti-Semitic journal -- appeared just four months ago.
Similarly, only a couple of weeks earlier, PA television declared that "it's well-known that... Jews exaggerate what the Nazis did to them. They claim 6 million were killed, but precise scientific research demonstrates that no more than 400,000" perished.
Meanwhile, efforts to liken the Zionists and the Nazis are a constant theme in the PA media. On Sept. 30, for example, "Al Hayat" noted that "Israeli practices are... as brutal as those employed by Nazi soldiers dealing with French-Dutch citizens during the second world war."
Such outbursts aren't isolated events; indeed, beyond the fact that the PA press frequently cites "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion," Arafat's agencies actually publish and distribute this infamous 19th-century forgery.
Aaron Miller might wish to consider the implications of compelling a
Holocaust survivor to guide through a memorial to those who perished a man
responsible for a newspaper that repeatedly raises the "obvious similarity
between the two racist ideologies -- Zionism and Nazism." Not even an effort
to advance the cause of the PLO justifies so pernicious an
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