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Jewish World Review May 1, 2002 /19 Iyar, 5762

Jonathan Tobin

Jonathan Tobin
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Massacring the Truth

Those disseminating falsehoods against Israel cloak anti-Semitism with talk of evenhandedness | American literature has a long and cherished tradition of tall tales.

Throughout much of the 19th century, the genre even seeped into the standard histories of our nation. Mason Weems' The Life of George Washington, first published in 1800, gave birth to the notion that our first president had wrongly chopped down a cherry tree as a child, but then gamely admitted the crime because, as generations of schoolchildren learned, he could not tell a lie.

Although we could certainly use a better role model of presidential honesty than some of the recent residents of the White House, Americans have long since outgrown the recitation of such nonsense. But you wonder whether Parson Weems' hoary fables might be useful for the Palestinian Arabs, or at least their putative first "president," Yasser Arafat.

Washington may or may not have been able to tell a lie, but it is hard to escape the conclusion that Arafat has just as much trouble telling the truth. Indeed, as the besieged terrorist and his minions - and their fellow travelers in the international media - have been working overtime spreading their own brand of tall tales about the recently concluded Israeli military offensive against Arafat's terrorists, we might do well to recall the words of another American writer, humorist Ambrose Bierce.

Bierce wrote in his 1906 classic, Devils Dictionary, that the proper definition of the word "massacre" was "when the enemy does to you what you wanted to do to him."

Some 94 years later, the unerring insight of the acerbic Bierce seems all the more appropriate today. That is especially true as discussion of the so-called "massacre" in Jenin grows, while the memory of the all-too-real slaughter of hundreds of Jews in Palestinian terror attacks the past 18 months seems to fade into oblivion.


The eagerness with which Europeans, in particular, seized upon the charge that Israel had "massacred hundreds of civilians" was highly suspicious.

Israel's failure to allow the scores of would-be war correspondents immediate access to the scene of a bloody battle between the the Israel Defense Force and heavily armed Palestinian gunmen was treated as prima facie proof that Israel had done something awful.

Even after the fighting had died down and proof of anything remotely resembling a massacre failed to emerge, that didn't stop the Israel-bashers from insisting that it happened anyway.

Indeed, from the moment that many in the press began to gravely intone that "we may never know what actually happened," you knew that what they really meant was that "we'll never find any evidence to back up our accusations against Israel, but we'll just leave the murder charge against them hanging in the air."

The double standard by which the United Nations and its representatives in the Middle East, such as Oslo architect Terje Roed-Larsen of Norway, leap to accuse Israel of killing civilians while ignoring the vast compendium of human-rights abuses going on elsewhere in the world is so commonplace as to no longer be considered newsworthy.

Needless to say, there will be no U.N. investigation of Palestinian terrorism. Nor will there be much attention paid to the proof, uncovered by the Israeli offensive, that Arafat himself has paid for and helped order the acts of terrorism that prompted Israel's counterattack.

But in the coming weeks, a U.N. "fact-finding" mission will investigate the Jenin controversy.

According to a wire-service report from the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, some Israeli officials are optimistic that the documentary evidence from films, examination of the battle site and eyewitness testimony will prove conclusively that Israel is innocent, and that the only guilty parties are the Palestinian terrorists themselves. It was, after all, the Palestinian gunmen who deliberately hid behind civilians amid booby-trapped homes so as to kill Israelis and create more "atrocities" with which they could bludgeon the Jewish state.

Contrary to the Palestinian version, the Israelis have shown that they did their best to let civilians escape from the firefight, even endangering their own troops by refraining from using artillery or air support to crush the terrorists who refused to surrender.

Nor should we forget that these same gunmen had launched bombing attacks deliberately on Israeli civilian targets, such as restaurants, pizza parlors and cafes. As Bierce knew, the charge of "massacre" of civilians has a lot more to do with the Palestinians' own intentions than anything that the Israelis did.

But the Israelis are probably kidding themselves if they think anything as flimsy as actual evidence will save their reputation. The unfortunate reality is that lies about Israel and the Jews travel a lot faster than the truth.


Why is the world so eager to believe these charges?

Let's take it as a given that there are probably some people of goodwill who are taken in by the media barrage against Israel. But once we eliminate from consideration this small group of pacifists, we are forced to confront an ugly truth about many of Israel's critics. Some are either left-wing idealogues who are appalled by the idea of a Jewish state defending itself.

Others are part of the growing numbers of closet anti-Semites who purge their own guilty feelings by ascribing to the Jews all of the murderous attributes that have characterized the feelings of Europe toward the Jews for more than a millennia.

Nothing else can explain the screaming headlines of European newspapers or the the vile cacophony of hate that spewed forth from anti-Israel demonstrators in Washington last weekend.

Turning to some American critics of Israel, how do we explain the willingness of former President Jimmy Carter to expound on the opinion page of The New York Times last weekend his belief that Israel's use of American arms in fighting terrorists was "not defensive" - and therefore "illegal" - except in terms of an irrational prejudice against Israel?

How do we explain the fact that a former president would actually go so far as to justify suicide attacks on Israelis as "one of the few ways" for a Palestinian "to retaliate against his tormentors, to dramatize the suffering of his people."

Do Carter and those who agree with him actually think Israelis deserve to die because of the imagined offenses they have committed?

Such a conclusion is harsh. But there is no escaping the logic of the equation the Israel-bashers have created. If Israel alone is denied the right to defend its citizens and its existence as a nation, then how else do we define such a position except as one that singles out Jews to be victims?

Faced with such double and triple standards, how can we fail to conjure up memories of blood libels leveled at Jews throughout the ages when we hear these arguments?

The bottom line of the massacre myths and tall tales that are being propagated is a contempt for truth and for the value of the Jewish lives snuffed out by Arab terror.

Contrary to the screaming heads on television talk shows and the "impartial" U.N. investigators, it is not Israel that is on trial, but the humanity and decency of a world, that not so very long ago, stood by and watched as millions of Jews were helplessly slaughtered.

JWR contributor Jonathan S. Tobin is executive editor of the Philadelphia Jewish Exponent. Let him know what you think by clicking here.

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© 2000, Jonathan Tobin