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Jewish World Review Sept. 20, 2001 / 3 Tishrei, 5762

Jonathan Tobin

Jonathan Tobin
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Rather than blaming Israel, America must join with it to fight terror -- WHEN discussing the possibility of our small family going together to the Israel solidarity rally that had been scheduled for later this month in New York, my wife had only one concern.

It wasn't, as I expected, the difficulty of schlepping with all of the paraphernalia associated with transporting a 3-month-old baby and being part of a crowd that would number in the hundreds of thousands.

She was worried about terrorism.

How do you know, she asked, that the same sort of Palestinian suicide bombers won't target the rally? If they have already shown a willingness blow up Jewish babies in their strollers at a Jerusalem pizzeria and teenagers out for fun at a disco, why, she wanted to know, wouldn't they choose to attack us here in America?

While I couldn't tell her that it was impossible, I didn't think it was likely. As a veteran of many a demonstration for Jewish causes, I was prepared for unpleasant conditions, hostile police and counterdemonstrators. But it never occurred to me that my native New York would be a place where Jews need fear to congregate.

I have always taken the threat of terror against American or Israeli targets seriously, and been troubled by this country's willingness to either ignore these threats or appease their sponsors. But I couldn't accept the idea that we would have to plan our lives in America around these threats they way our Israeli friends do. After this week's terrorist nightmare in New York and Washington, D.C., I will never be sanguine about that question again. Unfortunately, complacency about terrorism in the United States goes a lot deeper than this.

For years, experts on terrorism and Islamic fundamentalism have warned us to start listening to the things being said about America in the Arab and Islamic world.

Scholars such as Philadelphian Daniel Pipes of the Middle East Forum have written books and articles and given countless lectures about the dangers of Islamism (as opposed to mainstream Islam, which does not support terrorism). Pipes warned us about the way these people feel about America. He outlined the deep roots of this perversion of a culture and religion, and made it clear that what was happening was a war against the West and specifically the United States.

But though he was treated respectfully by some in the media and his writing appeared regularly in The Wall Street Journal and other places, he was often put down as a right-winger. Some in the media even allowed themselves to be influenced by the smears against Pipes being spread by American sympathizers with the terrorists themselves.

In the same way, journalist Steven Emerson, who specializes in the subject of the role of Arab terror groups in the United States, was also put down as out of the mainstream.

Emerson was responsible for an award-winning documentary about American support groups for Palestinian terror groups, and he has frequently testified before Congress about the subject of terrorism. But, like Pipes, he never achieved the kind of status that elevates journalists into a television talking head who is given the opportunity to spread his ideas on the broadcast and cable networks.

Emerson, too, was smeared by Arab groups - and suffered for it. Indeed, he was even banned by National Public Radio, where a producer actually sent a communication to an Arab group promising that he would not be heard again. And though the U.S. government paid lip service to counterterrorism, it never gained the support it needed. All too often, Republicans and Democrats downplayed talk about terrorism because they feared it would undermine a Middle East peace process that was itself a shell game.

The trouble with Pipes and Emerson is that they weren't telling us what we wanted to hear.

Instead of pooh-poohing the threat of terror internationally and even on our own shores, they pointed out the strength of the enemy and reminded us that we are a target. Even worse, they had the chutzpah to call domestic supporters of terrorism by their right names and refused to put down this lethal enemy as marginal to Arab culture.

Why do too many influential people in this country never want to seriously address the question of terrorism?

For some, it boiled down to blindness to the political cultures of others who don't share our scruples about these matters. Too many of us are willing to rationalize the actions of terrorists (especially those who attack Israel), and often excuse them rather than confronting them as evil. Too many of us are all too willing to adopt a pose of moral equivalence between the victims of terrorism - be they American or Israeli - and the perpetrators.

That's what leads to the moral blindness about Israel's terror problem on the part of so many Americans. The old liberal routine, which worries more about the "root causes" of criminal behavior than about jailing the criminals, has led many Americans to rationalize and justify anti-Israel terrorists. And it will lead some to speak of the crimes against Americans as somehow the fault of Israel.

On that last point, we will, no doubt hear a great deal in the coming weeks. The anti-Israel crowd will be quick to blame American support for Israel during the past year of unrelenting Palestinian terror for the crimes of the past week. And, no doubt, some in the media will echo this dangerous drivel.

This is more than merely blaming the victim. It is part and parcel of the same spirit of Jew-hatred that animated the recent United Nations racism summit in South Africa. Only fools will believe that the sacrifice of Israel will gain America peace from these criminals. And American Jews should not be afraid to say this.

Those Palestinians, Iraqis and Egyptians seen celebrating the death of thousands of innocent Americans aren't demonstrating their animus for American foreign policy. They are showing us what they think of America. Nor should we allow apologists for this vicious hatred - whether it comes from official Palestinian spokespeople or CNN reporters like Mike Hanna - to obscure this fact.

The point isn't so much that blaming Israel is itself racist and wrongheaded. It is that if we had been listening to men like Pipes and Emerson all along, Americans would have learned that terror groups hate America in its own right, regardless of the existence of Israel. We would have understood that what was happening there was not a Middle East sideshow but a war against the West, in which Americans have always been targets.

The terrorists hate America not because we are, as some falsely say, an "oppressor," but because we are a democracy. They hate us for our freedoms, and because they fear democracy will ultimately conquer their medieval view of the world. On that last point they are right, but the forces of darkness will not yield without a fight.

In the meantime, we must take a lesson from the people of Israel and learn to persevere in the face of death. We must also refuse, as the Israelis do, to let the terrorists win the moral victories that their apologists and rationalizers think is their right.

The war on terrorism isn't just Israel's fight, but ours as well.

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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