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Jewish World Review July 13, 1999 /29 Tamuz 5759

Sam Schulman

Sam Schulman
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Let's you and him make peace --
"HE'S ALWAYS SOMEWHERE else when the trigger is pulled." George Orwell's harsh phrase always surfaces when I see a certain kind of politician or intellectual, who justifies violence without dirtying his hands or risking his own person. Think of Columbia's Edward Said or other apologists for terrorism living comfortably in the West-or on the West Side. Or of Salman Rushdie, who was willing to sacrifice to the principle of free speech everything-from the safety of his publisher's and booksellers' employees to the lives of security men provided gratis by the Thatcher government he hated. You can see it in the strain of sympathy for Mexico's far-away "Zapatistas" running through Kurt Andersen's amusing new novel, and whose purpose is to show that the novel's hero and heroine may be materialists but are pretty decent after all.

Today the phrase would have to be revised. How to describe such leaders as Tony Blair with Northern Ireland, and, when it comes to Israel, Bill Clinton? These are men who are always somewhere else when the bullets find their targets.

Blair and Clinton are not sympathetic to terrorism or the men who use arms, but they're irritated by those who live under armed threat. And so their every instinct is to appease. It's one thing to yield with an army at your gates and bombers circling overhead. But the violence Blair and Clinton wink at is not directed at them, but at distant friends, hundreds or thousands of miles away.

Tony Blair this week is frantically persuading his fellow-citizens who happen to live in Northern Ireland to join a Northern Ireland Executive. There they will sit with representatives of Sinn Fein, who are linked to a still fully-armed IRA. Blair willingly places the burden of sacrifice and risk wholly upon the law-abiding rather than the law-breaking, the unarmed not the armed. Why? Because the conflict is boring; because the site is far away from London and Dublin and Washington; because the chance, however remote and risky, that the armed men might be trustworthy (though they have not been trustworthy or given any reason to be so by the peace process) would be so much easier, if true, than to help the people who want to live in a civil society to do so. And if the peace breaks down-or more likely, if it is peace in London and Dublin but war in Belfast, well, who lives in Belfast who matters, anyway?

Despite what Madeleine Albright has told us, we have been appeasing like crazy lately, pressuring only in special cases. Civilians can be pressured-as Nato demonstrated in Yugoslavia, when it found that waging war against the Yugoslavian army or the paramilitaries actually involved in ethnic cleansing might involve some risk--but bombing the civilian population was no problem. Both sides were elsewhere when the bullets landed-it was a race to determine which side could punish most effectively the innocents on the other side. We seem to have won it.

Clinton has been pressuring the Israelis in the same way. Surely peace is worth some risk? Every risk? Let us work together for peace: let's you take risks for peace. The professional appeasers now hope that Barak will treat Arafat as a "partner" rather than, as did Netanyahu, an "antagonist." Of course, the risk is carefully calculated by Israel's negotiating "partner" to involve Israel's surrender of its ability to defend itself should the risk fail, and war come. In the view of those who are somewhere else when the shell lands, peace is worth any price-as long as the price is paid by someone else, and the bullets land somewhere else.

But we don't have to go abroad to see the same instinct at work. Eight years ago in Mayor Dinkins' New York, over 1,500 more people-virtually all of them black or Hispanic-were murdered every year. At the same time, a pogrom against the Crown Heights Hasidim took place in Brooklyn during which the police were ordered not to intervene. In each case -- because the murder victims were minorities, and because the pogrom was directed not at well-dressed Manhattan Jews but at black-hatted ringleted exotics who lived in faraway Brooklyn --the situation was tolerable to liberals, even to leaders of the black and mainstream Jewish communities. The communities of the affluent and well-connected weren't suffering. They too were always somewhere else when the bullets found their target. Now, when 1,500 murders are averted every year, who marches arm-in-arm against the completely fanciful notion of an increase in police brutality? Al Sharpton, ex-Mayor Dinkins, and Rabbis and lay leaders drawn the liberal Manhattan Jewish communities. Those liberal politicians who presided over thousands of unnecessary tragedies, when decent police work could have prevented them, are rewarded by the bien pensant. All of the thousands of personal agonies not taking place can't bring about one of Al Sharpton's genuinely charming smiles as efficiently as a single instance- even a rumor-- of white-on-black violence.

The position of the Unionists and the Israelis are depressingly similar to one another, and to that 8 years ago in Dinkins' New York of the black community and of the black-hatted outer borough Jews. Clinton and Blair and the New York liberal establishment put pressure on the side they can control not because that side is wrong, but because they can be controlled. The PA and the IRA have been asked to do very little-only to do us the honor of accepting the money and arms they've been handed (in the case of the PA), and graciously to walk out of the prison door if they are convicted IRA assassins.

This time, Blair assures Unionist leader David Trimble, if he were just to forget the promises broken, he will get a new promise of peace, a new promise of weapons "decommissioning." Surely, Blair argues, the IRA will begin to disarm after you make this concession-- After all, why wouldn't they? After all, thinks Trimble, why would the IRA disarm-they are clever enough to see that Western governments lately have rewarded terrorism and punished peacemaking. Wishful thinking, especially when allied with physical safety and moral self-satisfaction, can be nearly an irresistible force.

JWR contributor Sam Schulman is deputy editor of Taki's Top Drawer, appearing in New York Press, and was formerly publisher of Wigwag and a professor of English at Boston University. You may contact him by clicking here.


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©1999, Sam Schulman