Friday, May 1, 2009

The Haters Versus the Happy

The Haters versus the Happy

We live in an age, as Jonathan Kay pointed out recently in the Canadian newspaper National Post recently, when a woman blows herself up as a terrorist to kill people on a food line in Iraq and it is barely covered in the Western media. It isn't so much that the world is inured to terrible acts of violence but that it's indifferent to terrible acts of violence that flow from radical Islamist ideology and the revolutionary movements backed by Iran and Syria, the favorite candidates for U.S. engagement efforts nowadays.

And we also live in an age when a non-Islamist Lebanese television station can carry the following statement, as translated by MEMRI, by one of its on-air hosts named Rabi'a al-Zayyat:

"If we consider the past of this plundering, aggressive, and bloodthirsty entity, we see its conceptual and ideological history, beginning with the falsification of the Torah and the Talmud, and ending with The Protocols of the Elders of Zion--these abominable, bloodthirsty instructions....We all know that at the basis of the Zionist movement and ideology lies the concept of `We are the Chosen People, and all the others are goyim.' This is a term in Hebrew which means Gentiles, or foreigners. They view all the Arabs as insects, which must be annihilated. They have a saying that goes: `A good Arab is a dead Arab.'"

Personally, I haven't heard such sentiments expressed in Israel. These items are all taken from the history of antisemitic ideology and not a single example could be found of these claims. Not one. But I hear the equivalent of this kind of material every day on television, radio, mosque sermons, government statements, textbooks, and even children's shows in the Arabic-speaking world. That includes the local equivalent of the "chosen people" stuff, identified with Muslims and Arabs.

Don't worry, though, because the UN is holding a series of conferences which will work hard to stop racism and defamation of religions. Oh, right, the same people who are running those conferences are the ones saying these things.

It’s ridiculous seeing Israelis portrayed as terrible racist haters—and even in some Western media, academic courses, and even cultural artifacts--when no evidence is supplied for such accusations, while the mountain range of evidence that hatred flows in the opposite direction is ignored.

And yet there’s something else going on here: the Arabic-speaking world has wasted decades of effort, billions of dollars, and thousands of lives in trying to wipe Israel off the map. At the same time, Israel focuses as much as possible on constructive efforts and doesn’t throw away its energy on this kind of counterproductive loathing.

Along with the fireworks and the big dance routines on Israel’s independence day, another feature has been the release of the annual poll by the Tami Steinmetz Center for Peace Research. It is the most astonishing piece of public opinion research I’ve ever seen on Israel.

I still remember vividly when the first one came out back in 1994, how absolutely floored I was by the results, assuming the numbers must be typographical errors. Yet as they have been repeated year after year, it is clear that they are accurate.

A word of introduction: Israel’s national team sport is football; its national individual sport is complaining. No wonder that the first Jewish joke, spoken by the Children of Israel wandering in the desert was: What? There aren’t enough graves in Egypt that you had to bring us here?

When he arrived in Israel as a refugee from Hungary in 1948, Ephraim Kishon, Israel’s greatest humorist, later wrote: As the ship approached the shore, it became very hot and the passengers began blaming the government for the temperature.

Here is a country facing Iranian nuclear threats, terrorism, a possible economic crisis, the loathing of the Muslim-majority world and all too much hatred from people in the West who should know better.

So this year, the survey said that 80 percent of Israeli Jews said their personal situation was either “good” or “very good,” 90 percent that Israel as a nation was doing “very well,” and that 81 percent were "very optimistic" or "optimistic" regarding the country’s future.

All this optimism is expressed despite the fact that only 28 percent believe progress is being made toward peace. Everybody would prefer peace, almost everyone would be ready to make compromises for a reasonable and lasting solution, yet the great majority thinks the country can go along quite well without a formal peace agreement. Yet foreign observers keep saying that only such a deal--usually implying no matter how high the cost and low the benefits for Israel--is a necessity for the country's survival.

Not everything was so bright, of course, in the poll. There is a big gap between Jewish and Arab Israelis—though I bet the latter’s numbers on their attitudes is much more positive than an honest survey in any Arab state.

The article expresses some surprise that Israelis have relatively low degrees of faith in parties, parliament, and politicians. Who can blame them? Remember Ehud Olmert?

I’m also amused that on some questions the complaint factor emerges quite strongly. A lot of people think that Israel isn’t doing well enough. And that energy can flow into at least trying to make things better. Rational self-criticism is the fuel of progress.

Makes you wonder: what do these people know that the Western media isn’t telling you and the rest of the Middle East would be better off learning about than lying about?

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