Editorial: The blame game

Oh, the Protestants hate the Catholics,

And the Catholics hate the Protestants,

And the Hindus hate the Muslims,

And everybody hates the Jews.


– From Tom Lehrer’s “National Brotherhood Week”

Have you listened to the rhetoric spewing forth from and about the Middle East lately? It has truly become a caricature of itself, as virtually no one can accept responsibility for anything:

• After Middle East Catholic bishops convened by Pope Benedict, Monsignor Cyril Salim Bustros of Boston issued blatantly anti-Semitic statements calling for the nullification of Israel’s Jewish character, as though that character is ultimately the reason there’s not peace.  

• Avigdor Lieberman’s contempt of the Arab and Palestinian communities is so palpable that it wasn’t enough to suggest redrawing boundaries to remove a seven-figure Arab population from the country. Now he wants to require a loyalty oath of all new non-Jewish citizens to Israel as a “Jewish state,” a move most certainly intended to cater to the far right, to isolate Labor and other left-leaning parties and to further discourage Israeli Arabs.

• Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and chief negotiator Saeb Erekat, who two months ago started to finally show backbone, have taken Lieberman’s lead and retreated sharply to their hawkish corner, blaming Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Israel side for everything other than climate change.  Whether this is, like Lieberman’s puffery, intended to shore up the base, or instead to provide some conciliation heading into the PA-Hamas summit, is anyone’s guess.

• Iran, Hamas, Hizbullah, Syria, Lebanon? Well, nothing new under the sun here. It’s the Israelis’ fault, they say today as they’ve always said and will always say. There’s no way it could be their own, could it, simply by offering daily missives calling for the destruction of Israel? How any national leaders desiring world respectability can continue to promote the annihilation of a sovereign nation defies reason and righteousness.

There are many truths and many falsities about the Middle East morass, but here’s one that is pretty hard to deny: No one knows how to make peace, and many don’t even want to do so, preferring instead to satisfy their own selfish goals.  We have no idea how peace can arise from such a bunch of responsibility-avoidant blamers.

Sure, there’s enough hate to go around, anti-Semitic, anti-Zionist, anti-Palestinian hate. We know that such institutionalized animus cannot be shed overnight, but there are those that should know better. Bustros’ comments run in direct contravention of the Nostra Aetate (“In Our Time”), part of the historic Vatican Two reconciliation between Catholics and Jews.  The Catholic bishops are fully aware of the Church’s centuries-long persecution of Jews, and also that Israel is the Middle East society most welcoming of Christian populations and practice.  They’re also capable of understanding that there’s no inherent conflict between Israel’s existence as both a Jewish state and a protective, egalitarian democracy (see Doug Feith’s well-reasoned column to this point in Monday’s Wall Street Journal). Pope Benedict must speak up and do so in a hurry, lest the proverbial scab will have been picked clean.

PA leaders know better, too. They’ve seen strong economic progress in the West Bank due to elimination of terrorist activity, enhanced security and cooperation with Israeli’s own officers and government. They know what’s possible, yet they fan the settlement flames to preserve their own political hides.  Such is not the stuff that historic statesmen are made of. We wish we could say that Lieberman  knows any better. He is a cagey operator but knows (and we think cares) nothing of compromise.  He just keeps pulling the fragile leadership, including Netanyahu and the hardline secular and religious elements, farther to the right.  But don’t give other constituencies in Israel a free pass, either – for those on the left to suggest that the so-called humanitarian flotillas were anything but a blatant PR ploy to cast world aspersions on Israel shows a dangerous disregard for the callous motivations of those who would destroy the nation at the drop of a hat if they could get away with it.

And speaking of those bad actors, there’s no hope anytime in the near future for Hamas, Hizbullah, Iran, Syria or Lebanon to accept even an iota of responsibility.  Their leaders are born of prejudice and hate, and they would rather snub their noses at the more moderate Arab League leaders and perpetuate their own vile leadership than take a chance at peace, which serves them not one whit, because then, after all, they’d have no one to blame for their own governance shortcomings.

So on we go with hate and blame, blame and hate.  Who are going to be the ones that, despite the ferocity of their historical indignation and selfish political aims, can sit at a table and do the hard, brave work of diplomacy rather than the easy, cowardly work of pointing fingers? Only time will tell. Or, perhaps sadly, it won’t.