Editorial: Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me

Certainly everyone sees the hate ablaze in the words of Islamist leaders when they refer to Israel as a “cancerous tumor,” as Iran’s Ayatollah Ali Khamenei did once again last weekend. As the radical cleric reiterated his support for Hamas and other violent groups, Khamenei eschewed any government that has diplomatic ties to Israel, saying such nations “cannot advocate support for Palestine.”

Using the cancer metaphor, however, is particularly ironic, for it turns on its head Israel’s leadership role in the Middle East for promoting the health and welfare of all peoples, regardless of religion or ethnicity.

A mosque in the Galilee is set on fire by radical rightists, one of the vigilante “price tag” attacks (so called because they exact a retaliatory “price” against Arabs, Muslims and Palestinians). President Shimon Peres visits the mosque and strongly condemns as “shameful” the attacks as contrary to the “morals and spirit of Israel…where everyone has equal rights regardless of religion or nationality.”

Peres’ response is a little different, for instance, than the case of David Gerbi, exiled from Libya since 1967, who upon returning recently tried to begin restoring a Tripoli synagogue but was forced away by armed residents. Or than Iran, which has seen its historic Persian Jewish population dwindle since the 1979 Islamist revolution.

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Peres’ actions and words represent the highest aspirations of Israel’s existence. No, the country doesn’t get it right all the time, any more than we do in the United States; slavery, segregated schools, times of virulent anti-Semitism and, especially since 9/11, Islamobashing are marked reminders of how badly we can get it wrong. There are certainly poor living conditions for a number of Israeli citizens, and recent public protests have focused on the declining standard of social services and education for the entire populace.

Yet Israel as a recognized member of the United Nations is hardly more than a quarter of the age of America and continues to fight for the rights of minorities even in the face of existential threats to its very existence.

But wait, there’s more. Because the threats aren’t all existential, as Israel demonstrates its commitment to open society and democracy by allowing myriad non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to operate within its own borders that have as their allies some of the same folks who would like to decimate Israel.

But wait, there’s even more. Because Israel commits a substantial portion of its national budget to providing medical and social services to Arabs and Palestinians, Muslims and Christians alongside the support it provides its Jewish citizens.

But wait, there’s even, even more, because all those citizens can actually vote for whomever they want in open elections.

We know we’ve said this a hundred times, but it bears repeating because so few of Israel’s detractors either admit it or are wont to even listen: The Jewish State is held to a different set of standards than any other nation in the world. Period.

Sometimes it’s due to blatant anti-Semitism from Islamists, other times from those who empathize with the plight of those on the streets of Gaza. And incredibly yet accurately, sometimes it results from those who embrace Israel as a nation and hold it to the highest possible standard, even if that standard appears virtually impossible to emulate.

For whatever reason and intention, however, you can’t look at what Israel does in promoting democracy and egalitarianism and objectively conclude it pales in comparison to any of its neighbors. Quite the contrary, it serves as a beacon for how nations can show appreciation and respect for those in a religious or ethnic minority.

Think we’re spouting hyperbole? Try to find a synagogue (or for that matter, a church) in which to pray in Saudi Arabia (or Gaza). Number of churches and mosques in Jerusalem, according to the 2000 Statistical Yearbook of Jerusalem? Over 200.

No, the cancer Khamenei cites is reflected in the shocking hatred that Iran and many of its Middle East neighbor nations hurl toward Israel. And what they would find, if they could only eschew venom and violence, is a miraculous cure for what ails Israel and the world. Something called peaceful coexistence. Something that, unfortunately, is not in the radical Islamist lexicon.