Three Short Stories

Jewish Light Editorial

In the region who didn’t raise with me spontaneously the need to try to get peace between Israel and the Palestinians, because it was a cause of recruitment and of street anger and agitation.” 

So said U. S. Secretary of State John Kerry last week, in reference to the impact of the Israel-Palestinian conflict on recruiting efforts by ISIS.

At least a couple of Israel’s ministers inferred evil motives of Kerry. Economy Minister Naftali Bennett wrote, “Even when a British Muslim beheads a British Christian, someone will always blame the Jew.” Bennett’s response was widely taken as ascribing anti-Semitic motivations to the secretary.

Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman, hardly a moderate, called out Bennett about his words on Israel’s Channel 2: “There can be differences of opinion between friends, but there needn’t be attacks.”

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Kerry certainly has made his share of blunders in his Middle East. But the current fracas emanates from people mushing three separate issues together into one, with misunderstandings resulting from the lack of rational thought and response. Let’s look at each of them.

Issue 1: The recruiting tool.

Do ISIS operatives and other violent militants in the Middle East use the Israel-Palestinian conflict to recruit members?

Of course they do, just as they use every other arrow in their quill — deceit, radicalized Islamism and generalized hatred toward the West. Any tactic imaginable to bring down the United States and its allies serves their purpose.

Enemies of the Jewish State are going to say and do anything to win the public relations war. They will say Israel is an apartheid state, Israel is inhumane, Israel is immoral.

Kerry’s statement is a reflection of that reality. But people confuse it with…

Issue 2: The causation fallacy.

Will all attacks on Israel, or other hatred and fighting in the Middle East, go away if the Israel-Palestinian conflict is peacefully settled?

Of course they won’t. There are Israel (and Jew) haters and there will continue to be haters. Many enemies use the conflict as a cover for their hatred, and to think that centuries of anti-Semitic behavior, violence and condemnation will disappear due to a negotiated settlement, is naïve indeed. 

But Kerry’s job as secretary of state is to protect American interests, which include among them security for Israel and minimizing the impact of violent radicalism.  To do that, Kerry has to engage in diplomacy across the region. That means listening to and understanding leaders’ perspectives, no matter how misguided. When he simply regurgitates what leaders are saying about causation, it doesn’t mean he agrees with them (though he might have done well to make clear he doesn’t agree, which would have cleared up any confusion). And it certainly doesn’t make him an anti-Semite. Perhaps the reason Issue 1 and Issue 2 get confused is because…

Issue 3: Some think that if it’s admitted that ISIS and others use Israel as a recruiting tool, there will be undue pressure put on Israel to reach a bad settlement in order to make ISIS and other terrorist organizations stop acting badly. And that maybe some of that pressure will  come from Kerry and the U.S.

This is, of course, ludicrous when it comes to what Israel will do. Israel is not going to make a deal based on the public relations tactics of terrorists. And as Israel  has shown repeatedly, it’s only going to make a deal that it deems in its own best interest.

And the United States understands that, perhaps better than anyone outside the Jewish State. Sure, Kerry and the U.S. might want peace for any number of reasons that are  reasonable and legitimate. But that doesn’t mean they believe Israel-bashing will stop when there’s a deal.

In other words, nothing ISIS does as a recruiting method is going to persuade Israel on how to respond to any proposals for discussions or a peace process. Period. 

Having said that, there are plenty of issues in the conflict about which reasonable people, both in Israel and abroad, have a variety of opinions. How the settlements affect the prospects for peace, for instance. Or how to draw boundary lines. Or most importantly, how Israel can maximize the potential for peaceful borders, and ensure that terrorists won’t be armed, in any negotiated agreement on a two-state solution.

There are many who believe the era of such a solution has come and gone. While we respect their reasons for that position, we reject it because we have to. Because we don’t believe that an annexation of territories to once again create a single unit from the river to the sea is a viable alternative for peace or the survival of Jews in Israel.

But that’s a story for a different time. Right now, Bennett and others, who may well be using their bashing to achieve internal political ends, need to clamp down on the hateful and inflammatory rhetoric, which mischaracterizes what Kerry and the U.S. have said about the Israel-Palestinian conflict vis a vis ISIS. It’s neither helpful nor accurate.