Abbas the Masquerading Moderate Caricatures a Hellish Jerusalem

OP-EDS & REVIEWS

By Gil Troy, Jerusalem Post, 2-28-12

Reading the news, you would think that Mahmoud Abbas’s real first name is “The Moderate” and Benjamin Netanyahu’s real last name is “the Extremist.”  Googling the words “Abbas” and “Moderate” yields 4.47 million hits, while “Netanyahu” and “Moderate” get 2.53 million hits. “Abbas” and “Extremism” yield 2.45 million hits while “Netanyahu” and “Extremism” produce 12.8 million. Although Googling is a gross indicator, it seems that the media is at least twice as likely to dub Abbas a “moderate” rather than Netanyahu, while Netanyahu is accused of “extremism” five to six times more frequently than Abbas is.
Yet sheer repetition of an assertion is not enough to make it true. Mahmoud Abbas is to moderation what moldy oranges are to penicillin. If purified properly, the product could be healing; but as it now stands, it is putrid and possibly toxic.
Rather than responding positively to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Bar Ilan speech and President Barack Obama’s multiple attempts to restart the peace process, Abbas the Masquerading Moderate has been the Great Obstructionist, far more accommodating of his Hamas rivals than his American bankrollers. Admittedly, his touch is lighter and less lethal than his predecessor Yassir Arafat. And thanks to Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, many Palestinians have been doing what they most need to do, which is building an independent, stable Palestine rather than trying to destroy neighboring Israel.
But again and again Abbas has been Dr. No – blocking progress when Netanyahu implemented a settlement freeze, and now demanding a settlement freeze as one of his many preconditions for negotiation. So far, the settlement freeze demand is President Barack Obama’s most memorable contribution to the Middle East, an amateurish gift to Palestinian obstructionists, made-in-America. Every time Abbas demands a settlement freeze, he further undermines the most pro-Palestinian president since Jimmy Carter.
This week, Abbas traveled to Doha to participate in an “International Conference on Jerusalem,” with representatives from 70 countries.  Anti-Zionist discourse in that part of the Middle East was as ubiquitous as Muzak is in elevators in the Midwest, intensified by the added volatility of the Jerusalem issue, with a dash of anti-Americanism thrown in. Among the many presentations caricaturing Zionism as racism and Israel as an apartheid state, one activist, Ken Isley, introduced himself as “an American” then added:  “no one is perfect.”
When Abbas spoke, rather than injecting a note of responsibility into the proceedings, providing a reality check, he joined the anti-Israel pile on.  He claimed Israel wants to “carry out continued excavations that threaten to undermine the Al-Aqsa Mosque, in order to extract evidence that supports the Israeli version of Judaism.” He said Israelis wanted to “Judaize” the city and “were preparing models of what they call the Temple in order to build on the ruins of Al Aqsa.”
Any one of these three incendiary ideas would earn an extremist street “cred” as a flamethrower. Few Israelis are proposing a Third Temple. Claiming “the Jews” wish to replace the Al-Aqsa Mosque with their own structure is a demagogic call for Arab rioting in Jerusalem and elsewhere.  Second, mischievous phrases like “the Israeli version of Judaism” and “what they call the Temple,” try to rob Jews of our history, our legitimacy, our nationality. Abbas’s words echo longstanding Palestinian claims that Judaism is a religion with no peoplehood component, that the Temple never existed, and that the whole Zionist, meaning Jewish nationalist, project is a fraud.
Finally, Abbas’s allegations about “Judaizing” Jerusalem ignore the fact that Jerusalem is already Jewish and Muslim and Christian. Abbas’s implication, that Jews are engaged in ethnic cleansing, would require us to characterize modern Israelis as incompetent not just evil. Today’s Jerusalem has 800,000 residents, including 268,000 Arabs. In the nearly 45 years since the 1967 Six Day War, the Arab population has grown by 200,000, and many Arabs today appreciate their Israeli rights and services. The number of Arab Jerusalemites granted Israeli citizenship quadrupled from 2006 to 2010. If Israel is engaged in ethnic cleansing, Israelis would have to admit to being the worst – meaning the most ineffectual — “ethnic cleansers” in history, having triggered a population increase due to higher quality of life including more freedom.
Once again, Abbas missed an opportunity to play the statesman. He overlooked Jerusalem’s potential as a platform of unity welcoming the religiously minded, the spiritually seeking, the historically attuned, the peace loving. He played the Jerusalem card, riling his audience, and alienating Israelis. That he nevertheless passes for a moderate, demonstrates just how extreme other Palestinian voices are, such as Hamas, and just how indulgent world opinion is when it comes to coddling the Palestinians.
In the last few weeks I have greeted four groups of non-Jews visiting Jerusalem. All of them were struck by how peaceful, how functional, the real Jerusalem is, rather than the terrifying Jerusalem of the headlines they expected. Jewish lore teaches about the heavenly Jerusalem – Yerushalayim Shel Ma’alah – and the earthly Jerusalem – Yerushalayim Shel Matah. There is a third Jerusalem in play too – Yerushalyim Shel Gehennom – the Hellish Jerusalem. This is the construct of reporters and political activists who only see the violence, the hatred, the ugliness without acknowledging the loveliness or the sheer normalcy for the overwhelming majority of the city’s residents, the overwhelming majority of the time.
Propagandists use the deep emotions the Heavenly Jerusalem stirs to further anger people while painting their distorted portrait of the Hellish Jerusalem. True moderates acknowledge complexity, see multiple dimensions, using the messiness of life to humanize and compromise rather than polarize. By ignoring the earthly Jerusalem, the mundane Jerusalem, day-to-day Jerusalem, Mahmoud Abbas once again failed to live up to his press clippings – disproving so many policy makers’ false perceptions of him as a peacemaker.

The writer is professor of history at McGill University and a Shalom Hartman Research Fellow in Jerusalem. He is the author of Why I Am A Zionist: Israel, Jewish Identity and the Challenges of Today and The History of American Presidential Elections.

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“How Do You Say Moderate in Palestinian? Wasatia”

OP-EDS & REVIEWS

By Gil Troy, Jerusalem Post, 2-7-12

Since the Oslo peace process hopes disappeared amid the blasts of suicide bombings, peace-loving Israelis have searched vainly for Palestinian moderates – or signs of moderation. Mahmoud Abbas’s decision to unite with Hamas, and probably sideline his constructive Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, prove just how relative the term “moderate” can be.  There must be more to Palestinian moderation than not being the violent Islamist radicals of Hamas.
In 2008, I published a book calledLeading from the Center: Why Moderates Make the Best Presidents”, insisting that moderates are not wimps.  When rooted in bedrock principles and pragmatic sensibilities, moderation becomes more than a will o’ the wisp, ever-shifting, relative term. Many of America’s most successful presidents, beginning with George Washington, were muscular moderates, open to differing views but not hostage to them, tempering principle with pragmatism, blessed with vision, molding consensus.
I did not know that a year earlier, a Palestinian academic, Dr. Mohammed S. Dajani Daoudi, had published his own moderation manifesto, called Wasatia.”  Derived from the Arabic word “wasat” for “middle of the road,” it means “’middle ground’, ‘centrism,’ ‘balance,’ ‘moderation, ‘justice.’” Dajani traces the idea to the Koranic verse:  “And thus We have created you a mid-ground nation…. Thus have We made of you an Ummatan Wasatan (justly balanced).”  Dajani belongs to a leading Palestinian Jerusalemite family, keepers of the keys to King David’s tomb for over eight centuries. A radical in the 1970s, while then earning two doctorates in the United States he embraced American values of democratic consultation, conciliation, and consensus.
Dajani rejects the Islamist view that extremism is the best way or the most authentic Islamic way. He quotes the Prophet Mohammed saying, “The best way to run affairs is through moderation.” Wasatia, Dajani explains, “is the first Islamic movement to advocate achieving peace and prosperity through the promotion of a culture of moderation that would lead to walking away from the current climate of religious and political extremism that is escalating fear and violence.  Wasatiareclaims the moderate centrist position — that balance, between love and hate, between friendship and enmity, between despair and hope, which will lead the Middle East out of chronic conflict and despair.”
Blending Koranic verses extolling “the virtues of middle ground, coexistence, democracy, and tolerance,” advocating a two-state solution, Dajani and his fellow moderates, including his brother Dr. Munther Dajani Daoudi, seek to establish “a tolerant, democratic society at home through fostering a culture of moderation” in religion and politics. These peace-seeking moderates proclaim publicly, boldly, that “Wasatia welcomes the day when Palestinian children no longer are exposed to a literature of incitement, hate and violence, and instead grow up in a rich culture where they can co-exist in peace, prosperity and harmony.”
In his book, Mohammed Dajani repudiates the Koranic “misinterpretations and misquotes that call for enmity, terrorism, and violence” as being “openly inconsistent and incompatible with the core values of Islam, as stipulated in the text of the Holy Koran itself, notably, love, mercy, pluralism and freedom of religion.” Emphasizing the common values uniting Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and Western civilization, the Dajanis work tirelessly to “reverse this trend through education and training workshops to provide leaders of the community with the knowledge and skills to take part in building bridges of political, cultural and religious understanding in order to play a more positive role in society.”  They want “to activate the role of religious leaders as peace builders, and to create platforms for the engagement with the civic society.  The goal is to make religion become part of the solution rather than remain part of the problem.”
Both Dajani brothers teach at Al-Quds University. While aware that young people are “vulnerable to extremist ideologies,” they see their students responding to their ideas, especially through the American Studies program which Mohammed Dajani chairs. They run a successful three-way parallel partnership involving Tel Aviv University, Al-Quds, and Oberlin College students, building a network of young believers in democracy, moderation, and coexistence, with a shared vocabulary rooted in the best of the American experience – even as we watch an American presidential campaign emphasizing extremism and idiocy over moderation and balance.
Thanks to Marvin Krislov, the President of Oberlin College, I recently met Mohammed Dajani. We rendezvoused in the Roladin café in the new Mamila Mall near Jaffa Gate. As we shared our mutually reinforcing dreams of moderation – for America and the Middle East – the legendary Israeli singer and peace activist David Broza’s “Tachat HaShamaim” (under the heavens), played in the background, giving the meeting an added blessing. Dajani told me that in his master’s seminar last semester, different students read different chapters from my book, presenting the particular model of presidential leadership that emerged from each chapter that inspired them, along with the associated American value. I was deeply moved to think that this book, written with a focus on the United States, might have resonance in the complicated Middle East.
In times of radicalism,” Mohammed Dajani writes, “being moderate is revolutionary.” My experiences with the Dajanis and their students reassured me that there are some revolutionary moderates. Nevertheless, we need more, including on the Israeli side. I am dismayed that Israelis have done little to encourage these moderates and to reciprocate. Both the Gaza disengagement and the recent Gilad Shalit deal boosted Hamas radicals, intentionally or not. The international community should do more to finance these moderates – where are the Europeans, with all their rhetoric, when they have a chance to do some good? For years, Israelis have complained that Palestinians lacked this moderate force. Now, when we see moderate sprouts that can be nurtured, we must mobCenter Field: “How Do You Say Moderate in Palestinian? Wasatia”

The writer is professor of history at McGill University and a Shalom Hartman Research Fellow in Jerusalem. He is the author of Why I Am A Zionist: Israel, Jewish Identity and the Challenges of Today and The History of American Presidential Elections.

The X factor in the American election

JPost, July 13, 2008

Throughout much of George W. Bush’s reign, the newspapers and blogosphere have been filled with dire warnings about the state of America. Much of it was so hysterical, it was easy to dismiss it as “Bushophobia,” a reflection of the irrational, intense hatred this president provokes, especially among elites.

In fact, for much of the Bush years, America’s economy did well. Quarter after quarter, experts would warn about sobering outcomes, and yet the numbers kept on illustrating a much rosier picture. As long as the economy was strong, Bush’s popularity ratings could plummet, New Orleans could sink, Iraq could become a quagmire, but the overall tone in the United States remained surprisingly upbeat.

All that has changed. The talk in the United States has turned, people frequently admit their economic distress, focusing on limited finances now or worries about limitations to come. The most visible symbol of this new economic reality is that gasoline is now consistently over $4 a gallon.

People are cutting back, redirecting resources they once piddled away on luxuries toward keeping up with their necessities. As a mark of this shift, Starbucks, one of the great symbols of early 21st century indulgence with its $4 cups of coffee, just closed 600 stores. It seems that the Bush daydream has become the Bush nightmare.

This energy and economic trauma on top of all the other traumas should make it a simple election for the Democrats. No matter who wins the White House, everyone is expecting a Democratic sweep of Congress. On Capitol Hill, Republicans are bracing for a bloodbath, Democrats are already squabbling over the spoils. With Barack Obama leading in the polls, with John McCain retooling his campaign team, this election should be a slam dunk win for the Democrats.

But the dynamics of the presidential campaign are not that easy. Remember President Michael kis? He was crowned the presumptive successor to Ronald Reagan in 1988 as he enjoyed a double digit lead in the polls over George H.W. Bush throughout the summer. But Bush was able to come back and defeat him.

The office of the president is so personal, the campaign is so long and grueling, that anything could happen. It really is too early to say Kaddish for McCain or pick out the new colors for Obama’s Oval Office re-design. And on top of all these personality and political factors in the mix, the economy is going to weigh ever more heavily – if current indicators continue to play out as they have been.

In 1992, Bill Clinton defeated George H.W. Bush, who once enjoyed approval ratings close to 90 percent. Clinton’s slogan was “It’s The Economy, Stupid.”

This year, barring a major terrorist attack or international blow up – it seems clear that the election will hinge yet again on that stupid economy.

If McCain cannot figure out how to respond to Americans’ distress on this issue, he is finished. But if Americans lose confidence in Obama’s ability to be a steady steward of the economy, he, too, is doomed.