Student Union opens ‘hasbara’ room in effort to fill public diplomacy vacuum.
''We are three blocks away; you will be home in a minute.''
The taxi driver nudges me rudely into semi-consciousness. I try
to shake the fog from my head. I am still half asleep, staring
through the window at the Christmas lights. As consciousness
slowly seeps through, something here is out of place. Why is there
a giant Christmas tree on display in Budapest when it is months
after Christmas? I shake my head some more. No, it is not
Budapest. I left Budapest six hours ago and have been flying all
night. I must have succumbed to exhaustion on the ride up to
Haifa in the taxi from the airport.
''You were snoring like a locomotive,'' the driver tells me
helpfully. So now at least I have got the continent straight. Not
Budapest, but Haifa. But here, through the windows of the taxi,
covered with condensed vapor and raindrops, is a giant display of
Christmas lights, flickering in the darkness. Israelis only put up
''Christmas lights'' for Independence Day, and it is not that time
of the year either. Why should Haifa have a ''Christmas'' display
in March? It is almost five o'clock in the morning, the first
streaks of light in the edges of the dark sky. I give the driver a
''Roll down the window so you can see better,? he says.
I do. It is not a Christmas display at all. It is a group of
hundreds of Yahrzeit candles, flickering eerily on the sidewalk
and the wall in silence next to the taxi. Israeli flags defiantly
stand all around. The candles have been burning all night, and
strangely — since it has been drizzling — they all seem to have
survived the rain. Perhaps someone has rekindled them,
although at five o'clock in the morning the street is empty.
Through the half-sleep comes the comprehension. It was here
that Bus 37 was blown to bits yesterday.
Bus 37 is the latest product of a decade of the Oslo ?peace
process.? It is also the bus I take every day to the university. It is
ordinarily jammed with college students, many of them Arabs
from the downtown area of Haifa, who spend their days on
campus cheering on Hamas and denouncing Israel. But it is exam
period now, the time between semesters, and they were not on
board. Only the bus driver was an Arab Christian.
One of the murdered children, a girl from New Hampshire,
was also a Christian, daughter of a Baptist working in Haifa. The
Yahrzeit lights are mainly for the Jewish dead. The 37 in Bus 37
is z''l in gematria, the traditional Jewish expression for ''blessed
Because of the break between semesters, my own life is safe
from the bomber, as I am off in Budapest. It is also why most of
the victims are teenage children, who will never attend college.
It is ten years since the infamous White House handshake
between Yitzhak Rabin and Yasir Arafat that was supposed to
usher in the era of peace. Six weeks after that event, in
November 1993, the very first major commentary about how
''Oslo'' would produce bloodshed was published in the United
States. It was written by me, and appeared in Midstream
magazine, alongside pro-Oslo companion pieces by Yitzhak Rabin
himself; by Yossi Beilin, the godfather of Oslo; and by leftish
general Shlomo Gazit.
Those were the days of the grand Oslo euphoria and
consensus. The days of Israelis taking to the streets and dancing
as though the messianic era was upon us. The days of Israeli
newspapers filled to overflowing with petitions and ads endorsing
the deal with the PLO, signed by hundreds of professors, by
almost every Israeli poet, artist, or novelist, and by hundreds of
Labor-loyalist senior officers from the military. The Labor Party
machine was well greased and in high gear. The politicians were
speaking glowingly of the post-war era, of peace dividends, of the
New Middle East, of day trips to Damascus and Beirut.
And into that festivity of bliss and optimism came my
Midstream article. Answering the three pollyanna-ish pieces of
by the Oslo apologists, my article stated simply that the
celebration was misplaced because Oslo would not only fail, but
would ultimately threaten the very existence of Israel. My article
stated that, after a short initial quiet period of entrenchment,
Arafat and the PLO would convert any territories they might be
given into terrorist bases from which to attack Israel.
In that article and other columns of mine shortly following,
I declared that Arafat had not changed his agenda, that he would
use his position in the West Bank and Gaza to escalate violence
with the aim of drawing the Arab states into a new all-out Arab-
Israeli War. My articles
predicted explicitly that Arafat would play a duplicitous game in
which he would turn a blind eye to atrocities by Hamas and
Jihad terrorists, pretending he could not control them, and would
gradually renew the role of his own Fatah and similar PLO
organization in anti-Jewish atrocities.
The reaction at that time to my Midstream piece and
subsequent articles was indignant dismissal. Countless people
accused me of being an ignoramus, a blind fanatic, and worse.
Colleagues at the university warned me that I was endangering
my academic career in Israel by opposing the ''peace'' and the
growing Oslo consensus in favor of it.
I predicted that the real result of Oslo would be to return
Israel to its 1967 borders, from which it would relive 1967 –
forced to re-fight the Six Day War and possibly not winning this
time. But that prediction turned out to be overly optimistic. The
real result of Oslo is not the returning of Israel to the conditions
of 1967, but the gradual recreation of the conditions of 1947. The
goal of the PLO, of course, is to recreate Budapest of 1944.
I get first word of the Bus 37 massacre from the computer. It
is to be a lost day in terms of work. I begin to wander the frozen
streets of Budapest to collect my thoughts. I stare at the Danube
The not-so-blue Danube, into which the Germans played a
game of shooting Jews and watching them fall in and drown. The
ghosts of the murdered haunt the streets and alleys of Budapest.
They hide in every alley, behind piles of rubble, some sixty years
old and never cleared. I am only a few blocks away from where
Eichmann had his headquarters during 1944 while
exterminating the Jews of Hungary. He dispatched thousands of
Bus 37s, full of Jewish children. And now his legacy is alive,
thanks to the architects of Oslo, as new Palestinian Eichmanns
mass murder new buses full of Jewish children.
Bus 37 contained a high school boy, now dead, who had
recently transferred out of my daughter's class. Another dead
child was the son of a graduate from the business school where I
teach in Haifa. The Arab Nazis, like the German Nazis before
them, have always made a special effort at targeting Jewish
children. I have no doubt that the Bus 37 murderer blew himself
up in the rear of the bus specifically because it was full of
children. He did not care that it was a bus that ordinarily carries
lots of Arabs. One of the dead is a Druse. None of the leftist
university professors who routinely cheer on Arab terrorism were
on the bus.
In 1993, Yasir Arafat was still sitting and rotting away in
Tunis, were he had been driven by Israel's 1982 invasion of
Lebanon. He was persona non grata almost everywhere,
especially in Washington. There was consensus almost
everywhere that the PLO would never be included in any peace
conference and that Palestinian statehood was a non-starter for
The first intifada had been beaten down by Israel, and
Palestinian violence was at a new low. Palestinians still threw
rocks at Israeli soldiers and Jews in cars, but were so desperate
for weapons that the best they could come up with were
homemade zip guns and stale explosives more likely to blow the
handlers to pieces than their intended victims.
Into this near-idyllic pastoral scene came Shimon Peres,
Yitzhak Rabin and Yossi Beilin with a plan to snatch defeat from
the jaws of victory. They proposed to rescue Arafat from his
isolation, to legitimize him and convert him into a ''statesman,''
and to offer him his own state in the West Bank and Gaza, with
East Jerusalem as its capital. Their grand design was to arm
Arafat and bankroll him, to grant him Palestinian sovereignty
over Israel's ancestral lands. They were so sure of PLO
cooperation that they saw no need at all for any testing period to
verify Arafat's real intentions. They dismantled all Israeli
informant networks among the Palestinians, and turned the
informants over to the PLO to be tortured and murdered.
The ''Oslo Era'' had begun, with Peres and Rabin lecturing
Israelis about how it was all their own fault that the conflict had
lasted so long, telling them that they had not wished hard
enough on their wishing stars for peace, that they had believed
incorrectly the barbarians could be defeated by their army, and
that they had been unjustly trying to ''rule over another people.''
Overnight, the Israeli government adopted the Arab world's
''narrative,'' its version of Middle East history.
''Oslo'' was based on the presumption that Israeli niceness
to the Palestinians would be reciprocated in the form of
Palestinian good sportsmanship, fraternity and fairness. It was
based on the belief that the violence could be ended by importing
thousands of would-be Eichmanns into the suburbs of Tel Aviv
and Jerusalem. It was based on the belief that war could be
ended by pretending it did not exist. It was based on the belief
that pretending that Palestinians were Swedes would make them
?Oslo? was based on the belief that Nazi terrorists could be
converted into Western democratic liberals with a few public
posturings and handshakes, some cold cash, and the gift of lots of
weapons. It was based on the belief that Israeli self-abasement
was the highest form of patriotism, that Israeli cowardice was the
highest form of valor, that armies and territory no longer held
any strategic value, and that Arab fascists can be tamed by being
offered high-tech investments and five-star tourist hotels.
Like a nightmare out of ?The Wizard of Oz,? the Oslo Era
consisted of Israeli governments swinging back and forth
between the brainless scarecrows of the Labor Party and the
cowardly lions of the Likud. The heartless tin men were those
liberal American Jewish leaders who urged Israel to make ever
greater concessions to the PLO — and, when their advice
inevitably led to unprecedented bloodshed, announced they
would no longer send youth tours to Israel because it had just
become too dangerous. Meanwhile, little Dorothy had no choice
but to ride Bus 37.
At the height of the madness, Shimon Peres was asked
about possible terrorist atrocities launched from the Palestinian
areas now released from Israeli ''occupation.'' Peres responded in
his typical parallel-universe style, insisting he was far more
worried about the infiltration into Israel of cable television
service than he was about the infiltration of terrorists.
The 17 human sacrifices to the pagan goddess Oslo from Bus
37 were not murdered by cable television. They were murdered
by a decade of astronomical stupidity by Israel's own political
leaders. When a snake is allowed to enter a henhouse and then
kills the hens and chicks, whose fault is it? It is not the snake's
fault. Killing hens is what snakes do. It is the fault of those who
allow the snake into the henhouse, those who proclaim the snake
is a lamb and not a snake.
In Israel, someone actually allowing snakes into an actual
henhouse would be indicted for cruelty to animals. After all, hens
have rights. It is a felony to conduct cruel experiments on animal
subjects in Israel. But Israeli humans are also a form of animal.
Oslo was a cruel experiment performed on these animals. Shimon
Peres, Yossi Beilin, and the rest of the perpetrators of Oslo are
still walking around free. Their actions and policies have
produced 1,300 murdered Israelis, nearly twice the Israeli
carnage of the Six Day War.
A couple of hours after the atrocity, I find I have wandered
into the old ghetto area, the neighborhood in which Hungary's
Jews were imprisoned during World War II and from which they
were sent to their deaths. I pass by the ''Carmel'' restaurant, a
little piece of Haifa in Budapest, although not under kosher
supervision. I enter the compound of the Jewish community
buildings, where a cafeteria serves a late lunch. I hand a beggar
some coins, suspending my usual habit of refusing spare change
to panhandlers unless they first do pushups.
It is always a mixed crowd here in the dining hall. There are
the ultra-Orthodox with shtreimels, assorted Jewish merchants
from all over the world, Israeli medical students and computer
geeks, ordinary Hungarian Jews, some of them very poor. The
manager of the cafeteria knows me from previous lunches.
''Are all of your people all right?'' he asks. I tell him that my
wife had been in the intersection five minutes before the
explosion, to pick up a birthday cake for me. But she gave up
after failing to find a parking space and went home. I have been
spared personal catastrophe because of a parking space. I myself
might well have been on the bus to the campus, had I not been
''Thank G-d you were not on the bus,'' says the manager.
''It is all thanks to your goulash,'' I respond.
The streaks of light in the sky are a little brighter now, coming
from the start of a new day and not from the yahrzeit candles.
The taxi drops me off in front of my building. Reagan and
Thatcher, my loyal family cats, are waiting for me, expecting a
handout. These panhandlers are not required to do pushups. It is
the hour for reciting the Shema. The word ''Shema'' is usually
translated as ''hear.'' But it really means ''understand.''
Understand, O Israel, for you have been pursuing a Golden
Calf of insanity and self-annihilation for the past decade,
renouncing all understanding and common sense.
Steven Plaut is a professor at the University of Haifa. His
book ''The Scout'' is available through Amazon.com.
About the Author: Steven Plaut is a professor at the University of Haifa. He can be contacted at email@example.com.
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