Why is it not directed at Syria, I ask him? By all accounts, the Syrian government orchestrated the assassination of one of the Arab world’s great men of peace, former Lebanese prime minister Rafic Hariri. And President Assad continues to terrorize his own people.
Why not at Hizbullah, which orchestrated the takeover of Lebanon?
Why not at Hosni Mubarak when he was in power? Or Saddam Hussein?
Why not at the ways in which Islam degrades women in the Middle East, trapping them in a life of servitude?
Why not at the ways some Muslims are persecuting Christians throughout the Middle East, as reports pour in about atrocities upon atrocities?
Why not a critique of the Koran itself, which regrettably finds little separation between mosque and state, thus relegating the majority of Arabs to life under theocratic regimes?
Two reasons: fear and envy.
To the dismay of Arabs around the world, Jews turned an ancient piece of real estate in the Middle East into a thriving oasis of intellectual, political, religious, and commercial activity, where people are free to do as they please. One of the oldest places on earth – a place where Abraham walked – Israel is as thoroughly modern as any place on earth, with a functioning government that respects religious and economic freedom.
The fact is, the God-given talents of the people of Israel are allowed to flourish in ways Arabs should want to emulate, and replicate.
This smart, dynamic Jordanian friend instead focuses on border disputes and the acts of the Israeli government. He performs Houdini-like intellectual twists to dodge my questions, which are always gentle, but cut right through to his very clear – and almost programmed – bigotry.
I ask him why he is obsessed with the 1967 border dispute, and not some other border grudge, as it would not take long to find other countries unhappy with the ways in which territories were allocated as spoils of various 19th- and 20th-century wars.
I tell him that using his logic, Mexican terrorists should be blowing themselves up in Houston and El Paso. And they should have his unwavering support to compel America to return Texas to its rightful, original owner.
I now ask Arabs who show such a knee-jerk reaction to Israel a simple question, one that cuts to the heart of all this nonsense: Why do you hate Jews?
They first get angry, but then quickly point out that they have no beef with Jews. It’s Israel they hate.
To which I reply, “If Israel had been handed over to Bolivians or Albanians or Estonians, would you still hate it?”
It is a none-too-subtle question, but it makes the point: Despising Israel the way Israel is despised in much of the Arab world is all about anti-Semitism. And most anti-Semitism anywhere in the world has its origins in envy.
Benjamin Netanyahu once gave a speech in which he pointed at a map of the Middle East. He rattled off many of the countries in the region, and the relative size of those nations to Israel. Jordan is four times the size of Israel, Iraq 20, Egypt 46; Saudi Arabia is nearly 90 times the size of Israel.
“Big countries,” he said. “But small accomplishments.”
He then went on to describe Israel, which is just slightly bigger than one of America’s smallest states, New Jersey.
“Little country,” he concluded. “But big accomplishments.”
And there you have it, in one perfectly formulated binary.
Today, Arabs are at a crossroads. The “Arab Spring” is an opportunity like none the region has ever seen. The people who live there are no more or less capable than the people of Israel or the United States.
But it is up to them to build functioning democracies, and a culture that breeds and rewards hard work and success. It is up to Arabs themselves to take advantage of their newfound freedom, and unleash the productive capacities of their people.
Countries aren’t built on spite and hate, but on love, trust, shared sacrifice, and hard work. Maybe, just maybe, Arabs in the Middle East will be so busy working, yearning, and striving to make their own lives better that they will have little time left to burnish old grievances.
Maybe, over time, Arabs will build governments worthy of their people, as Israel and America have done.
Maybe, Arabs will come to see Jews not as their enemies, but as their neighbors, and as their trading partners.
And maybe, just maybe, as their friends.
Here is one Arab praying that will happen.
Lee Habeeb is the vice president of content at Salem Radio Network – which syndicates Bill Bennett, Mike Gallagher, Dennis Prager, Michael Medved, and Hugh Hewitt – and a contributor to National Review Online, where this first appeared.