Student Union opens ‘hasbara’ room in effort to fill public diplomacy vacuum.
Serving as a makeshift tour guide for my wife and kids recently in Jerusalem, I couldn’t help but contrast our frequent visits to Washington, D.C., and how much I enjoy pointing out historical markers to the children. In the American capital, the signs on buildings are usually along the lines of “Lincoln slept here the night before his inaugural.” In the Jewish capital, the marble markers outside of cafes and pizza shops have a different message: “These 10 people were blown up and killed in a terrorist bombing on this and this date. May God avenge their deaths.”
It can be trying for a father to explain to young children how such a glorious city could have become, in part, a giant cemetery with death highlighted throughout. But such are the consequences of a well-intentioned error when the stakes are life and death. Israel rolled the dice on the Oslo accords 10 years ago, lost the bet, and lots of people lost their lives as a result.
It is also trying to explain to children just how many neighborhoods in the Jewish capital are unsafe. They absorb the message that Jerusalem is not a city of gold, but a city of fear. I can still remember how, as a yeshiva student 20 years ago, I regularly walked on my own throughout the Arab areas of East Jerusalem with no fear of attack. Today my car rental agreement warns me that many of these same areas are no longer covered by insurance. Forget walking – even driving is out of the question.
King Solomon famously said in Proverbs, “Where there is no vision the people perish.” Modern Israel proves that the saying is to be taken literally. I believe that Israel’s ills are not the result of implacable enemies or unreliable allies. Rather, they result from a lack of moral vision. Israel is a country built on a dream, but it is George W. Bush who has become the prophet and electrified the world with a powerful vision of human freedom and democracy. Ariel Sharon, by contrast, has become the realist who has abandoned all ideology and whose central policy is an enormous concession to terrorism.
Last month, a Christian president shook the foundations of international diplomacy by declaring that henceforth friendship with the United States would depend on how a country treated its own citizens:
“We have proclaimed that every man and woman on this earth has rights, and dignity, and matchless value, because they bear the image of the Maker of Heaven and earth … America will not pretend that jailed dissidents prefer their chains, or that women welcome humiliation and servitude, or that any human being aspires to live at the mercy of bullies … We will encourage reform in other governments by making clear that success in our relations will require the decent treatment of their own people.”
But while Bush was recommitting the world’s most powerful nation to a sacrifice-laden course of promoting democracy across the Arab world, Sharon was consigning more than a million Palestinians to the corruption of the Palestinian Authority and the despotism of Hamas. While Bush resolutely told the American people, “The survival of liberty in our land increasingly depends on the success of liberty in other lands,” Sharon was planning to unilaterally abandon Gaza to utter chaos, with all the death and suffering that is sure to follow both to Palestinians and Israelis alike. Good thing Sharon isn’t running the war in Iraq – he would have long ago hightailed it out of there and left Iraq to be a terror kingdom as no doubt Gaza will be.
By contrast, President Bush has pledged that no matter how much even the Iraqis clamor for the American military to leave, they will not do so until a viable democracy has been established because “the concerted effort of free nations to promote democracy is a prelude to our enemies’ defeat.”
But by withdrawing from Gaza under fire, Sharon is letting down not only the Israeli but also the American people and weakening their security. A victory for terrorism in Gaza is sure to embolden terrorists worldwide and its effects will be felt by American soldiers in Baghdad and American civilians in New York.
If I were to move to Israel, it would be to Gush Katif, the warmest, most vibrant Israeli community I have ever encountered, filled with men and women with little or no ego whose only desire is to fill every corner of the Holy Land with the civilizing influences of people who live in freedom. That Sharon will compound the already considerable suffering of this remarkable group by evicting them from their homes all because they were the victims of terror is an act of unconscionable inhumanity and immorality.
For the 65 percent of Israelis whom the polls identify as supporting the pullout, I have a single question: Would you similarly support the government eviction of thousands of Arabs from their homes, or would your morality commit you to objecting, however important the security considerations?
When I went with my children to plant trees at Gush Katif, what strangely came to mind was the last time I met Prime Minister Sharon. He was being hosted at a small reception at a mutual friend’s house in New York in March 2001. I was invited, along with Michael Jackson, to greet the prime minister. I introduced the two unlikely acquaintances who spoke warmly to one another for some time, their meeting ending with Sharon graciously inviting Michael to visit Israel.
But it was not to be.
Before long, both would be accused of having betrayed their foremost legacy: Michael, as a world-leading advocate for children; Sharon as the foremost champion of the rights of Jews to settle in any part of Israel.
As Michael now goes to his trial – and as Sharon, in a sense, goes to his – only time will tell if both will be vindicated, or if their alleged betrayals will consign both men to eternal infamy.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach is a nationally syndicated radio host from 2-5 p.m. EST daily on the Liberty Broadcasting Network, and was named by Talkers magazine as one of America’s 100 most important talk-radio hosts. A best-selling author of 14 books, his latest work is “Face Your Fear” (St. Martin’s Press).
About the Author: Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, “America’s Rabbi” whom the Washington Post calls “the most famous Rabbi in America,” is the international best-selling author of 29 books, including The Fed-up Man of Faith: Challenging God in the Face of Tragedy and Suffering. Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.
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