A few weeks ago, Daniel Okrent, public editor of The New York Times, wrote: “If you are among the groups The Times treats as strange objects to be examined on a laboratory slide (devout Catholics, gun owners, Orthodox Jews, Texans); if your value system wouldn’t wear well on a composite New York Times journalist, then a walk through this paper can make you feel you’re traveling in a strange and forbidding world.”

Okrent could have included Jewish “settlers” in his list of groups the Times treats as strange objects. Fortunately, with anti-settler columnist Thomas Friedman on book leave until October, the paper’s op-ed page had treated residents of Judea, Samaria and Gaza to a brief summer respite. 

The Times’s hudna ended last week with a long column by Jeffrey Goldberg, whose recent 24-page, 16,365-word New Yorker feature about settlers focused almost entirely on the small minority of extremists and ignored mainstream leaders and residents.

Goldberg’s Times column included a deeply disturbing quote from a young observant woman who said that “Sharon is forfeiting his right to live,” and Goldberg stated that he has heard “14 young Orthodox settlers” express a desire to kill Prime Minister Sharon.

Goldberg wrote that Shin Bet chief Avi Dichter recently told a Knesset committee that “his agents believe there are 150 to 200 settlers hoping to kill Mr. Sharon.” (Dichter actually said that “between 150 and 200 Jews actively wish for the death of the prime minister,” and that most live in Judea and Samaria.)

Goldberg lamented that “the extremist yeshivas that give rise to fundamentalist thuggery are financed in part by Orthodox Jews in America,” but didn’t identify the yeshivas or their purported American backers.

The clear message from Goldberg’s piece is that Jewish settlers, with the tacit support of some Orthodox Jews and rabbis, want to kill Ariel Sharon. Unfortunately, this charge is not completely baseless. As I wrote in my last column, there are fanatics who have called for, or implicitly condoned the idea of, Sharon’s murder. Especially in light of Yitzhak Rabin’s murder at the hands of an Orthodox Jew, there is an obligation on all Jews to condemn the fanatics and not to ignore the danger they present.

However, Goldberg never distinguished between the fanatics and the other 95 percent of Yesha residents. Instead, he defamed all of them. He completely ignored the Yesha Council’s repeated statements that it unequivocally opposes any and all forms of violence in the framework of opposition to Sharon’s unilateral withdrawal plan. He also ignored the pact signed by Yesha Council leaders two weeks ago, in which they agreed that IDF soldiers would not be asked to disobey orders to dismantle settlements and that no form of violence was acceptable. And though Goldberg highlighted Avi Dichter’s concern about 150-200 extremists, he disregarded that Dichter also emphasized that the extremists were in no way representative of the general settler public.

In the last four years, Jewish residents of Judea, Samaria and Gaza have routinely been murdered on roads, in yeshivas, and in their own homes. Many men, women, children and babies have been killed. While all sectors of Israelis have been victimized by Palestinian terror, none has suffered more than the “settlers.” Yet during this Palestinian war, the vast majority of “settlers” have acted with remarkable dignity. A tiny minority among the 230,000 have planned or perpetrated violence against Arabs; some have wantonly destroyed olive crops owned by Arabs. These actions must be completely condemned, but they clearly do not represent the entire settler population in any way. Even as Israelis are repeatedly murdered there, Palestinians driving in Judea and Samaria are not in fear of being shot at by a “settler” and Palestinian children do not live in fright that a “settler” will infiltrate their home and kill them, their parents and their siblings.

Anti-settler Jewish extremists like Goldberg, Richard Cohen of the Washington Post and Tom Friedman never take any of this into account. To them, at a time when Israel’s Likud government is making historic unilateral concessions and Yasir Arafat has been discredited, “settlers” are a convenient group to attack.

Goldberg is right that Orthodox Jews have a duty to unequivocally and vocally condemn fanatical Jews who support violence against Prime Minister Sharon and others. We have not done enough in this regard. We also have a duty to unequivocally and vocally condemn the verbal violence – indeed, the blood libel – against an overwhelmingly peaceful population. 

* * *

Some were surprised by a report last week in the London Daily Telegraph that Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz’s “closest companion and most valued confidante” is an Arab woman named Shaha Ali Riza. The article said that according to “close acquaintances of the couple,” Ali Riza and Wolfowitz are “romantically linked.”

Ali Riza is a senior World Bank official who was born in Tunis and grew up in Saudi Arabia. In a 2002 appearance on the “McLaughlin Report,” she argued that the Arab-Israeli conflict has been an excuse by Arab regimes to avoid dealing with their country’s real problems, and that an end to the conflict should therefore be pushed for. Of course, another approach would be to demand that Arab regimes start liberalizing their dictatorial governments unconditionally. 

Contrary to popular belief that his views on Israel are hawkish, Wolfowitz has praised Yossi Beilin, criticized settlements, and expressed support for the peace proposal by Ami Ayalon and Sari Nusseibeh that calls for a return by Israel to the 1967 borders.

Last December, a Beirut Daily Star columnist wrote that a Georgetown University forum, Wolfowitz revealed himself to be “probably the most pro-Palestinian member of the Bush administration.” At that forum, Wolfowitz not only didn’t challenge anti-Israel allegations, he added his own criticism, such as in this exchange:

Question: “Hi, my name is Courtney Raj…my question has to do with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. You said that you need to look no further than UN resolutions, that you need to respect communal universal human rights, the Geneva Convention, etc. And I was wondering if this applies to Israel as well….They violate Geneva Convention 53, and tons of other human rights of these Palestinians.

“So I’m wondering is the president, as you said, he’s ready to make decisions of the magnitude needed for change. Is he ready to make decisions in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that will lend greater support to the Palestinians and ask the Israelis to stop these policies that are detrimental to the Palestinians and adding to the hopelessness that may be at the root cause of some of the suicide bombings?”

Wolfowitz: “You cited some things that Israelis have to change and you could make a longer list. You could have talked about settlements, for example. The president has talked about settlements, he’s talked about the wall, he’s talked about the suffering of Palestinians under Israeli occupation. There’s no question that the president is prepared to put pressure on the Israelis to change.”

Sidney Zion once said it best, quipping: “The history of Jews in our government has been the history of chiropractic – they bend over backward to prove that they will do nothing for Israel.”

* * *

According to Haaretz, the Bush administration is considering sending Prime Minister Sharon a letter detailing commitments Sharon made but did not keep. The feeling in the administration toward Sharon is said to be one of “frustration and bitterness” in light of Sharon’s failure to dismantle all settlement outposts and Israel’s intention to build 600 new homes in the Jerusalem suburb of Ma’aleh Adumim, which, with 30,000 residents, is the largest town in Judea and Samaria. The Haaretz report says that according to a senior American source, “When President Bush is elected for a second term he will no longer treat Sharon as he did the first term if the promises are not kept.”

The frustration and bitterness in the Bush administration is preposterous. Sharon may not have dismantled all the outposts, but he has agreed to dismantle 25 established communities in Gaza and Samaria. And construction in Ma’aleh Adumim should hardly be a major source of concern to the U.S.

All this leaves me with feelings of frustration and bitterness toward Bush, in light of commitments he made but did not keep. In a May 2000 speech before AIPAC, Bush said: “In recent times, Washington has tried to make Israel conform to its own plans and timetables, but this is not the path to peace.”

Bush also recognized then that “not every democracy is blessed in the way America is, by our size, our wealth, our geography. Too often, we forget what it means to be a small nation in an often hostile neighborhood. A few years ago on a trip to Israel, General Sharon took me on a helicopter flight over the West Bank. And what a trip that was. What struck me, as you all know better than I, is the tiny distance between enemy lines and Israel’s population centers. The general said that before the Six-Day War, Israel as only nine miles wide at its narrowest point. In Texas, some of our driveways are longer than that.”

That didn’t stop Bush from imposing the “road map” on Israel in 2003, a plan that by its terms is non-negotiable, includes detailed timetables and, by its reference to the Saudi plan as a basis for a settlement, would implicitly return Israel to or very near its pre-1967 borders. The Bush administration insists that the road map continues to remain in effect.

Bush also promised throughout his 2000 campaign that he would move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, saying, “Something will happen when I become the president. As soon as I take office, I will begin the process of moving the United States ambassador to the city Israel has chosen as its capital.” But, like President Clinton before him, in violation of United States law, Bush abrogated that commitment almost as soon as he took office.

Of course, over past two years Bush has generally supported Israel’s war on terror and for that he deserves praise and appreciation. The Bush administration should similarly appreciate Sharon’s willingness to take steps previously unheard of from Likud leaders. 


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Joseph Schick is a writer, lawyer, and indie film producer. He is producing “Jerusalem ’67,” an upcoming feature film about the Six-Day War, and co-produced “Sun Belt Express,” which recently premiered on Netflix. The views expressed here are his own. He can be contacted at jschick972@gmail.com.