On Jan. 4, Israel signed an agreement giving up yet another block of West Bank territory to the Palestinian Authority. A week earlier, the official Palestinian Authority newspaper, Al Hayat Al-Jadida, ran the cartoon printed above. The old man is labeled "the 20th century," the young man "the 21st century." The dwarf standing between them and wearing a Jewish skullcap and a Star of David is labeled "the disease of the century."
Blessed are the peacemakers.
On the other "peace" front, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak meets with the Syrian foreign minister in Shepherdstown, W.Va., to negotiate Israel's giving up the Golan Heights, which protect Israel's northern frontier from Syrian tanks. Just a few weeks earlier, in the Damascus weekly of the Syria Arab writers' association (Al-'Usbu' Al-Adabi), the following appeared:
"The Talmud's instructions, soaked in hatred and hostility towards humanity, are [stamped] in the Jewish soul. Throughout history, the world has known more than one Shylock . . . more than one Toma as a victim of these Talmudic instructions and this hatred."
Peace be with you.
Toma is the Capuchin missionary, Father Thomas, who was murdered in Damascus in 1840. The Jews of Damascus were accused of having killed him to use his blood in Passover matzohs.
This blood libel is one of the oldest and most insane medieval fantasies about Jews. Centuries ago it was believed enough that many Jews were murdered on its account. In our era, those who continue to purvey it are either lunatics or Syrians. It is not just their writers. In 1984, a book called "The Matzah of Zion" was published in Damascus--with a preface defending the 1840 blood libel as truth, written by Mustafa Tlass, Syria's minister of defense! In 1991 the Syrian delegate to the U.N. Commission on Human Rights urged the commission to read the book in order to learn the "historical reality of Zionist racism."
When in the United States, Syrian spokesmen don't bring up blood libels. (It was the Middle East Media and Research Institute that discovered the revival of the Father Thomas incident.) They speak soothingly instead of their deep desire for "the peace of the brave." Looking at what their leaders tell their own people about Jews, however, one gets the distinct impression that their ultimate goal is the peace of the grave.
These campaigns of antisemitism--not anti-Zionism, as some pretend, but raw, brute anti-Jewish calumnies--are commonplace in the Arab world, particularly in the state-controlled Palestinian, Syrian and Egyptian press. Americans got an accidental glimpse of the virulence of this hatred during Hillary Clinton's visit to Israel last November when Suha Arafat accused Israel of causing cancer in Palestinian women and children by means of poison gas.
Media attention focused on Clinton's lack of response. The real story, however, was this glimpse at the savagery of the Arab elite's commonplace discourse regarding Jews and Israelis. This, after all, was not some ignorant functionary speaking, but the first lady of Palestine.
And it raises a very acute question: What type of peace do such people--who call Jews the disease of the 20th century, who claim that Judaism commands the slaughter of Gentiles for the ritual purpose of eating of their blood--really have in mind?
The optimists, or call them fantasists, led by the Clinton administration simply ignore these manifestations of pathological bigotry. They insist that the peace that Arafat and Assad want to make with the perfidious Jews would be a permanent one.
Ehud Barak, no fantasist, is quite familiar with the press of his neighbors and what it preaches about Jews. Which is why he is trying to obtain a peace, both with Syria and the Palestinians, that will leave Israel with enough territory, enough strategic depth, enough defensible positions to be able to withstand a renewed war in case the Arabs find their hatred for Jews not quite fully assuaged by paper agreements.
Bill Clinton is another matter, however. He is in desperate search of a legacy. And that for him means an agreement--any agreement--that he can trumpet on the White House lawn. He doesn't really care about its shape and content. He wants the ceremony.
But there is another legacy at stake in these negotiations. And that is the legacy of the 5 million Jews who live in Israel. Who in turn carry the legacy of the 6 million who died in the Holocaust, and of the countless others martyred over the millennia.
Their legacy is to bequeath to future generations a reborn Jewish state that can defend itself. When push comes to shove in the negotiations, their desire for a secure future will come into conflict with Clinton's desire for an ostentatious diplomatic success. The question for Clinton is whether he will have the statesmanship to subordinate his personal political needs to the more enduring needs of an enduring peace.