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Monday, June 27, 2005

Why Some Jews Still Believe in Arab Myths (Alex Grobman)

By Dr. Alex Grobman

What irony! While there are so many reasons for American and Israeli Jews to feel threatened by Arab politicians and religious leaders, they act as if they are not. Arabs, who for the most part could count on Jews to be their friends, continue to act as if Jews are their mortal enemies.

Arabs have been hostile to Jews in Israel for over 100 years. Najib Azouri, a Christian Arab, wrote in 1905 that the Arab nations and Israel were destined to fight until one of them wins. The most recent indication that Palestinians refuse to recognize Israel as a Jewish state was in Chairman Mahmoud Abbas’ mentioning the right of return during the 15 May 2005 Naqba (catastrophe) ceremony. Harvard psychiatrist Kenneth Levin gives psychological reasons for this. One is that reality is too painful to accept; another is believing peace will come if Jews make concessions, which also makes Jews feel they are in control of the situation. Another example of self-delusion is that Palestinians and Jews have the same goals, which led them to be taken in over and over again by Yasser Arafat.

Political correctness also plays a role since Jews might be accused of racism if they were to challenge Arabs. Clearly, many Jews who are the wronged people in this conflict believe they are in the wrong.


I have often wondered how people translate information into knowledge. During the Shoah, there was no historical precedent for the systematic, bureaucratically administered, mass murder of the Jews of Europe. Even when information became available, it took time to assimilate the dimensions of what was happening. Marie Syrkin, a Labor Zionist leader and editor of the Jewish Frontier, explained how American Jews, including Jewish journalists who since 1933 had been actively involved in the fight against Nazi persecution, were not psychologically prepared to accept the truth:

“Today when genocide, gas-chamber and mass­extermination are the small coin of language, it is hard to reconstruct the more innocent state of mind when American Jews, like the Jews in Europe’s ghettos, could not immediately grasp that the ascending series of Nazi persecutions had reached this apex.” Further, she asked: “If such was the psychological unreadiness of sophisticated publicists whose ‘concerns’ had been to expose each new phase of the Nazi terror, what could be expected from a less informed general public?”

Given our recent experiences with the Nazis, however, why has it been difficult for so many Israeli and American Jews to recognize that the attacks against Israel by Arab religious and political leaders constitute a threat to our very existence as a people and as a nation? How many Israelis have to be killed or maimed by homicide bombings. How often do Jews have to be portrayed in the Arab media and in sermons as Satan, sons of apes and pigs, and as a cancer? How often do Israelis have to have their connection to Jewish holy sites refuted and the Holocaust denied, before we acknowledge the true extent of Arab enmity and their real objectives in dealing with the Jewish Question?

Arab hostility to Jews in the Land of Israel is, after all, not a new phenomenon. In March 1899, Zadok Kahn, Arab Mayor of Jerusalem, responded to Zionist overtures with a suggestion that “the Jews would do better to go somewhere else.” In 1905, Najib Azouri, a Christian Arab who worked as the assistant to the governor of the sanjaq (district) of Jerusalem, was the first Arab publicist to predict that Arab and Jewish national movements would end up in serious conflict with each other. In the introduction to his book, Le Reveil de la Nation Arabe dans l’Asie Turque (The Awakening of the Arab Nation in Turkish Asia), Azouri warned that these two movements, the emerging Arab nation and the “latent effort of the Jews to reconstitute ‘the ancient kingdom of Israel’ are destined to fight each other until one of them wins. The fate of the world will depend on the final result of this struggle between two peoples representing two contrary principles.”

One would be hard pressed to find any indication that these sentiments have changed. If anything, Arabs now are even more vocal about their contempt for Israel and their determination to destroy the country. In a 1974 interview with Oriana Fallaci, an Italian author, writer and journalist, Yasser Arafat was asked how long the conflict would continue. He indicated that the Palestinians did not think in these terms: “We are just beginning to get ready for a long, long war, a war that will run for generations. Ours is not the first generation to fight. In the 1920s our fathers were already struggling against Zionist invaders. We will never stop until we can go back home and Israel is destroyed.” When Fallaci questioned Arafat about whether he was seeking peace, he replied: “We don’t want peace, we want victory. Peace for us means Israel’s destruction and nothing else. What you call peace is peace for Israel. For us it is shame and injustice. We shall fight on to victory. Even for decades, for generations if necessary.”

In a November 1992 speech to an Arab youth group in Amman, Jordan, Faisal Husseini, the leading spokesman for the Palestine Liberation Organization in the disputed territories, declared, “We have not conceded and will not surrender any of the existing commitments that have existed for more than 70 years. We have within our Palestinian and united Arab society the ability to deal with a divided Israeli society. We must force Israeli society to cooperate with our Arab society, and eventually dissolve the ‘Zionist entity.’” During the Oslo period, he asserted that their objective was to establish a Palestinian state “from the river to the sea.”

At a 15 May 2005 ceremony in Ramallah commemorating the Naqba (Arabic for catastrophe), Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas said, “Peace, stability and security in the Middle East” is subject to “achieving a just and agreed solution to the refugees issue.” Zalman Shoval, who twice served as Israeli Ambassador to the U.S., concluded, “the Palestinians, by claiming the ‘right of return’ are still refusing to recognize Israel as a Jewish state.”

Kenneth Levin, a clinical psychiatrist at Harvard Medical School, offers a plausible answer as to why, in the face of continuous killing of Jews, open declarations to destroy Israel and blatant violations of agreements made with the Jewish state, many Jews still disregard this evidence and cling to the notion that Arabs want peace. Israelis, Levin says, are in “state of chronic siege,” which causes them to seek ways to extricate themselves from this predicament. This has produced “the Oslo approach,” which is based on “wishful thinking divorced from reality.”

Maintaining this position regardless of countervailing evidence and tolerating no debate is textbook “delusional,” according to Levin.

This self-delusion, he says, manifests itself in a number of other ways as well. One is to believe they can actually maintain some kind of control of the situation. By accepting the condemnation of their enemies and appeasing the terrorists, Israelis think they will themselves bring an end to hostilities. If only the Jews would make enough concessions to the Arabs, and stop obsessing about defensible borders and other strategic issues, peace would soon be at hand and such concerns would become irrelevant.

Why do some Israelis respond in this way? Levin suggests that since Jews were historically subjected to so much abuse, elements within the community are so eager to escape this painful experience that they interpret the ostensibly improved conditions under Oslo as proof that the past is behind them.

There is also an element of arrogance to “this self-delusion.” Jews assume a responsibility for something over which they have no control in order to ward off despair. Levin suggests that this is similar to an abused child who feels responsible for his plight and views himself as “bad.” The child maintains “the fantasy that if he becomes good enough,” his father will cease hitting him, his mother will give him attention and whatever other form of abuse he suffered will stop. In the same way, some Israelis are delusional when they assume they can control Arab behavior.

Another myth is to describe Arab intentions as “moderate,” even in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

A third assumption is the “fellowship fallacy” - that the Palestinians share Jewish values, goals and positions. Some Israelis have met informally or in public forums with high-level individuals from the territories who are connected to the PLO. The Israelis hear more nuanced statements about the conflict in these discussions than are usually heard from the PLO leadership. These words are then interpreted as reflecting what the PLO would agree to in negotiations with Israel. Such was the case after informal discussions with Faisal Husseini. In October 1989, Husseini proclaimed, “The Palestinian Peace Camp has won, and now leads the PLO and the Palestinian people.”

In the speeches quoted above there was no doubt the Arabs’ ultimate goal was the destruction of Israel. The attitude toward Husseini demonstrated the willingness of many Israelis to overestimate words of encouragement and to underestimate the contradictory and inflammatory rhetoric he said to others. This scenario continued under Yasser Arafat, whose guarantees about his yearning for peace would, incredibly, be accepted with greater credibility than his speeches and statements to the Arab media and public, and the racist curricula taught in Palestinian schools about Jews and the need to destroy Israel.

Those who challenge these myths are attacked as racists and bigots for denying the humanity of the Arabs and their feelings and aspirations. Mordecai Bar-On, a founder of Peace Now, suggested that part of the reason for this intolerance and narrow-mindedness toward the Arabs among some Jews and Israelis can be attributed to a lack of education and upbringing, which breeds less tolerance and an inability to understand the “other” and “the complexity of the issues.” This would account, he said, for the Sephardic community’s mistrust of Arab objectives. This distrust could also be found among elements of the Ashkenazi community that were less educated and had a more traditional background.

Levin has done a great service by diagnosing the irrational behavior of many Israelis and Jews who persist in acting out these fantasies. If we are to move beyond this delusion, to accept the situation as it is instead of what we wish it to be, we need to understand the nature of this pathology, which has caused tremendous damage to Israel and the Jewish people.