Yves Shefner in Israel at War 2006

Life in Haifa and north of Israel during the 2006 war with Hezbollah in Lebanon

Friday, July 21, 2006

Is Israel love-fest hosted by George Bush and Fox News a problem for Israel and the war on terror?


Or:
Is the west making the same mistakes with fundamentalist Islam as it did with Communism?


All my life I have been watching the news media, taking a great interest in attitudes towards Israel. Sometimes, the US took anti-Israel positions (even if they may have been more pro-Israeli behind the scenes) but most of the time has tried to be even-handed with us and the Arab countries that surround us. Frustrating as this was for me, this kept the US as a credible third party in helping us try to resolve the very complex issues that we have in the region - it also kept precious oil-supplies flowing.

When George W. Bush started to show open support for Israel at the beginning of the intifada, I could barely believe my ears. All my life, I had been waiting to hear a US president finally say out in the open what most of we Jews and Israelis feel to be the right position. I actually jumped out of my chair and cheered when he pinned the blame on terrorists and not implicate us in some moral or practical equivalence that so-called fairness seems to require (this is a common trap that journalists usually fall into as well).

Today I was watching Fox News' coverage of events here. They have shows called "No-Spin Zone" claiming fair and balanced reporting. I find myself watching Fox more than the other stations. Then I realized because they just LOOOOVE Israel. How could I not watch it! I personally, love their point of view.

A look at their website shows the Studio B programme with Sheppard Smith (Yeah, like that's a real name) covering 6 stories on the middle east. All but one were about Israel's side of the story. The remaining one was a story about a Palestinian woman, not Hezbollah or the suffering in Lebanon. Most of the commentators that appear are now pro-Israeli and there are very few Arabs at all (generally aid workers).

Another Fox program this evening had US ambassador to the UN, John Bolton, seated on a stool with a microphone, talking with an audience of about 50 or 60 people in a very clean-cut, very white audience and two FOX commentators/hosts. They were obviously very well screened. The segment had the look and feel of an infomercial selling the latest vacuum-packing, car-washing, wall-painting, vegetable slicer. The audience cheered everything he said. They started their questions with remarks like, "We know you are the right man for the job" (Bolton hasn't been confirmed by the Senate yet).

Even the skinny blond half of the hosting team could not help joining this love-fest by saying something like "I know we are fair and unbiased but we think you're the greatest!" to more cheers from the audience. I found my intelligence insulted in much the same familiar way it is when I watch other infomercials (But wait! There's more! When you block the UN and the G8 from condemning Israel, you'll also get a braaand new, cleaner, shinier Middle East!).

Most of the questions had to do with how can the US support Israel more than it is already supporting it. Many people are apparently eager to get US forces alongside Israel's on the ground in Lebanon - something Bolton said - to his credit - was inappropriate since this is Israel's fight.

Last night, Fox's Bill O'Reilly, one of the most insufferable, biased people on TV (he should ask his guests if they know whether it is rude for them to talk while he is interrupting them) lashed out at the pope and a guest Catholic academic apologist for criticizing Israel's position.

For years, Israel struggled with one public relations nightmare after another and could never get a break in the media, the left wing of anywhere, a student campus in Europe, Canada, or you name it. Now it is an Israelstock love-fest on Fox and in the US in general, including the Bush administration. Fox's international News network, seen by hundreds of millions of people, has volunteered itself to become Israel's biggest, best and most powerful propaganda weapon far beyond Israel's wildest, public-relations dreams!

Even other media like CNN and BBC have become more Israel-friendly in this conflict. It seems obvious to many that Israel needs to deal with Hezbollah in a permanent solution.

Though I love both Fox News and Bush' pro-Israel (or should I say anti-terror) point of view, for some reason I became uncomfortable with it. I wasn't quite sure why. Do I have some form of Stockholm syndrome - after so many years of being captive to anti-Israeli media, I have finally begun to identify with them? I didn't think so - anti-Israeli media still annoys me.

Maybe it was simply anti-climactic? After waiting and hoping for so many years for the world to see things our way, and now that they do, what next?

Perhaps my discomfort with Fox's and Bush's openly pro-Israel stance bothers me because it signals a whole new shift in the world. All of a sudden, after years of patience, understanding, and most importantly neglect, terrorist organizations are learning from us that terror is immoral. Such pro-Israel propaganda is coming with an implied moral judgment of Islam attached, shutting out other important stories. It plays well with the people at home and the undecided and uninformed in the rest of the world. But it wont do anything for the war on terror except encourage brute force as the solution. Just ask yourself, if some outsider was judging your beliefs, would you say "Oh yeah, you know what, you're right, we are evil, ignorant and misguided."? Probably not.

Don't get me wrong, I support Israel's current military campaign. There's no other choice at the moment. I think they are doing it in as humanitarian and moral way as possible and I am proud of Israel. However, I think, in order to find a solution to this problem, a lot more about Lebanon and the subject of extremism needs to be understood. Just like we needed to understand what made people become Nazis or extremist communists in the past, we need to ask tough questions like:

  • What makes Nasrallah and Ahmedinejad tick?
  • Where did they grow up?
  • What turned them into the terrorists and international bullies?
  • How did they get to where they are?
  • Who are all the other influential players in this conflict that are not getting air-time?
  • What really makes someone become an Islamist extremist?
  • How can we fight the growth of extremist Islam in a preventitive way?
  • Can we beat them in the war for the hearts and minds of the Islamic street?
  • Can the American (now Western) dream of prosperity and democracy compete with fundamentalist Islam?

These questions are not being asked in public discussion. It is a lot less exciting, and more difficult, to deal with the underlying social problems in Islamic societies that lead to this phenomenon than it is to fight a war with bullets. That's because trying to understand the problem of fundamentalism at a deeper level forces us to look at ourselves from an Islamist's point of view and ask difficult questions about ourselves -ones that we'd rather not ask.

For example, when we promote and export Democracy and Capitalism in the Islamic world are we are promoting our own ideologies and beliefs? These beliefs can be summarized by saying that we all have the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness - but most importantly in this discussion, since we are promoting this, we are saying that everyone else should be like this as well. Fundamentalist Islam doesn't agree. They think we should be more like them. The two ideologies are clashing. Muslim extremists see our efforts as a new form of Crusade against them. Are we democratic extremists in their eyes? Are we really as tolerant of them as we'd like to think we are?

For those of you who say we can't be tolerant of anyone trying to kill us - you are right. We can't. But is there a smarter way for us to prevent this and change the tide of feelings in favor of tolerant democracy?

This finally leads me to the question in the title of this entry. Is the west making the same mistake with Islamic extremism as it did with communism? Do we understand its root causes? Can we do something to prevent it from happening elsewhere?

Robert McNamara, former US secretary of defense in the 60's met his North Vietnamese counterpart many years after the end of the war. He mentioned the US's fear that Vietnam would fall into the Communist Chinese sphere of influence as the US' prime motivation. The reply he got was that the Vietnamese people had been fighting chinese domination for 1000 years. Why would they stop now!!? McNamara has since aoplogized for his role in the Vietnam war.

The lessons of Vietnam, the Intifada and our previous exit from Lebanon in 2000 are clear. We will not win against terror unless we can win the hearts and minds of the people they use. While the fight for survival has to be closed-minded, the Western world is broad enough and deep enough and robust enough to support asking these difficult questions in parallel.

Another more practical problem arising out of of this lovefest with Israel is whether the US, is capable of playing a credible peace-making role in the world now that it has taken such a strong stance against Hezbollah? Is it better to have the US as a credible broker or a strong ally? If the US can't be a broker for peace with Israel, who will be? Can they be both?

Shalom,

Yves

PS. Please add your comments (good and bad) I'd love to read them.

4 Comments:

At 22 July, 2006 02:09, Blogger Die Muräne said...

"We will not win against terror unless we can win the hearts and minds of the people they use"
Wow, very good statement!!

I deeply hope there will be peace and a acceptable way together!
I like the way, how you also try to change your own point of view to find a better solution for both sides. I think not many do (not enough).

Peace from Switzerland!

 
At 22 July, 2006 16:57, Anonymous C. said...

Yves,

An intelligent, well-written, and sensitive analysis of the situation.

There are other related issues that also beg discussion and questioning, like the linkages with Syria and Iran. This war is definitely doing what Iran probably intended -- deflecting attention from its nuclear program.

C.

 
At 23 July, 2006 13:52, Blogger Die Muräne said...

I thought about your last question. The US, broker or ally or both? I honestly would say: neighter nor!! Even thought there is a long history of partnership between US and Israel, you should accept that times have changed. The USA lost too much strenght and credibility, became so deep intangled in there own interests, so actually they are no good partner for anyone. I think they wouldn't be helpfull in such a sensible process. In contrary!

Just my humble opinion.

 
At 30 July, 2006 03:32, Blogger Die Muräne said...

I must admit: I'm loosing patience with Israel!

 

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