The Israel Debate at Columbia

The Israel Debate at Columbia

On Monday night, 31 March, our organization, This World: The Values Network, launched its promised national Israel debate series on America’s most troublesome campuses, beginning with Columbia University, where Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was hosted in 2007. The participants were me and my friend, Pulitzer-Prize Winner Bret Stephens of the Wall Street Journal, on one side, against Peter Beinart, who as a Rhodes scholar often attended my events at the University of Oxford, and Hussein Ibish of the American Task Force on Palestine on the other.

After Peter made his initial presentation, arguing that Israel is occupying the West Bank and imposing a double standard of law for Palestinians and Israelis – which is why he calls for a boycott of all products stemming from the West Bank – I began my defense.

“Peter, do you use an IPhone? Because China has occupied Tibet since 1951 and Apple products are assembled in China.” The audience, even those hostile to Israel it seemed, roared with approval.

The issue with Peter, I said, is that he has a distorted sense of morality. In his book “The Crisis of Zionism,” in which he excoriates Israel as a country that discriminates against Arabs even within the green line, he writes of Judaism’s most festive holiday. “The Purim story ends… with the king giving Persia’s Jews license to do to Haman’s people what Haman wanted to do with them – and the Jews slaughtering seventy-five thousand souls,” he wrote. Of course, he curiously omits that the Jews only did so in self-defense after Haman’s genocidal decree and the Persian people’s attempt “to destroy, slay, and to cause to perish… their little ones and women.”

Indeed, Peter is uncomfortable with the very notion of Israel needing to defend itself: “We are not history’s permanent victims. In a dizzying shift of fortune, many of our greatest challenges today stem not from weakness but from power.”

This is an astonishing statement that trivializes the nuclear threat posed by Iran and its Supreme Leader Khameini’s repeated promises “to wipe” those loathsome “Zionist dogs” off the earth, the Hezbollah murderers to the north who control all of Southern Lebanon, Syria’s chemical weapons off in the northeast, which already have been used in killing some 150,000 Arabs, and the Palestinian Authority to the east, which, according to last Sunday’s New York Times, gives $50k to each terrorist “hero” murderer who is released from Israeli prisons after killing a Jew.

Oh yes, Peter is aware that Hamas’ charter calls for the genocide of Jews wherever they may be found, including outside Israel. “The Day of Judgment will not come until Muslims fight the Jews, when the Jew will hide behind stones and trees. The stones and trees will say, O Muslims… there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him.” But don’t take that too seriously, because “Hamas has in recent years issued several new documents, which are more compatible with a two-state solution.” This while they continue to fire thousands of deadly rockets at Israeli towns, schools, hospitals, and buses.

Peter is uncomfortable with Israel’s response: “Israeli jets never bombed Auschwitz and never will. What they have bombed, in recent years, is the Gaza Strip, a fenced-in, hideously overcrowded, desperately poor slum from which terrorist groups sometimes shell Israel.” Sometimes. Hmmm. But he does not ask himself how a population in Gaza – which, according to the New York Times, “already [is] the world’s largest per capita recipient of international aid… the United States alone has committed over $4 billion in bilateral assistance to the Palestinians” – comes to be so destitute. Had he researched it he would have seen that it’s because Hamas leaders have spent money designated for hospitals, schools, and roads on bombs, bullets, and rockets to kill Israelis, not to mention lining their own pockets.

Arafat died with assets estimated at $1.3 billion, and now even Mahmoud Abbas, who has not even visited Gaza since Hamas came to power in 2006 – he is afraid that he’ll never make it out alive – is being accused by Muhammad Rasheed, Arafat’s chief financial advisor, of having stolen $100 million and given his sons Tarik and Yasser monopoly control of all cigarette trade and construction in the Palestinian Authority.

In Peter’s eyes there is little that racist Israel can do right (the same applies to the “American Jewish establishment,” who feel “forever persecuted and licensed by their fears to worry only about themselves”). Israel, it turns out, even is responsible for emerging Islamist dictators like Recep Tayyip Erdogan. “Turkey only began shunning the Jewish state after Israel’s 2009 war in Gaza, and after Israeli troops killed eight Turkish militants who tried to break Israel’s blockade of the strip in 2010.” Tell that to the suffering people of Turkey, who have watched Erdogan brutally crush their peaceful protests in Istanbul, engage in the most insidious corruption, shut off Facebook and Twitter, and slowly dismantle their democracy.

Oh, it also turns out that the “widespread anger” we’re witnessing in Arab countries like Egypt is due not to the brutal suppression of their rights by Mubarak, Morsi, or any other Arab dictator but because it has been “more than 30 years after the Camp David Accords, which called for Israel to grant Palestinians full autonomy in the west bank and Gaza Strip.”

In his naive effort to have the Palestinians look more enlightened than Israel, Peter is not beyond flat-out invention. Concerning the creation of a Palestinian state in the West Bank, he writes, “Palestinian leaders have repeatedly said they would allow” Jews to live there. Apparently Mahmoud Abbas, who said in July 2013 that no Israeli settlers could remain in a future Palestinian state, didn’t get the memo.

Finally, Peter believes that “a Palestinian state” “would be demilitarized and Israel … would enjoy the benefit of an international peacekeeping force in the Jordan Valley.”

Interesting proposition. An international peace-keeping force for protection. Tell that to the 150,000 innocent Arabs who have been slaughtered by Bashar Assad, as the Security Council passed not a single resolution of condemnation. Tell that to Rwanda, at the 20th anniversary of the genocide occasioned by the UN pulling its peace-keeping troops out against the strenuous objections of its commander, Gen. Romeo Dallaire. Tell that to the 10,000 men and boys of Srebrenica, who were massacred in 1995 in the now infamous UN-declared safe zone. Most of all, tell it to the Jews of the Holocaust. An international force is coming to protect them. Indeed, one finally did – just five years and six million Jews too late.