Words of Terror

They make an ecumenical, diverse trio ? Muslim, Christian, Jew; Malaysian statesman, Greek composer, Israeli legislator-pundit. They show that people of different civilizational backgrounds can come together after all, united, across continents and disparate lives, by hatred and slander of Jews and Israel.

P. David Hornik

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Al-Qaeda, which, among other things, is part of the operational wing of world anti-Semitism, has taken credit for the synagogue bombings in Istanbul. These are the guys who get the job done, who send the glass shattering and the bits of flesh flying, and are even willing to die for the cause. But the ideological wing of world anti-Semitism, the thinkers and orators, can also pat themselves on the back for this latest success. In recent months, the trio of Mahathir, Mikis, and Avraham have been prominent among them.

True, al-Qaeda didn?t need the statements of Mahathir Mohamad, Mikis Theodorakis, and Avraham Burg as inspiration for this latest exploit. There was already enough anti-Semitism and hatred to go around. But acts of mass murder and terrorism start as words, as ideas. Mahathir, Mikis, and Avraham have worked well in the intellectual vineyards, keeping the plants strong and healthy.

They make an ecumenical, diverse trio ? Muslim, Christian, Jew; Malaysian statesman, Greek composer, Israeli legislator-pundit. They show that people of different civilizational backgrounds can come together after all, united, across continents and disparate lives, by hatred and slander of Jews and Israel.

Abstractions, sweeping generalities, of the kind that they make culminate in specificities: Anita Rubinstein, 8 years old, killed along with her 85-year-old grandmother, Anna Rubinstein (Anita was an only child; her divorced mother is now alone). Berta Ozdogan, 35 years old, four months pregnant. Yoel Cohen Ulcer, 19 years old; Avraham Varol, 50; Yona Romano, 60, who died of a heart attack after the blast. And the seventeen non-Jewish dead, whether or not they were ?intentional? victims. And the hundreds of wounded, maimed, and traumatized. The al-Qaeda operatives translated the preachings and analyses of anti-Semites into 880 pounds of explosives in each of their two pickup trucks.

?Between the idea and the reality,? T. S. Eliot said famously, ?falls the shadow.? Not always; sometimes the idea leads directly to reality, to corpses and blood and ruined lives.

We shouldn?t be too hard, perhaps, on Mahathir, the first member of the cheerleading trio. After all, in his speech at the opening of the 10th Session of the Islamic Summit Conference on October 16, he discouraged violence ? at least for now: ?...we find some of our people acting irrationally. They launch their own attacks, killing just about anybody including fellow Muslims to vent their anger and frustration. ...But the attacks solve nothing. The Muslims simply get more oppressed.? No, it would be better to beat the enemy, the Jews, at their own game ? thinking: ?We are up against a people who think.... We cannot fight them through brawn alone. We must use our brains also.? That, after all, was what the Prophet did at Hudaibiyah; he accepted an ?unfair treaty,? a hudna of that time, and ?during the peace that followed he consolidated his strength and eventually he was able to enter Mecca and claim it for Islam.? Similarly, Mahathir proposes that the 1.3 billion Muslims defeat by guile the 12 million Jews who are oppressing them ? not an explicit call for terrorism, just for the eventual elimination of the Jewish people, or at least of Israel.

Theodorakis, too, in a press conference last week to launch a new book, compared his own people to the Jews ? but showed greater self-esteem. Whereas Mahathir?s Jews are calm and his Muslims hotheaded, for Theodorakis, it?s the opposite: ?The fact that we [Greeks] are very calm and did not turn aggressive like them is because we have more history. They only have Abraham and Jacob, who were shadows, while we have Pericles.? But the Jews, in addition to aggression, ?had fanaticism and self-knowledge and managed to prevail.? Where Theodorakis agrees with Mahathir is on the Jews? ultimate significance: ?Today, we can say that this little nation is the root of all evil.? (Mahathir: ?But today the Jews rule the world by proxy.?) Again, unlike Mahathir, Theodorakis doesn?t address the issue of violence; but the thought that this one small people is responsible for all that?s wrong with the world would naturally lead to a desire to neutralize them.

With Member of Knesset Avraham Burg, though, matters are more complex. He?s had a strange career, holding very mainstream posts like chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel and speaker of the Knesset, campaigning for prime minister in 2001 as a centrist, conciliatory figure, yet sometimes veering into harsh condemnations of parts of the Israeli populace, like the settlers, Israeli leaders, like Netanyahu or Sharon, or of Israel itself. Last August, Burg published an article in that vein in the Israeli daily Yediot Aharonot that was translated as ?The End of Zionism? in the American Jewish weekly The Forward, then reprinted in The Guardian and the International Herald Tribune. Readers around the world could now learn that ?the Israeli nation today rests on a scaffolding of corruption?; is ?a state of settlements, run by an amoral clique of corrupt lawbreakers?; that ?Zionism?s superstructure is already collapsing like a cheap Jerusalem wedding hall.? (This last is a particularly vicious allusion to a tragic event that cost many lives.)

But those characterizations weren?t enough for Burg. He lives in the same Israel that I live in, a country that practically begs its enemies for peace, in which a few weeks without a massacre on the order of the Istanbul bombings is considered a period of calm. But Avraham Burg has a different take on anti-Israeli terrorism. The victims are the aggressors; they kill, in effect, themselves, or are killed by the avenging hand of justice:

?No wonder we don?t hear the cries of the abused woman next door or the single mother struggling to support her children in dignity. We don?t even bother to count the women murdered by their husbands. Israel, having ceased to care about the children of the Palestinians, should not be surprised when they come washed in hatred and blow themselves up in the centers of Israeli escapism. They consign themselves to Allah in our places of recreation, because their own lives are torture. They spill their own blood in our restaurants in order to ruin our appetites, because they have children and parents at home who are hungry and humiliated. We could kill a thousand ringleaders a day and nothing will be solved, because the leaders come up from below?from the wells of hatred and anger, from the ?infrastructures? of injustice and moral corruption.?

So there you have it ? Israel, the state of the Jews, is a den of woman-abuse and wife-murder, a sewer of corruption (how Burg loves that word); the Palestinians are noble sufferers, blowing themselves up in front of us to try and awaken our compassion. Avraham would do Mahathir and Mikis proud ? in fact, he surpasses them. The one counsels against terror in lieu of a grander strategy of cunning and wisdom; the other doesn?t broach the topic. Burg looks at the terror, and likes what he sees. He sees the rod of reproof, a desperate attempt to ruin our appetites and shake us out of our venal complacency.

I confess to having a fantasy of forcing the likes of Mahathir, Theodorakis, and Burg to stand outside the bombed-out synagogues in Istanbul, while the bodies were still strewn, the blood all over the streets, and asking them what they have to say. Here, I might say, are the Jews ? a people so powerful, so arrogant in their lordly corruption, that they can?t stop themselves and their children from getting blown up and massacred again and again. Here are your powerful enemies, here are the oppressors. But it is, no doubt, a naive fantasy. Mahathir and Theodorakis know well that such things happen, and their response is ? they had it coming. As for Burg, I might ask him if it?s only suicide bombings of Jews in Israel that gain his moral approbation, if he?d be prepared to admit that here, at least, the al-Qaeda perpetrators are just aggressors and the Jews are just victims.

I might then ask him why he can?t let his own Israeli Jewish people be murdered in peace without further vilifying them in international newspapers. But if he could answer that, he?d be on the way to unraveling the whole mystery of anti-Semitism and hatred that?s threatening to sweep away the world.

[This article originally appeared on FrontPageMagazine.com on November 19, 2003.]