Guest Blog: Israel Cannot Get a Break
by Jess Sadick
Indulge me for a moment while I tell you something you already know too well.
Israel never seems to get a break, even on its birthday.
This week, on what Arabs refer to as al-Nakba (Catastrophe) Day, Arabs in Syria and Lebanon amassed at Israel’s border. Some of them set upon cutting down the border fence while others were content just with trying to climb over it. There was little reaction from the media, other than to predictably focus on the dozen or so Arabs said to have been killed, by whose gunfire remains unclear. Reports are that Lebanese, not just Israeli, soldiers fired.
But the impetus for this column lies in other distasteful events of late that seemed not to go Israel’s way.
We start with the U.S. Administration, which not surprisingly managed even to bungle its traditional Israel Independence Day greeting. President Obama could not help but seize the occasion to show the requisite balance and objectivity. In the same sentence in which he called Israel a “close ally,” Obama said he hoped to see the “legitimate aspirations” of all of the region’s people fulfilled, alluding of course to the Palestinians. There was no compelling reason why, on this particular occasion, Palestinians needed mention.
Secretary of State Clinton’s Independence Day message was no better. She called Israel a “young nation” and “a beacon of hope and freedom “for so many” around the world. “For so many” sounds like she is referring to Jews only. Do not Israel’s many achievements in its relatively short life thus far serve as inspiration for all people around the world and not just “for so many?” Certainly, some will find this nit-picking. But such speeches are carefully prepared, with every word having specific meaning and intent, sometimes purposefully hidden. Clinton’s choice of words was a way to sound, perhaps without really meaning to be, sincere.
This also seemed the intent of France’s Ambassador for Human Rights, Francois Zimeray, who delivered a speech to members of the American Jewish Committee in Washington on May 1. Zimeray started off by saying that some who address such audiences pronounce themselves a friend of Israel but then have only criticisms of it to share. When Zimeray then insisted that he was a friend of Israel but really meant it, I knew what was coming next would not be good.
Zimeray then proceeded to treat Israel as a child, telling it what to think and do and suggesting it is paranoid.
“We have to tell the Israelis that the changes in the Middle East are positive and good things,” he said, effectively suggesting that Israel’s caution is misplaced. “One has to show the Israelis the positive aspects of Middle East change.” With the Muslim Brotherhood and radical Islam on the rise in post-Mubarak Egypt and in Syria, how is Zimeray so sure that the changes unfolding are no cause for concern? Doesn’t Israel know its neighbors best? After all, its survival depends upon it.
Most outrageous was Zimeray’s suggestion that Israeli Jews do not yearn for peace. He said, “Israel often asks where is the next Arab Sadat,” meaning who among Arab leaders will next visit Jerusalem in a sincere effort to forge peace? But, then he asked, “Where is the Jewish Sadat?” as if to suggest Israeli Jews, themselves, do not sufficiently aspire for peace. In fact, there are more than 5.5 million of them!
Zimeray didn’t stop there. He insisted that expecting Palestinians to recognize Israel – a key demand of the current Israeli government before peace talks can proceed – is “impossible for them at this moment.” And he implied that Israel’s fears and concerns are not legitimate but stem, instead, from irrational paranoia: “Sometimes Israel acts as if it has no friends. We have to tell the Israelis that they are [a] legitimate [state]…. Israel needs to wage the battle for world public opinion.”
Zimeray should be part of that battle and should be telling his Arab interlocutors at every opportunity that Israel is a legitimate, permanent member of their region and the world. It’s the Arab countries, not Israel, that need to hear it, and it should not be Israel’s job alone to convey it. If Zimeray is the “friend of Israel” he professes to be, he should be helping Israel to make its case to the Arabs and everywhere he visits.
Speaking of Zimeray’s travels as France’s Ambassador for Human Rights, an AJC event program listed Iraq as the only Arab country Zimeray has visited. Has Zimeray not found it necessary to investigate first-hand the continued deprivation of human rights in places like Syria and Saudi Arabia, where human rights are violated daily and without consequence?
I wish I could say that I would have expected better from the Frenchman.
Jess Sadick, a social media entrepreneur in Washington, DC, is a former Middle East terrorism analyst at the U.S. Department of State and Federal Bureau of Investigation and Editor of www.ClearedCommunity.com.