When in Doubt Blame Israel

When in Doubt Blame Israel

By Daniel Elbaum

Hezbollah has had a rough time recently. After years of indecision, the European Union designated its “military wing” as a terrorist organization. This move, long overdue and yet incomplete, had been vigorously opposed by Lebanon, home to Hezbollah, and by Iran, the group’s chief state sponsor. Canada and the United States long ago designated the entire Hezbollah a terrorist organization. And, after the EU vote, the Gulf Cooperation Council’s six members — Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman and the United Arab Emirates — agreed to impose sanctions against it.

What’s Hezbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah to do?

For Nasrallah, the answer is simple.  Making his first public speech in six years, Nasrallah beseeched Arabs and Muslims to stay focused on what he insists is their true enemy.  “Israel represents a permanent and grave danger to all the countries and peoples of this region,” said the Hezbollah leader while his organization’s fighters are currently helping to massacre Syrians to prop up Bashar al-Assad’s murderous regime.

And what about the 100,000 dead Muslims in Syria?  Why, look no further than Israel, of course.  After all, the entire uprising was instigated by Israel and its Western allies. It is they who are, “trying to push the people to focus on another enemy, inventing other wars,” says Nasrallah.

How sadly predictable!  Page one of the Middle East leader playbook has historically been the same.  When things get uncomfortable, do not hesitate to blame Israel.

“Moderate” leaders are certainly not immune.  Iran’s new president, Hassan Rouhani, two days before his inauguration, weighed in on Israel as well, speaking about “the sore that has been sitting on the body of the Islamic world for many years.”  Some ink has been spilled about translation issues as to whether he said that the sore needs to be removed, but no one questions the fact of signs in the crowd around him stating “death to Israel.”

Those determined to find moderation at any cost argue that Rouhani’s rhetoric indicates a softening in the Iranian regime’s tone. Should Israelis take comfort in being referred to merely as a sore?

Let’s be fair.  This dance was not invented by Nasrallah or Rouhani.  These steps were not taken first in the Muslim world.  For centuries, despots and kings fast discovered that Jews were useful scapegoats for their society’s various ills.

To this day, unfinished business remains in Europe.  A recent Tel Aviv University report found that the number of anti-Semitic incidents in Europe increased by 30 percent between 2011 and 2012. The report is consistent with other polls, which show that anti-Semitic attitudes remain high in certain European countries.

In organized political life there are today two aggressively anti-Semitic, xenophobic political parties represented in parliaments of EU member states – Jobbik in Hungary and Golden Dawn in Greece.  These parties openly talk, falsely, about Jewish financiers and bankers who have created their nation’s economic troubles.

None of this should take away from our hopes that the Israeli- Palestinian talks will prove fruitful and a just solution found to satisfy both parties. Indeed, we should applaud Secretary of State John Kerry for his determination in moving the peace process forward.

But, as the negotiations proceed, and we begin to hear from our good friends in Europe and elsewhere about the need for Israelis to “take risks for peace”, there should be no question as to the realness of those risks.

If history teaches one essential lesson it is that one should listen and pay heed to the words of men who talk about the need to eradicate the threat that you pose.

Daniel Elbaum is the American Jewish Committee’s Assistant Executive Director and Director of Regional Offices.

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