Disengagement and Demonization
by Steven Plaut
August 25, 2005
Ariel Sharon had evidently reached the conclusion that a military victory was needed, and since he was incapable of directing or unable to order a military victory over the Palestinians, he ordered a military victory over the Jewish "settlers".
Israelis opposed to Ariel Sharon's unilateral "disengagement plan" had something in common with those who backed the plan. Neither group had any idea at all of why Sharon was implementing it.
Those who opposed the plan, the "Orange Banner" camp, unsurprisingly had trouble understanding what benefits Sharon could possibly think would come from the "disengagement". But the supporters of the plan had more or less the same problem. When asked whether they think that the disengagement will result in the PLO complying with its Oslo treaty obligations, even Israeli Oslo supporters generally say "no". When asked whether they believe the PLO will end its coy support for terror and its own organizational role in the violence, the Israeli supporters of the "disengagement plan" are almost as unanimous in expressing their skepticism. Since even supporters of the plan expect the violence to continue and escalate once the "disengagement" is complete, what exactly was the logic behind their support, other than cognitive dissonance?
Just before implementation, the general Israeli public was about evenly split between supporters and opponents of the "disengagement plan", despite months of enormous governmental efforts to sell the plan to the public and the near-unanimous endorsement of it by Israel's media, under the near-hegemony of the Radical Left.
Shortly before the implementation of the "disengagement", a poll published by the Jerusalem Post (June 8, 2005) showed that total public support for the "disengagement" was below 50%. A Midgam poll conducted June 29 and a Tel Aviv University poll conducted July 17 found even stronger public opposition to the plan. The latter poll found that Israelis expecting the "disengagement" to result in escalated Palestinian terror outnumbered those expecting reduced terror by about five-to-three. All these polls included Israeli Arabs, about one Israeli in five, most of whom can be relied upon to endorse any proposal that is harmful to Israel's interests.
This meant that on the eve of the implementation, a clear majority of Israeli Jews was apparently opposed to it. Better evidence that this was the case was Sharon's peremptory rejection of any suggestion to conduct a national ballot referendum on the plan, an idea endorsed by a huge majority of the public. Sharon ruled it out because he would have lost it, just as he lost a Likud party referendum on the plan by a large majority. Sharon's Likud poodles and the Left were arguing with a straight face that ballot propositions were undemocratic. Tell that to California.
Israelis have been targeted by an immense media juggernaut demanding that they back Sharon's neo-Oslo agenda, and more generally, that they endorse the world view of the Israeli Left; that same world view that was proven to be so wrong over and over again during the first decade of the Oslo "peace process".
Part of the disengagement-marketing campaign was based upon what I call the September 10th Syndrome. The Israeli Left, with growing numbers of Likud leaders chiming in, insisted that Israel's 2000 unilateral withdrawal from Lebanon had not resulted in an all-out barrage of Katyusha rockets from the Hizbullah, nor daily terrorist atrocities on the Lebanese border (merely light monthly attacks). Of course, the Hizbullah is controlled by Syria, trembling at an enraged United States. Syria is surrounded on all sides by pro-Western states and now has GIs on its eastern border. Moreover, the Gaza security fence seemed to be fairly effective in keeping Gaza suicide bombers out of Israel, so surely a similar fence along the West Bank's Green Line could be as effective. After all, the number of West Bank suicide bombers is way down and never mind that the "separation wall" in the West Bank is still in large part only on paper, and that the massive Israeli campaign of assassinating terrorists in 2003 and 2004 is the more plausible reason for the relative calm.
Unilateral capitulations by Israel seem to have worked wonderfully so far, proclaimed the Hebrew newspapers and the Israeli electronic media in near unison. So far. On September 10, 2001, there were no doubt countless politicians and media figures convinced that Al-Qaeda was no serious terror threat at all to the United States. After all, American security measures had worked for many years. So far.
The Hizbullah now has tens of thousands of rockets aimed at all of northern Israel, rockets that can easily reach the Haifa oil refineries and port at the slightest revision in Syria's agenda. The PLO and its affiliates have already fired thousands of rockets and mortars out of Gaza at Jewish homes, and that was with the Israeli army on the ground inside Gaza and attempting to prevent smuggling of explosives in from Egypt. What will happen once the Gaza Strip is purged of all Jews and Israeli forces? The unilateral withdrawal of Israeli troops from all Gaza and West Bank cities in the 1990s produced the worst wave of Palestinian barbarism and atrocities in the history of the conflict. Does Ariel Sharon seriously believe the Gazans will now take up quilting?
So, what does explain Sharon's actions? Again, neither supporters nor opponents of the plan seem to have a plausible answer (take Zev Chafets in the New York Daily News of August 18, 2005 or Hillel Shenker in The Nation). Many believe that Sharon was bullied by the US into implementing a plan he himself understands will be harmful and result in escalated violence in the medium run, if not sooner. Others attribute it all to Sharon's supposed born-again conversion to belief in the basic correctness of the Israeli Left's approach; this, after 13 years of its nonstop failure, perhaps because of Sharon's exhaustion and senility. Still others, including the authors of the new book Boomerang, Israeli journalists Ofer Shelah and Raviv Druker, believe conspiracy theories about how Sharon struck a deal with the Left to implement its agenda in exchange for its calling off the Attorney General, himself linked closely with the Left, thus helping keep Sharon and his offspring un-indicted for their financial sleaze.
No one on either the Left or Right believes Sharon's protests that the Gaza "disengagement" is ultimately a sly tactic to perpetuate Israel's control over the West Bank. The very fact that the Gaza plan included the decision to remove a handful of West Bank settlements in addition to its making Gaza Judenrein was a clear signal to the world and to all Israelis that the Gaza plan is Sharon's model for a later West Bank "disengagement plan" as well.
Sharon had agreed to the Labor Party's approach, which advocated, after 1993, unilateral Israeli capitulations without so much as the pretense of symmetry, mutuality, balance or Palestinian concessions. If removal of all the Jewish civilians from the Gaza Strip was necessary in the name of creating population separation - as a way to reduce tensions and violence - then why was there no similar removal of any Arab anywhere? Would not symmetry require a comparable removal of the entire Arab population of, say, Jenin and its rehabilitation in Gaza City or in Rafiach? After all, the Jenin Arabs and their proximity to Israeli Jewish towns have been a constant cause of violence and conflict, far more serious than the presence of some Jews on formerly empty Gaza sand dunes.
I suspect that most of the Israeli Left really supported the "disengagement" not because of any demented belief that it would result in the Palestinians seeking peace, but mainly because they sought to demean and humiliate the Israeli Jewish "settlers" whom they had been taught to despise.
The Israeli Left, and by that I also mean the Israeli media, has been operating a daily campaign of unrestrained demonization and delegitimization against the Jewish "settlers" in the "occupied territories" for many years. Those familiar with the version of Leftist hate speech to be found on American campuses have seen nothing. The extremism of the anti-settler rhetoric of the Israeli Left is without comparison.
Israel's "settlers" had always born the brunt of Palestinian savagery. They were always the "mine canary" of the Middle East. Palestinian treatment and attitudes towards "settlers" were indicative of Palestinian attitudes towards Jews in general. A PLO truly seeking peace would find the presence of a handful of Jewish civilians living in the midst of Palestinian Arabs as inoffensive, un-noteworthy, and as enlightening and multiculturally beneficial as the presence of the Israeli Arab minority living inside pre-1967 Israel. Why is it that Palestinians, like Reconquista Spain, can pursue statehood only when all Jewish civilians are evicted? Could it be that they have no particular interest at all in running their own postal service and sanitation department, but instead seek Israel's total annihilation?
When the Israeli leftist media commentators discuss the settlers, one should always perform a mental exercise. One should imagine that every time the word "settler" appears, the word "Jew" is substituted. If one does this, the commentaries bear an extraordinary resemblance to the anti-Semitic rants in Der Sturmer in the 1930s. Most of the same adjectives and imagery are there. The "settlers" are greedy, clannish, selfish, unhygienic, violent, cowardly, murderous, sexually depraved, parasites, subhuman, dishonest, thieving, murderous, lazy, etc., etc.
Haim Yavin is the Dan Rather of Israel's Channel One television station, in more senses than one. He produced his own recent documentary devoted to proving that all "settlers" are horrid untermenschen. State-run Channel One is a station spouting leftist ideology, even when the Likud nominally governs the state. Israeli leftist newspaper columns denouncing the settlers in blood-curdling terms are too numerous to count. A Hebrew University leftist professor, Moshe Zimmerman, regularly denounces all settlers as Nazis. Other academic extremists have openly called upon the PLO to murder Jewish settlers. (These and similar statements are now carefully documented by the Israel Academia Monitor watchdog group at www.israel-academia-monitor.com.)
The delegitimization and demonization reached a fever pitch on the day the troops were sent in by Sharon to the Gaza settlement of Kfar Darom to evict its residents. After predicting for months that the settlers were planning to murder Israeli politicians and troops, the Israeli media fabricated a story about how the settlers were throwing acid at the hapless troops, and within moments, every media outlet on the planet was repeating the lie. There was no acid at all thrown, not even acidic grapefruit juice. Not a single soldier was treated for acid burn and the worst symptom any soldier showed was sore eyes, no doubt from tear gas. The acid story was an invention of Israel's leftist media, shamelessly pursuing its own political agenda. Michael Eitan, a member of the Israeli parliament and chairman of the Knesset law committee, denounced the story as a "blood libel". [The only Jews dropping acid we are aware of are over at Tikkun magazine.]
The half or so of the Israeli public who endorsed the eviction of the Gaza settlers had been deluged in the political tsunami of media hate speech for more than a decade. When Sharon decided to evict the "settlers", those Israelis clapping their hands did so not because they seriously think the PLO has changed its agenda. They did so because they wanted to see the imaginary cartoon villains invented by the Left and its captive media getting their comeuppance. They were willing to reward Arab terror and fascism, and to signal Israel's destructibility and defeatism in exchange for the immense pleasure of seeing Jewish settlers getting the jackboot.
When the PLO rockets from Gaza and the West Bank, after some upgrading, reach the yuppie neighborhoods in which Israel's urban leftists live, we will see if they still savor their sense of amusement.