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Western Press Review: The Middle East And Growing Global Anti-Semitism

  • Don Hill

Prague, 29 April 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Editorials and news analyses in today's review of Western press opinion concentrate on the crisis in the Mideast and on growing anti-Semitism around the world, especially in Europe.


"The Washington Post" says in an editorial about last week's summit between U.S. President George W. Bush and Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Abdullah that the Saudis are missing an essential point.

"Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia seemed to have only one message for President George W. Bush at their meeting in Crawford, Texas, on Thursday [25 April] -- that America's failure to restrain Prime Minister Ariel Sharon of Israel threatens to send the region and U.S. interests in it 'over a cliff.'"

"The Post" says, "More aggressive American engagement with Israel will be necessary to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But there will be no solution, and U.S. action will be futile, unless Arab governments are willing to accept and shoulder their own responsibility."

"In that sense," the paper concludes, "the most alarming aspect of the Bush-Abdullah summit was not the prince's loud warnings about the need for U.S. intervention. It was the absence of any sign that he intends to take any action on his own."


In the "Sueddeutsche Zeitung," Thorsten Schmitz discusses the problems in the Middle East in light of the threat of terrorism. He says that even though it is legitimate for Israeli Prime Minister Sharon to defend his country against Palestinian terrorism, its military offensive should not be compared to the U.S. war against the Taliban regime and Al-Qaeda terrorists in Afghanistan.

"The comparison limps," says Schmitz. Yes, he says, the United States bombed Afghanistan, destroyed towns and captured prisoners, "but it did not leave the people in the lurch. America and its allies are helping the reconstruction of Afghanistan and its democratic structures."

Schmitz says that Sharon claims to be fighting a war against terrorists, but in fact he is waging a war against the legitimate strivings of the Palestinians for their own state. Schmitz writes, "[Palestinian leader Yasser] Arafat's glorification of the use of might and suicide attacks against Israel has enabled Sharon to strike a last fatal blow to the Oslo accord."

The writer says: "It is now up to the U.S. to rectify its vacillating Middle East policy. It must pressure Arafat rather than reward him with visits by U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, as long as Arafat claims he wants to die a martyr. But it is equally important that the U.S. president condemns the Israeli settlements on Palestinian territory as dangerous for Israel."


In "The New York Times," columnist William Safire applies an intelligence analyst's technique called "walking back the cat," that is, comparing what now is known as fact against what information sources had said to expect.

"In that way, walkers-back learn who disinformed or whose mistake may reveal a split in a seemingly monolithic hierarchy." Safire applies that technique to reports last week that the Saudi crown prince intended to warn Bush that the Saudis would use their oil as a weapon to force the United States to put pressure on Sharon. The columnist notes that such a warning never came.

Safire says the discrepancy between prediction and fact "suggests that the Saudi leadership is not a monolith." He writes: "Could it be that a struggle for power in Riyadh is being revealed? Last week's false expectation suggests that some royal sponsors of payoffs to terrorists worry most about losing control to [Osama] bin Laden and rabble rousers, while others near the throne worry most about losing U.S. military protection and markets if the kingdom pushes the U.S. too hard.

"As a result of the Saudi disinformation campaign," Safire concludes, "we can no longer be so certain which faction is in charge in Riyadh."


Another "Times" columnist, Thomas L. Friedman, tells an anecdote to illustrate the current state of fear among residents of Israel. He writes from Bethlehem: "Yuli Tamir, a former absorption [immigration] minister, told me this story. After a recent suicide bombing in Jerusalem in which three Israelis were killed, a friend called to ask her whether her teenage daughter was safe, because the suicide bomb had gone off next to a youth group office that her daughter frequented. 'I told my friend,' Yuli said, 'Thank God, she's safe. She's in Auschwitz.' Yuli's daughter was in Poland at the time visiting the Nazi death camp with her youth group. The irony of her words of relief was not lost on her."

The columnist continues: "There is such a hunger here for a leader with the pragmatic wisdom to find a way out of this, and such a worry that Ariel Sharon, who last week reaffirmed his eternal commitment to the insane Israeli settlements in Gaza, is not the man."


Alan Posener writes in a commentary in "Die Welt" that the very fact that the UN is sending a team to investigate abuses at the West Bank refugee camp of Jenin constitutes a defeat for Israel.

"As the Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat speaks in English of peace, he incites to war in Arabic. The media glorify the heroic deeds of the fighters who enticed the Israeli army into the Jenin trap, while Western media present desperate people who are searching for their buried relations with bare hands."

Posener says Israel cannot win this war of images. "And yet it has a right to demand the inclusion of military and antiterror experts in the commission. However, now that Yasser Arafat has again gained his freedom to move from Ramallah, he is making the most of this situation to turn Jenin into myth, and the question arises, 'Does the world want to know the truth?'"


In a news analysis, Patrick E. Tyler of "The New York Times" writes that analysts have concluded that President Bush moved toward greater credibility with the Arab world when he gained Israeli agreement to end the siege of Yasser Arafat's compound in the West Bank.

However, Tyler writes: "The volatile crisis that continues to radiate out from the Holy Land to other Arab centers is far from over. Mr. Bush faces the even more difficult challenge of getting the warring parties back to the negotiating table, where expectations for American pressure -- and for progress to narrow the seemingly intractable differences -- remain high on both sides."


On the topic of the increasing amount of anti-Semitism in Europe and the world, Jeff Jacoby, writing in "The Wall Street Journal Europe," says, "The rocks have been lifted all over Europe, and the snakes of Jew-hatred are slithering free."

Jacoby sites attacks on Jews and Jewish sites in Belgium, Britain, Germany, Greece, and Slovakia. "In Italy, the daily paper 'La Stampa' published a page-one cartoon [depicting] a tank emblazoned with a Jewish star [pointing] its gun at the baby Jesus, who pleads, 'Surely they don't want to kill me again?'"

The columnist concludes: "A timeless lesson of history is that it rarely ends with the Jews. Militant Islamist extremists were attacking and killing Jews long before they attacked and killed Americans on 11 September. The Nazis first set out to incinerate the Jews; in the end, all of Europe was burned in the fire. Jews, it often is said, are the canary in the coal mine of civilization. When they become the objects of savagery and hate, it means that the air has been poisoned and an explosion is soon to come."


Tahar Ben Jelloun, a French resident of Moroccan descent, writes in Britain's "The Guardian" that an upsurge in France of rightist supporters of Jean-Marie Le Pen has legitimized racism there.

"France has been growing drowsy these last few decades. Since 1936, the year we all got paid holidays, we have enjoyed social rights we thought were here for good. And now along comes Mr. Le Pen, reminding us that if he comes to power he will ban abortion and end social security for all.

"He will bring back the death penalty, introduce a national preference for employment and benefits, withdraw French nationality from immigrant children who behave badly, throw poor students out of school, and pull France out of Europe -- a backward step that would shatter this country."

The writer continues: "Now France seems to be waking from its lethargy. Le Pen is a phenomenon that draws out France's bitterness and resentment. He profits from the democratic system and would destroy it if he could. Racism in France is not a media fantasy. There exists in this country a tradition of rejecting the foreign that reached its high point with the Dreyfus affair. Racism and anti-Semitism exist, and are revealed at moments of crisis. We know, for example, from analyses of speeches, that Le Pen mentions Jews and Israelis twice as often as Arabs and Muslims.

"Racism has not increased in France; it has freed itself from its feelings of shame. It dares show itself, dares act, playing on words and toying with the law. Le Pen, these last 15 years, has succeeded in rendering racist behavior banal and in removing all guilt from its authors."


In an editorial, "The Wall Street Journal Europe" discusses recent commentaries published by Italian writer Oriana Fallaci, saying that threats being made against her by Islamic extremists are likely to backfire.

"Europe's conscience has a name -- Oriana Fallaci. The doyenne of Italian journalism and letters ended a self-imposed silence on 11 September and has since then been pouring out her rage against terrorism and its treat to Western civilization. There are no mealy-mouthed concessions to root causes or appeasement in any of it. So naturally now she's getting death threats."

The editorial continues: "Late last week she told 'Corriere della Sera' -- 'To die with me with an explosive charge. God, what a waste.' According to the paper, the death threat came in a pamphlet making the rounds within Italy's Islamic community."

"The Wall Street Journal" concludes: "We don't agree with everything Oriana Fallaci has written, but much of it is true. It goes without saying that she has a right to say it. Those who want to silence her with threats have picked on the wrong target, as she doesn't seem to be easily scared. They also, unwittingly, are helping to make her case that intolerance leads a society toward inferiority."

(RFE/RL's Dora Slaba contributed to this report.)