A matter of proportion

Incitement against Israel and Jews in the Palestinian media and educational system is one of a number of serious issues that divide the two sides and fuel hostility. The critical question is, how much weight should be assigned to incitement in Israeli policy-making. Does it make sense, for example, for Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to declare that the renewal of a political process between Israel and the Palestinian Authority is no longer dependent on an end to violence, but rather on an end to Palestinian incitement? Is it then any more logical for Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei (Abu Ala) to declare that first Israel has to stop its own incitement?

In the course of some ten years since the Palestinian Authority was founded, committees have been established and studies commissioned to look into the issue of incitement. The PA has introduced new textbooks that contain less incitement toward Israel than their Egyptian and Jordanian predecessors. Controversies have blossomed over the meaning of "jihad" as a Palestinian educational value and the absence of "Israel" on maps in Palestinian geography textbooks. Palestinian official media have carried programs that appear to condone or encourage suicide bombings. Some Israeli critics argue that the very publication of the Palestinian narrative, according to which Israel’s existence is based on a crime perpetrated against the Palestinian people, constitutes incitement.

No doubt, Palestinians have indeed incited viciously against Israelis. But before we in Israel turn Palestinian incitement into a casus belli, we need to search our own public space, along with the history of our attempts at peacemaking with our other Arab neighbors, in an effort to establish a measure of proportionality. The paradoxes and contradictions are disturbing.

First of all, against the backdrop of PM Sharon’s disengagement plan there is currently no lack of incitement in our own society. Settler rabbis who receive government salaries make hateful proclamations, and encourage violence against Arabs and Jews alike (at least, one might note tongue in cheek, they’re as prejudiced against fellow Israeli Jews as against Palestinian Arabs). To the chagrin of many Israelis, our legal establishment tells us that these hate-mongers generally enjoy the protection of Israel’s freedom of speech laws. How, then, can we criticize the Palestinians at one and the same time for not developing a democracy and for condoning incitement?

Palestinians also point to Israeli settlement expansion and military actions that kill and maim non-combatants as the equivalent of incitement–or worse. In other words, they refuse to isolate incitement from the rest of the conflict. They note that it is virtually impossible to find the borders of the Palestinian Authority, not to mention the green line, in official Israeli publications. Just look at the weather maps on Israeli television and in our most serious newspapers to see how easily and hurtfully we make the Palestinian Authority disappear from our daily routines.

Turning to our other neighbors, the scope and depth of incitement in Egyptian and Jordanian textbooks and media is worse than in Palestine. Yet we negotiated peace treaties with these countries without demanding that they address these issues, and since then we suffice with ritual protests by Israeli diplomats and American Jewish organizations.

Syrian incitement is the worst. Yet PM Sharon doesn’t mention incitement when he lays out the conditions that must be satisfied in order for Israel to agree to renew peace negotiations with Syria. Instead he demands that Syria dismantle the terrorist infrastructure (Hizballah, Hamas, Islamic Jihad) under its auspices. Then he turns and presents conditions for renewing a peace process with the Palestinians that are the complete antithesis: we’ll ignore your terrorist infrastructure for the moment, but stop the incitement! Our Arab neighbors may be forgiven if they interpret these blatant inconsistencies in our incitement policy as reflecting little more than a generalized attempt by Sharon to avoid serious peace negotiations with any of them.

We have every right–indeed, an obligation–to make an issue of Palestinian incitement. But where is the broader context? In looking at Egypt and Jordan we recognize that anti-Israel and anti-Jewish incitement will continue to fester among our neighbors long after peace, because it reflects both the way their societies see us and the standards of civility they apply to themselves. Yet this is not a reason to avoid or postpone making peace. Certainly few if any Israelis regret the peace with Jordan and Egypt, even though their media and school curricula still incite against us.

On the contrary, in the long term it is precisely in order to reduce this incitement that we must strive for peace with our neighbors, especially the Palestinians.-