I asked my brother, the scholar and anthropologist in our family, ‘Who is a Jew?’

He replied with many definitions (‘anyone whose mother was Jewish’ was only the first) and concluded with my favorite, which he said is attributed to Golda Meir: ‘A Jew is anyone who if you call him a Jew he doesn’t throw a chair at you.’

Would that they were only throwing chairs.

Do most of the teenagers enraged at the US and Israel – who want to kill the Jews – even know that less than 60 years ago 6 million were killed? My guess is that this detail doesn’t make it into the madrassas.

My guess is also that, like two schoolboys fighting (only horrendously worse), neither one wants to back down but both hope a teacher comes along to put a stop to it. In this case, that teacher would be us. And the Saudis. The bigger the coalition, the better. One hopes it could demand behind the scenes that Sharon and Arafat both step down in favor of more moderate leaders, and then, once they have agreed, demand it publicly and have them accede. And then have the coalition step in between the two sides – heavily armed (but also with lots of relief supplies) – while UN resolutions are being sensibly interpreted and agreed to. Add in $25,000 or $50,000 to each of a million Palestinian families paid half by the US and Europe, half by Saudi Arabia and Kuwait – what’s $25 or $50 billion to avert World War III? – and maybe there’s a way to get the toothpaste back into the tube.

But what do I know?

Herewith three pieces I found particularly interesting. The first, by John Derbyshire, a Brit, I believe, comes from the National Review. It concludes by referring to the second, a column Peggy Noonan did for the Wall Street Journal. If you have any wind left after those two, the third is a letter to Nashville’s Jewish paper, the Observer. (Thank you, Peter and Pris, for bringing these to my attention.)

March 22, 2002
The National Review
Kill a Jew for Allah
By John Derbyshire

I recently got a long, carefully composed e-mail from a reader, who begged me to circulate it among “other opinion-formers.” It laid out a plan for peace in the Middle East. The writer, obviously an intelligent and well-informed person, had composed the e-mail with great care. With some passion, too – he really wants to find a solution to the Israel-Arab problem. Here was a public-spirited person doing his citizenly best to promote an idea that, he fervently believed, would put an end to the horrors.

And what was that idea? In a nutshell: The U.S. should lean hard on Israel to abandon the Jewish settlements in Arab land – i.e. beyond Israel’s pre-1967 borders. These settlements (my reader argued) were the root cause of all the strife. Closing them down would remove the main casus belli; and the good faith shown by this act would open the eyes of the Arabs to the fact that peace with Israel is possible. The logjam would be broken.

I don’t know what to say to people like this. Obviously they are decent, good citizens. Obviously they are trying their best – trying to be constructive, to give some hope to the world. How do I tell them what I feel? Which is, that they are floating in orbit between Uranus and Neptune – inhabiting some place that does not touch the real world at any point.

Look: Possibly there would be some abstract justice in closing down the settlements, I don’t know. I don’t see it myself, I must admit. Why should Jews not live among Arabs? Lots of Arabs live in Israel, and do very well there. There are rich Israeli Arabs; there are Israeli-Arab pop stars and comedians; there are Israeli-Arab intellectuals, teachers, writers, businessmen, athletes. Why, when the whole thing gets sorted out, should there not be Jews living in Arab territory – as there were for centuries past? What, exactly, is wrong with the settlements? I don’t see it.

But, okay, let’s suppose there is some valid moral objection to the existence of the settlements; and let’s suppose my reader’s plan were to be carried out, and all the settlements were removed, their populations transferred back to metropolitan Israel, their buildings razed, their fields ploughed with salt. Does anybody think it would make a damn bit of difference? There was no such thing as settlements, no such thing as “occupied territories,” before the 1967 war. There were no such things in 1960, for example, when Adolf Eichmann was abducted from his hiding-hole in Buenos Aires by Israeli secret agents, an event recorded by Saudi Arabia’s principal government-controlled newspaper as: “ARREST OF EICHMANN, WHO HAD THE HONOR OF KILLING 6 MILLION JEWS”.

The problem of the Middle East is not the settlements. It is not this piece of land or that piece. It is not the Golan Heights or East Jerusalem or Temple Mount. It is not oil, or land, or water, or history, or geography, or metaphysics. The problem is in plain sight. You know what the problem is, and so do I. The problem is that the Middle East hates the Jews.

I say “the Middle East” because I don’t know any more precise way to say it. You can’t say “the Arabs” (though of course the Arabs hate the Jews more than anyone), because the Iranians and the Pakistanis and the Berbers of North Africa hate the Jews too, and they are not Arabs. You can’t say “the Muslims”. That is a lot closer, I think, and there surely cannot be much doubt that institutional Islam is riddled with Jew-hatred. Still, Malaysia is a Muslim country, and they don’t hate the Jews, except in a go-along, pro forma sort of way, to keep on good terms with the Saudis and Gulf Emirs.

And I am sure, before you write to tell me, that lots of people in the Middle East don’t hate the Jews. Lots of Arabs, millions probably, don’t hate the Jews. Probably lots of non-Arab Muslims don’t hate the Jews, either. Yet it’s hard to avoid the impression, from reading the MEMRI translations, from looking at the kinds of things taught in schools all over the Middle East (and in Islamic schools here in the U.S.A. – see below), from listening to the pronouncements of Middle East politicians (remember the Syrian foreign minister explaining to the Pope – to the Pope! – that: “When I see a Jew in front of me, I kill him”?) and from random conversations with New York cab drivers, that visceral, murderous Jew-hatred is awfully widespread among Arabs, Pakistanis, Iranians, and North Africans. Awfully widespread.

In between getting that e-mail and answering it, I did two unrelated things, by way of my daily work. One was to prepare an editorial snippet for the print National Review about Islamic schools here in the U.S., based on a long study in the Washington Post of February 25th. There are estimated to be between 200 and 600 private Islamic day schools in the U.S., with up to 30,000 students in attendance. They use textbooks imported from Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. One in use at the Islamic Saudi Academy in suburban Virginia instructs readers that a sure sign of the Day of Judgment will be that Muslims will fight and kill Jews, who will hide behind trees that say: “Oh Muslim, Oh servant of God, there is a Jew hiding behind me. Come here and kill him.” School authorities did some fast damage control when the Post confronted them (as the Saudis are doing over the now-famous Blood Libel article). The textbooks are in process of being replaced with special versions more suitable for American students, they assured us, with the kill-a-Jew-for-Allah stuff left out. Presumably that stuff remains untouched back home in Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Egypt, Syria, Iran, Libya,… Their kiddies will get the right message, you can be sure: “What do you mean, you don’t hate Jews? Look, even the blessed trees hate them!”

The other thing I did was read Jeffrey Goldberg’s article about Saddam Hussein in The New Yorker (titled “The Great Terror” in the 3/25/02 issue).

“Iraqi dissidents agree that Iraq’s programs to build weapons of mass destruction are focused on Israel. ‘Israel is the whole game,’ Ahmad Chalabi, the leader of the Iraqi National Congress, told me. …. “[Saddam] thinks he can kill one hundred thousand Israelis in a day with biological weapons….’ Students of Iraq and its government generally agree that Saddam would like to project himself as leader of all the Arabs, and that the only sure way to do that is by confronting Israel.”

Seems to me, from what I read and hear, that those students are quite right: That by “confronting Israel” via killing a hundred thousand Israelis in a day, Saddam would win the hearts of the entire Arab world, and of the Iranians, Pakistanis, Afghans and North Africans, too. (Does Hamid Karzai, Washington’s new darling, hate Jews? Has anyone asked him?) I am sure Saddam himself believes this to be the case, and he is, with all his endearing little character flaws, a man who knows something about the Arab mentality.

It is not too difficult to envisage a plan by which the spoken grievances of the Arabs against Israel could be addressed, and some compromise struck. The chancelleries of the world – including Israel’s – are in fact full of such plans, drawn up with loving care by legions of diplomats, experts, politicians, ambassadors, scholars and private do-gooders like my reader, across decades of time. In an atmosphere of goodwill, and genuine desire for a solution, the Palestine circle could be squared. You’d just have to pull one of those plans down from the shelf, blow the dust off it, and say: “Let’s take this for a starting point, shall we?” The circle is not going to be squared though – not by George W. Bush, not by my e-mail pal with his elaborate scheme to shut down the settlements, not by another round of “shuttle diplomacy,” not by any amount of work on a “peace process”. It isn’t going to be, because there is no goodwill, and no real desire on the part of Israel’s enemies for a solution. Or rather, there is a widespread desire for only one solution – the extinction of Israel and the driving out, or mass killing, of the Jews. That’s what they want, the Middle East; that’s all they want.

I don’t think we should be sending diplomats to the Middle East. I think we should be sending teams of psychiatrists. This is a diseased culture, a sick culture. Go back to that disgraceful recycling of the Blood Libel in the Saudi press. Do you think anyone in that newspaper’s readership thought there was anything odd about it, anything deplorable about it, anything untrue about it? I don’t think so. To the newspaper readers of Saudi Arabia, it was routine stuff, a statement of the obvious. If MEMRI hadn’t brought it to the attention of the civilized world, do you think the Saudi authorities would have bothered about it? Do you think, even now, they really have a clue what all the fuss is about? Of course the Jews use gentile blood to make their cookies. Doesn’t everyone know that? We’d best pretend to be shocked, though. Those Americans are so-o-o sensitive!

We are dealing here with people who are, not to put too fine a point on it, nuts. The Arabs, the Iranians, the Pakis, the Libyans: they are nuts, the great majority of them. Nuts. Not playing with a full deck. Not too tightly wrapped. One brick short of a load, one coupon short of a toaster. The smoke not going all the way up the chimney. Not quite 16 annas to the rupee. Nuts.

Is there anything we can do about it? Only what Peggy Noonan told us to do in her brilliant Wall Street Journal piece last week: Do what you do when you find yourself in a roomful of glittering-eyed lunatics down at the local funny farm. Keep smiling, talk softly, don’t make any sudden moves, keep nodding and smiling, and keep a tight hand on the stun gun in your pocket. The Middle East contains three hundred million people, and most of them are crazy as coots. Glad I don’t live there.

March 15, 2002
The Wall Street Journal
Quiet, Please, on The Western Front
Some of our enemies are crazy. We don’t want to excite them.

I have a small thought. I would like to speak of it in a low-key manner. My thought is that we are all talking too much, or rather too dramatically–too colorfully, and carelessly–about things that are really quite dreadful. And we should stop it.

I will start with this: I have been thinking about hospitals for the psychologically and emotionally unwell, and how they run.

Now, there are many wicked people in the world, and some of them are stone evil, but some are also not at all sane. They are frighteningly obsessed or delusional; they have illusions of omnipotence, or no control over their impulses and desires; they hear voices, are unhinged by fantasies of rage and revenge, imagine that they are the reincarnation of Napoleon, or Saladin.

You can ponder whether Saddam Hussein is more evil than crazy or crazy than evil, but anyone who’s seen him on the news would likely conclude that Richard Reid, the would-be shoe bomber who failed to blow himself and 400 other people out of the sky, is quite clearly unstable.

And there are of course many Richard Reids. The problem in this age of weapons of mass destruction is that we don’t have one Saddam to worry about but cells of Saddams, rings of Reids, scores, hundreds of independent operators, some of whom are trying to create their own weapons of mass destruction, their own obliterates aimed at obliterating life in this place or that.

And many of them are not fully sane. Which is a problem. Which is why I’m thinking about mental institutions.

If you have ever worked in one or visited a friend in one, you’ve probably observed some things about how the unwell are treated. For instance: It is always wise when speaking to the unstable to speak softly if you can, and soothingly if possible. It isn’t good to be loud or theatrical in your subject matter or usage. It is wise not to speak with heightened drama, because for the unstable things are quite dramatic enough. They have storms going on inside them. They don’t need your howling verbal gusts. So, a general rule: Never excite the unstable.

At the same time some of the unstable are dangerous or potentially so, and this cannot be ignored. So it’s always good to be planning ahead. It is wise to be preparing restraints, to have areas in which the dangerous can be segregated from the general population, to have security guards who speak softly but, as they say, carry a big stick. It is wise to have serious plans for treatment, wise to make sure that they cannot get their hands on, say, the ingredients to build a bomb.

Nurses and doctors in such hospitals know all this, especially the part about not bringing unneeded drama to their patients. They do not tell someone who may behave violently, “We hate you and plan to do terrible things to you. The next time you are bad we’re going to kick you, punch you, push you in a hole and put a large cover on it. Then we’re going to cover you with Italian dressing, let you marinate overnight, and cook you.” That kind of language would less likely discourage dramatic action than summon it.

And that’s what I think we all ought to be keeping in our minds these days, how not to summon dramatic action from the marginally stable.

We are at war. This is a grave time. And yet in some ways we are being quite careless in what we are saying and how it might be received. We are being too colorful, too vivid, and unnecessarily so. We are acting as if we are not fully aware of the gravity of the moment.

One gets the sense, reading the newspapers and columnists and Web sites, and listening to news conferences, that we are talking too much these days, saying too much and saying it too graphically.

We are being noisy and clamorous.

We are frightening the inmates. This is not good.

“Let’s Nuke Em All!” Britain’s Daily Mail headlined this week. The story was about the U.S. government review of its nuclear capabilities. Someone–Mary McGrory wondered in her column if it was “doomsday planners” or “a subversive showoff”–leaked the news that the U.S. may be re-evaluating its nuclear posture, strategy and potential targets with an eye to breaking the taboo on tactical nuclear weapons. The New York Times, one of the great newspapers of the world and received by some in the world as a voice of the West, ran an editorial in which it likened America to a “rogue state.” A columnist in the Boston Globe said President Bush is “as frightening as al Qaeda.”

All of this of course followed the previous week’s story of secret plans to invade Iraq.

On Wednesday, President Bush took to the airwaves in an informal news conference and refused to rule out the use of nuclear weapons in the war, explaining that his position was “a way to say to people who would harm America: Don’t do it. . . . There’s a consequence.”

Indeed there is, and it would no doubt be terrible. But one wonders if this subject is not better confined to a grave and formal speech to the nation from a somber president, and not served up along with teasing of the press–“That you, Stretch? Oh, it’s Superstretch”–and jokes about the length and complexity of follow-ups. Perhaps this is the White House’s way of showing the president is utterly unrattled by the facts of the new world. But there are other ways to show that he is unrattled, if that has to be shown.

Why are we being so careless and colorful, so offhand, at a time when what faces us is so somber? Maybe we in the media are not thinking of the impression we make en masse, all together, on the world. We think of the impression we make individually, not as part of a media wave that rolls over the globe each day.

And people, even the most sophisticated, tend to project some of their inner world on the outer world around them. The unstable see themselves surrounded by threats, or secret signs. But the stable have illusions too. People who are sane tend to project sanity onto others. Those who, like the writers at great Web sites and great newspapers, are fully stable, imagine that their thoughts and words are received by the stable. And of course that is true. Except when it isn’t.

What they think and write and say is also disseminated throughout the world of America’s enemies, and is not always received in a way that is sober and measured. Some of those who see, on the computer in their home outside Tehran, the headline “Let’s Nuke Em All!” will take it quite literally. They will receive it as yet another reason to get back to work packing the dirty nuke into the backpack. The man who leaked the nuclear review story perhaps thought he was making the world safer–that everyone would understand it as he did. But not everyone will.

“Children will listen,” the old song says. But so will the fragile and mad, and it’s not good to excite them. We should not be leaking that we are reviewing our nuclear capacity; we should be quietly reviewing it. We should not be reporting in hyperventilated tones the review of nuclear policy; we should remember that this only feeds the sickness of those who mean us harm. We should be very quietly debating in the offices of government what an appropriate response would be to the bombing of America; we should reach conclusions, create a plan, and very quietly tell the leaders of the real rogue nations exactly what will happen to them, and to the terrorists who slumber within their borders, if they should dare to bomb an American city. Our words should be blunt little bombs whispered in the ears of Arab leaders in a manner that leaves them with the kind of ringing headache you sometimes get when you’re told terrible news that is true.

But we should probably not be having chatty conversations about whether or not it would be a good idea to take out Mecca.

This is not censorship, it is using judgment in a time of war. It is awareness that projecting stability and sanity onto others, while polite and even touching, is not always warranted.

We should lower our voices, and be chary with words. As if we were well-meaning professionals in an asylum who want to keep everyone safe, and help the sick, and keep them safe as possible too.

Peggy’s new book: When Character Was King: A Story of Ronald Reagan.

March 10, 2002
A letter to
The Nashville Observer

Last night as I lay in my comfortable bed in my lovely home planning a pleasant night’s sleep, I could hear the guns in Gilo. And I couldn’t sleep; not because I was fearful for my safety but because I couldn’t help but think of all those people living in Gilo (two neighborhoods away from us) and how terrified they must be—especially the children. Thank G-d only three people were injured but fifty-two apartments were damaged by terrorist machine gun fire.

I would like to try to convey to you what life is like here right now. I have told you long before that I thought the “Peace Process” was just that, a process . . . that it wouldn’t lead to peace. And unfortunately, it has turned out that way. At best, it was a holding period, a badly needed respite. In the years following Oslo, we had a kind of freedom . . . a green light, if you will; we could travel almost anywhere, enjoy the country in relative safety.

After Arafat rejected the best deal he would ever get and the “Peace Process” came to a halt, we found ourselves under constant attack . . . suicide bombers (whom one expert said was a misnomer, that they should be called Islamakazes), mortar attacks, knifings, murders, and drive-by shootings. Every morning, we open our newspapers and tally up how many people were killed (about 350 to date) and how many more people were permanently damaged  . . .  losing limbs, being burned so badly that they will never leave home, seeing loved ones murdered  . . .  they and their families will never be the same. I am talking about thousands of people in the last 16 months, mostly children and young people under the age of thirty.

What happened in America on 9/11 was horrifying. Over 3000 people lost their lives in the World Trade Center. America has a population of 278 million. Israel has a population of 6 million. If you were to compare deaths per capita, Israel has experienced almost 5 World Trade Centers in the last year and a half. And that’s only the deaths, not the thousands permanently injured. The majority have been civilians going about their lives  . . .  mostly women and children. It’s pretty devastating when you think about it. You can imagine what this has done to the psyche of our country.

But what I find even more incredible is the response of Israel to this assault. The Israeli Army, has the power and ability to go in and take over the whole Palestinian entity in a matter of days. But they haven’t done it. Instead they have targeted the ringleaders, the bomb makers and their installations (and been criticized for it). They have isolated Arafat, the Father of Terrorism, (and been criticized for it). They have bombed the installations of the Palestinian Authority, but not without first telling them that they are going to do it. So when they do bomb buildings, they are empty. They make every attempt to avoid injuring any civilians. When the army entered the two refugee camps (which by the way are so vicious and independent that the Palestinian police won’t enter them), they gave the civilians three hours to leave the camp, to get out of harm’s way. In view of the horrors perpetrated against us, ours is the most measured of responses. And yet the media doesn’t report it that way  . . .  they can’t if they want to continue to have access to the Palestinians. So they talk about Israel’s heavy-handedness, they talk about occupation, when 98% of the territories are under Palestinian control, they highlight the Palestinian deaths and overlook many of ours. The media, when being even-handed, will interview both a Palestinian and an Israeli. But the Israelis they pick are either to the far Left or the far Right and are clearly not representative of mainstream Israel. Last week they ran a story about a Palestinian woman coming into Israel to give birth and being wounded in the shoulder when her car ran a roadblock. They don’t follow it up with the fact that she was taken quickly taken to hospital where she give birth to a healthy baby and recovered from her wound. Nor do they tell you that the very next day a pregnant Israeli woman was ambushed on the highway and shot in the abdomen as a “gift” to the Palestinian woman. We go after those who are killing us. We do not respond by targeting civilians.

I said earlier that for ten years we had a green light. We no longer have that green light. It has been replaced by a flashing yellow light. We still live our normal lives  . . .  go to work . . . go to the mall  . . .  go to the movies  . . .  make gourmet dinners  . . .  have weddings and bar mitzvahs  . . .  work out  . . .  plant gardens . . . go to lectures, concerts, and plays  . . .  all the normal things one does. Except that flashing yellow light makes us more aware of where we are and who’s around us.  When we hear more than one siren, as we did last night, we run and turn on the news  . . .  another suicide bomber blew himself up in a crowded religious neighborhood. When we hear an explosion, it could be something on a construction site or a car backfire, but we think bomb. You might expect us to go around with long faces and sometimes we do, but mostly not. Nevertheless we are always hurting inside. We know so many are grieving. We see the pictures of the beautiful young people who have been killed and our hearts are breaking. The hardest part for me and, I think, others, is that there is no end in sight. How long can this go on? What will happen next?

The talk is always, “let’s achieve calm, let’s get back to the negotiating table.”  But with whom are we going to negotiate?  Arafat?  Arafat, the inventor of terrorism; the consummate liar! A man who prays for “the peace of the brave” on the New York Times Op Ed page and at the very same time shouts “jihad, a million martyrs on to Jerusalem” to his own people in Arabic. A man who has not only abused the opportunity offered him for peace but has brutally abused his own people by manipulation and lies. He is every bit as vicious as Bin Laden. Would America negotiate with Bin Laden? With whom then are we going to negotiate? And if we do find someone, how meaningful will a signed piece of paper be? There are three generations of Palestinians here who have learned to hate Jews from birth; who’s greatest mitzvah is to kill a Jew. How can that change with a piece of paper?

We are at a terrible impasse here. How do we protect ourselves and at the same time create a Palestinian entity that is self-sufficient and independent of us. This is it. This is what every Israeli wants.

And what about you? Where do you fit into this Jewish world of ours? I have told you about Israel, but what about Argentina where over half of the Jews there are now living under the poverty line, or France where Jews are experiencing a huge upsurge of anti-Semitism.

And what about America? I don’t know that much about America; but what I do know disturbs me. I hear very little raised in the way of protests against the biased media and little rallying in support of Israel coming from the Jewish communities in America. What I do know is that the Arab propaganda is so strong and effective in the US that on the college campuses your children and grandchildren have never been more distanced from Israel and are in fact ashamed of her. American Jewish visitors are so few here that we can practically thank each one personally for coming. Our hotels and restaurants are closing. Our tour guides and bus companies are out of work.

Where are you when we need you? Are you writing to the Congress to thank them for their support? Are you writing to the President? What about letters to the editor? Are you countering Palestinian propaganda on the college campuses? Are you writing to CNN and NPR when their reporting is clearly biased? Are you letting people here know that you care? Have you contributed to a victim relief fund? What’s happening, folks?

When I was in America last month, I saw a lot of hand-wringing and got a lot of sympathetic comments. Mostly, people wanted to know why I didn’t come back and live there.

And what did I answer? I told them that we have had the most fabulous twelve years of our lives here. Grant you the last months have been painful. But when I think about why I am here, what it boils down to is that living here is the most important statement that I can make with my life.

Since I began this letter, the situation has become increasingly worse. While we apprehend and thwart countless attackers, we cannot catch them all. Some slip through. On Thursday, I sent Moshe down to the grocery (here the grocery is so close you can walk) to pick up a few things I had forgotten. When he arrived, the whole area had been blocked off, all traffic stopped. And police everywhere. Just minutes before, a suicide bomber had entered a very popular outdoor cafe but had been noticed by a customer who alerted a waiter and together they pushed him out of the cafe and at the same time ripped out the wires of the bomb  . . .  and saved the lives of scores of people. These were just ordinary people, but they performed an extraordinary task. On Friday the cafe was again packed. Saturday night a bomber entering another packed cafe in the center of town was not detected in time  . . .  13 were killed and over 50 wounded.

In about an hour, Moshe and I and many of our neighbors are going to take a walk in the Jerusalem Peace Forest  . . .  a part of the Promenade that looks out over Jerusalem. Perhaps you have been there. It is a popular tourist spot. Some weeks ago in this place, a young Israeli college student, a girl, was attacked by a gang of Arab teenagers and stabbed to death. Our walk is symbolic. It’s our way of saying you can’t take our favorite places away from us. We won’t give in to your terror.

I could tell you many, many stories but I think you get the picture. This is a war that is difficult to win; if you defeat your enemy, you wind up with a captive hostile population and territories that you must occupy; if you make an accommodation with the enemy, it won’t assure you of safety or that attitudes will change. It will only put you in an even less secure situation.

If you believe in prayer, please pray for us. Both the Israeli and the Palestinian populations are victimized. We are going through a living hell.

☞ And this letter, sad to say, was written four weeks ago.  Since then, as you well, know, it’s gotten much worse.


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