The Wall Street Journal Editorial Board recently offered an excellent piece titled, “‘Even Hitler,’ Says the Palestinian President.”
The editorial talks about Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Authority’s president, giving a “rambling historical lecture” last month. “His subject?” the Journal editors write. “The Jews.”
The article reports that Abbas uses numerous anti-Semitic tropes, accusing Jewish people of the usual stereotypes and blaming them for many historical and social issues. He reaches a peak when he says, “Even Hitler said he fought the Jews because they were dealing with usury and money.” Oh.
The op-ed notes that Abbas’ comments “don’t fit the liberal narrative that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a clash of nationalisms that can be resolved in a peace process if Israelis make more concessions. The comments also don’t fit the narrative gaining ground among Democrats that the Israelis are extreme and the Palestinians progressive.”
Finally, the Editorial Board explains that this is why it has been nearly impossible for the Palestinians and Israelis to achieve peace.
READ MORE — Andy Bloom: What did we learn from the first Republican debate?
Substitute Yasser Arafat for Abbas, and I could have written this piece twenty years ago. I’ve told enough people about my experience after visiting Dubai in 2003.
At the time, I was consulting for the Broadcast Board of Governors (BBG, now called the U.S. Agency for Global Media, USAGM) Arabic Radio Services. The BBG and now the USAGM supervise U.S. government broadcasting overseas. It’s most known for the Voice of America and Radio Free Europe, but its programming is available in 60 languages and reaches an estimated 275 million people worldwide.
Most of my work was for Radio Sawa (which means “together” in Arabic). In early 2003, I visited Dubai, one of the world’s richest and most spectacular cities. The tallest building in the world, the Burj Khalifa, is in Dubai (although construction was only beginning when I was there). Every luxury brand in the world has a store in Dubai, and now it is the world’s largest mall. I was impressed by the ocean rising out of the desert, visible from my hotel room.
My colleague from the Arab Radio Services and I traveled together. Both of us are Jewish. As obvious as it may be that I am Jewish, my travel partner, Burt, could be a “poster” for Judaism by name and look.
“Don’t they know we’re Jewish?” I wondered.
“No, and don’t tell them,” was his response. I was also warned not to discuss politics.
We went to Dubai to meet with the people at a local chapter of a well-known, highly respected international research and polling company. The men (remember the role of women in Arab countries?) we met with were Western-educated, informed on world events, logical (they dealt in statistics daily), and well-spoken. We were impressed with what we saw.
The Space Shuttle Columbia disintegrated as it reentered the Earth’s atmosphere on the final day of our visit. The tragedy changed the dynamics of our conversations, and the loss of human life dominated our talks. While my colleague ventured elsewhere, I settled into a conference room with two of the men from the research company.
Careful not to get political, I wanted to understand why so much life was lost in the Middle East. I said that in the United States, we were so hopeful only two years earlier when Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak met for the Camp David Peace Summit (2000). I asked if they could help me understand why Arafat had walked away when he had gotten so much of what he wanted.
They cited three reasons.
“Don’t they know we’re Jewish?” “No, and don’t tell them.”
I was ready for the first part of the answer: There could be no shared control of Jerusalem, which Barak had proposed.
The second reason is something that hasn’t been widely reported in the mainstream media.
The two public opinion research managers said that Arafat was terrified of meeting the same fate as Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, who was assassinated by Islamist extremists who belonged to an Egyptian Jihad organization.
In 1979, Sadat signed a peace treaty, also at Camp David, leading to the normalization of diplomatic relations between Egypt and Israel. It was seen as a betrayal by many in the Arab and Muslim world. Sadat’s assassins vehemently opposed the treaty and viewed him as a traitor to Arab and Muslim causes.
That explanation made sense at face value.
Nothing prepared me for the third reason: The right of return.
Until Americans understand “the right of return,” they cannot understand why peace between the Palestinians and Israelis is impossible. It means all Palestinian refugees worldwide have a “full right of return to their pre-1948 homes.” That means Palestinians don’t get just the Gaza Strip or the West Bank. It means all of Israel.
Careful with my words, I asked, “What about the people living there now?”
The two men, who had calm and pleasant demeanors, changed as fast as glass shatters. Their expressions became distorted, and their faces flushed. The pupils of their eyes constricted. Their voices trembled as they answered my query.
“You mean the Jews? They should all march into the sea and drown.”
The other man nodded and added, “We will live peacefully when there are no more Jews.”
I rolled my chair back a bit. The gut punch stung. I wasn’t sure what was coming next. They must have seen the beads of sweat forming on my brow. “Okay, guys. I think I understand. Hey, where’s Burt? He’s sure been gone a long time.”
Slowly, I got up from my chair as they seemed to calm themselves. If we spoke again, I don’t remember it.
But I’ll never forget what they said or how they looked as they talked about “the Jews.”
The Wall Street Journal op-ed about Mahmoud Abbas, the current leader of the Palestinian Authority, is a gentler version of what I learned 20 years ago about Yasser Arafat, the right of return, and why there will never be peace in the Middle East.
Andy Bloom is President of Andy Bloom Communications. He specializes in media training and political communications. He has programmed legendary stations including WIP, WPHT and WYSP/Philadelphia, KLSX, Los Angeles and WCCO Minneapolis. He was Vice President of Programming for Emmis International, Greater Media Inc. and Coleman Research. Andy also served as communications director for Rep. Michael R. Turner (R-Ohio). He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or you can follow him on Twitter @AndyBloomCom.