The conflict between Jews and Arabs in the Middle East is multifaceted and complex. It affects not only the involved parties, but also people and events around the globe and here in Hampton Roads.
Lately the dispute has adopted a new twist to an old tactic: the Arab boycott of Israel.
The original boycott was a refusal by Arab countries to deal with any company having business relations with Israel, a policy deemed illegal by U.S. law. The strategy has been updated to persuade institutions, universities, governments, trade unions and religious organizations to not only isolate Israel militarily, culturally and spiritually, but also to divest from companies and organizations trading with or otherwise involving Israel.
So far the Arab nations have enjoyed limited success with, among others, the Presbyterian Church in America, the Anglican Church in England and the South African Council of Churches.
In an effort to investigate firsthand the mind-set of the Presbyterians, I attended a divestment discussion group, on invitation, at a local church moderated by its quite informative and objective pastor. However, it was clear that the church harbors major misconceptions concerning the Middle East that, in all probability, contributed to its decision to divest. For instance, they were of the mistaken impression that the ruling Likud Party platform calls for a "Greater Israel" expansion extending from the Euphrates River to the Suez Canal.
Even the information sheet dispensed by the church outlining pertinent Middle East history is laced with inaccuracies and distortions, all with a distinct inclination to both whitewash the hostility and deceit of the Arab command while exaggerating and dramatizing fabricated Israeli human rights violations. A thorough perusal of the resolution and background information sheets read as if they were written by Palestinian propagandists.
Of course, not every anti-Israel action is anti-Semitic. But when the church ignores countless brutal and repressive regimes the world over to focus on dubious accusations by representatives from a society whose culture of lying is legendary, it raises questions about what an impartial observer should think regarding the integrity of the church's board.
That church directors have, no less, traveled to Lebanon to meet in a show of solidarity with Hezbollah, a terrorist organization whose stated raison d'etre is to destroy Israel, makes one wonder who has hijacked the leadership. Indeed, it is felt that the thrust of the initiative was fostered by Sabeel, a Palestinian NGO directed by Naim Ateek, whose extreme anti-Israel position and mission has been to isolate and delegitimize Israel through divestment campaigns and has called for that country's dismantling.
How do Presbyterian Church officials decide when unsubstantiated Arab allegations are credible? Do they also believe that the Israeli government poisons Palestinian air, infects them with AIDS and commits "genocide worse than Nazis"? And that Zionists were behind bombing the Samarra mosque in Iraq, the Russian school hostage-taking in Chechnya, the Jenin and Deir Yassin "massacres" that weren't, and the twin towers terrorist disaster, as Arabs have outlandishly claimed? That Jews control governments, universities and the press worldwide and fabricated the Holocaust to garner global sympathy? Where do they decide to draw the line between fairy tale and reality?
It is one of the great myths of the Middle East, perpetuated by clueless reporters and naive news anchors, that the road to peace hinges merely on the withdrawal of the Israeli presence from the disputed territories and relinquishing control to the Palestinian Authority.
Not only does this ignore the genuine and frequently stated intentions of the Palestinians of a single Islamic Arab nation between Jordan and the Mediterranean devoid of Jews, it foolishly assumes that Israel holds the keys to solve the conflict - if only the concessions would be offered.
While the Presbyterian Church's motivation to bring about change in troubled corners of the world through positive action is indeed commendable, its direction is flawed in that it places the onus on the victim instead of the aggressor. The realities of the refusal of the Arabs to recognize the Jewish state as a sovereign country, and their unrelenting campaign of hostility spanning six decades to eradicate that tiny nation, is the underlying basis of the conflict.
No amount of pressure, no concessions by Israel, no signed pieces of paper, and no intervention by any outside power will change the prospect for peace so long as the mind-set and motivation of the Arab street is bent on destruction of any Jewish presence in the Middle East and worldwide.
Guest columnist Sheldon Fineman is an anesthesiologist at Virginia Beach General Hospital. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. other opinions