Friday, November 03, 2006

A speech I haven't made

The following is a draft for a hypothetical speech, intended for a mainly liberal audience, to be delivered after a pro-Palestinian speaker. It rehearses some of the points I made in the introduction to this blog, but takes some of them further, particularly in the contrast it draws between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. I know I have the support of the pro-Israeli set, but the rest are likely to be unsympathetic, more likely downright hostile. They are intellectuals, well-educated, and, like myself, liberals. Except that they think they are exhibiting their liberal credentials by supporting the suffering people of Palestine. It's the middle of winter, people are cold, the setting is a small lecture room lit by fluorescent tubes, and the pro-Palestinian speaker has just wowed his audience with a fervent speech that comes close to incitement to terrorism, all to loud applause. Karl Popper once wrote that you have to tackle your opponent, not at his weak spots, but at the spots he thinks are his strengths. Let's see what happens. Imagine your own cat-calls, laughter, applause – what you will.

‘I'd like to thank the last speaker for contributing so solidly to my argument. Maybe you thought he was blazing the truth in support of Palestine, but think twice and you'll see that his arguments were flimsy and his motives questionable. What he wants, although he didn't say it in so many words, is the destruction of Israel. I wonder how many of you have thought what that would mean. And if you do think hard about it – we're talking about a second Holocaust – I wonder if your applause will be so loud next time round.

‘But let's start with some basics and look at some things you may not have thought about before. Let's start by saying that I'm probably a lot closer to you than you might imagine. Forget about Israel and Palestine for the moment. In the broadest terms, I think of myself as a liberal, somewhere around the centre of politics, with influences both from the right and the moderate left. I guess many of you occupy much the same territory, and that most of you are probably much further to the left.

‘What do I mean by a liberal? There's no need here for a lecture on the subject. I'm sure you all have your own ideas, but I like to think we probably share most of them. I believe in democracy, in the rights of women, in the rights of gay people, in freedom of worship, in the abolition of capital punishment, in human rights in general, in the right to work and raise a family, in the right to form trades unions, in the right to justice and a fair trial, in the illegality of torture, in free speech, an open press, and investigative journalism... I’m sure you get the idea.

‘It is – and I say this without the least hint of irony – because you are inherently good people that you believe in principles like these. Whatever our individual flaws, we come together as men and women to remedy the many greater ills in the world, and this makes us liberals. Whether we are right-leaning or left-leaning liberals, I'm sure we share all or most of those values. So why are you on one side in this debate, while I'm on the other? I could sit down with any one of you for half an hour, and we could talk about values, or books, or films, or music, and we'd find we agreed about eighty percent of the time. So what's the problem with Israel?

‘Let's look at that simple list of liberal values again, shall we? I started with democracy. Well, doesn't it worry you that Israel is and has been from its inception the only working democracy in the Middle East, that no Arab state has ever had a functioning democracy, or that the Palestinian Authority has alway been at the mercy of armed gangs? The recent 'democratic' elections in the PA were won by a strongly-armed faction that is still killing its opponents — something that, in my book, disqualifies those el;ections from the epithet 'democratic'. Why do your sympathies lie with countries that violate the most basic principles of democracy, while you heap scorn on a nation whose citizens, Jew and Arab alike, have freedoms that might be envied in most parts of the world?

‘The rights of women. Doesn't this speak for itself? In the Arab world, women are veiled, they are murdered in honour killings, they are brutalized by genital mutilation. Not everywhere, of course. In some places, women have made great progress. But in Saudi Arabia they can't vote or drive cars, and in many places, including the Palestine Authority, they are subject to great restrictions. And what about gay rights? I’m sure you’re all ardent supporters of gay rights. It’s something I believe in too. It’s a decent, liberal thing, to ask for human rights for all. But, if you’re gay, I strongly recommend you to stay away from Gaza or the West Bank. Whether you’re waving a Palestinian flag or rooting for those so-called ‘freedom fighters’, if you admit you’re gay, you’ll wind up in serious trouble. It's not impossible that you will, in fact, wind up dead.

‘The New Republic recently described what can happen to someone of different sexual orientation: ‘The lucky ones are forced to stand in sewage water up to their necks or lie in dark cells infested with insects; others are simply starved to death. These horrific crimes have motivated hundreds of Palestinian homosexuals to flee to Israel.’

‘Why? Paul Varnell, writing for the Chicago Free Press, offers a hint: "Which Middle Eastern country has a variety of gay organizations ... has members of parliament who speak out on behalf of gays ... has a head of state (willing to) meet with gay activists? ... Israel." I might add, which Middle Eastern country actually encourages Gay Pride marches? Egypt? Iraq? Jordan? Lebanon? Syria? The PA? Turkey? Keep guessing. It is, of course, Israel. So why are you waving the flag for a country that oppresses gays and women, and attacking the only country in the Middle East that doesn’t? I thought you were meant to be liberals.

‘In a region of mixed religions, tolerance and freedom to worship and publish religious books is vital to a healthy community. Let’s take a simple example of how this does and doesn’t work. You may have heard of a small religious community (about 6 million worldwide) known as Baha’is. The Baha’is are anathema in every Muslim state, where their meetings are banned, their buildings wrecked, their graves desecrated, and worse. In Iran, hundreds have been imprisoned and over one hundred executed since the revolution. Their most sacred shriens in Iran have been flattened by bulldozers. The Middle East remains the most dangerous region for them. Except for Israel. Travel to Haifa and you will see a small religious city fronting the slope of Mount Carmel, set in some of the most beautiful gardens in the Middle East. It’s a popular tourist site, made up of a golden-domed shrine, and an arc of white marble buildings ranging from an archive building that resembles a Greek temple, and the domed seat of their supreme ruling body. This is their world headquarters. This is Israel. You are liberals. Yet you support a regime that makes membership in that religion a crime. In 2003, the PA declared Islam to be its official and only religion. And you demonize a country that offers freedom of worship to all its citizens. Don’t you believe you should think a little harder?

‘I mentioned capital punishment before. I don’t know any liberals who are in favour of capital punishment. Except most of you here tonight. You condemn Israel, which abolished capital punishment years ago, and praise Palestinians, who retain it, officially and unofficially. Is that wise or consistent?

‘Work the rest out for yourselves. Doesn’t it matter to you that, after the appalling Sabra and Chatilla massacres, thousands of Israelis were on the streets in front of the Knesset, protesting? You don’t do that sort of thing in any Arab country, unless it’s a government-organized demonstration. Doesn’t it bug you that the Israeli Supreme Court has handed down so many judgements in defiance of both the government and the military? Doesn’t it upset you that Israel is the only country in the Middle East with a free press?

‘Back in 1987, American Supreme Court Justice William Brennan, possibly the most liberal justice in history, described Israel as the country where civil liberties could best be protected by the judiciary, that Israel had succeeded very well in balancing the demands of civil liberties with the pressures coming from the security situation. He’s a liberal, he hates torture, capital punishment, false imprisonment, and all the rest as much as you or I do. And he makes Israel his role model. He looks up to Israel. And he’s living in the heart of a great democracy, not in the PA territory, where people are shot in the head without trial.

‘Israeli citizens, Jew and Arab, Druze and Baha’i, Christian and Muslim, enjoy better human rights than people in most so-called democracies in Latin America, Russia, Africa, and, above all, the Middle East. It’s a real democracy that has never given way to tyranny. Why have so many Arab leaders been thugs and bullies? Many Arab states and Islamic organizations have issued statements declaring support for human rights. It all looks good in English. But read the Arabic or Persian on the other side – something I am, incidentally, capable of doing – and you will see every ‘right’ qualified by ‘the laws of the shari’a’, that’s to say religious law. Are rights in Israel subject to Jewish law? Only for those who choose to be so qualified.

‘Let’s take a trivial thing, namely alcohol. In Muslim countries, alcohol is seldom freely available, and then only in tourist hotels. You don’t get a choice. Religious law takes away your right to drink, even in moderation. In Israel, you’re free to drink and only have to worry if you get drunk and smash up the bar. As I said, it’s not a major topic, but it illustrates the difference between Muslim countries and Israel perfectly. In Israel, adults are treated with respect and left free to make their own choices in matters of sexuality, drinking, religion, music, and so on. That’s what a liberal country looks like. We can recognize it because it resembles Britain in so many ways. Countries like the PA-controlled territories are inherently repressive. So why do you want to replace Israel with a state that would stand for everything you abhor? And, as I shall explain in another post, 'replace' is precisely what I mean: Hamas, Hizbollah, and their backlers do not want or plan to establish a democracy; they have made it clear that they intend to found an Islamic state, a state that will take away at one swipe all the freedoms now available to the citizens of Israel (who will, incidentally, have been forced to leave or exterminated by that point).

‘I want to live in a country where women wear bikinis on the beach, where my gay friends can go to their own bars to drink, where my wife isn’t insulted if she leaves the house on her own (as used to happen to her in Morocco), where I can attend a concert of classical music in the evening, openly buy a book by a heretic, teach at university without finding myself under arrest and facing trial because I said the Prophet was an inch shorter than the traditions say he was, go to a charity ball and dance all night, meet a woman I don’t know in a bar and spend the evening talking to her about work, talk to a journalist about government plans without being picked up by the security services two days later, publish my latest book without it being censored…. I can do all these things and more in Israel, none of them in the average Arab country or under the Palestinian Authority. Or perhaps you think citizens should be kept under a tight rein. What sort of liberals did you say you were?

‘And just in case you thought I only make cheap arguments about trivial matters, let’s get this where it should be. In the 1930s and 40s, the Jewish people of Europe lost 6 million to the most frightening outpouring of racial hatred the world has ever known. I don’t doubt that you’ll agree that the Nazis were among the greatest criminals in human history. So why are you so behindhand in condemning the Palestinian leadership of that time for collaborating openly with the Nazis, advising Himmler on the Final Solution, and making plans for their own concentration camps in the event of a German victory? Jewish survivors of the Holocaust had to face enemies like these (all allowed to escape punishment as war criminals) when they battled their way to the Holy Land through British embargoes and dangerous sea journeys. A true liberal would know exactly where his or her sentiments lay. The creation of Israel out of the ashes of the Holocaust is one of the greatest achievements of human history. The Jews never deserved to be treated as they were and as they are now. I can feel nothing but shame for you, if you are liberals and cannot see where true justice lies. Perhaps it is enough to hope that, as liberals, you will take stock of what I have said and re-assess your attitudes towards Israel. If you do, you may find that Israelis are human beings after all, and that you may come to like them and discover you share thoughts and feelings you never imagined.

‘And if any of you can begin this process tonight, can manoeuvre your brains round the huge obstacles placed before you by Arab propaganda, will you please join me in applying your considerable intellects to the most pressing question on the face of the planet today? What is that? Just this – to acknowledge how unremittingly monstrous both our civilization and that of Islam have been to the Jews. Today, that hatred, that visceral contempt for the Jews is most widely seen in two places: in the Muslim world and among left-wing and liberal Westerners. If you don't believe me, read more of this blog. I plead with you to think twice in the light of what I have said this evening. And having thought twice, it’s time to consider how you can use your talents and those precious, open-hearted liberal principles of yours, not to add to the hurt and pain of the Holocaust, but to help Israel and, in so doing, help the suffering Palestinians in the best way possible. Because a secure Israel is the best guarantee of Palestinian freedom and prosperity one could hope for.'

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