Israel Expresses Concern for Talks
By Dina Kraft
Associated Press Writer
Sunday, Feb. 20, 2000; 1:13 p.m. EST
JERUSALEM —- A recent surge of anti–Israel rhetoric in the Arab world prompted Israeli leaders to express concern Sunday for the future of the peace process.
Following a breakdown in peace talks, Arab media has compared Israelis to Nazis and attacked them with imagery conventionally associated with the worst anti-Semitic excesses.
“We have to be concerned about the question of how the Arab world perceives Israel,” Foreign Minister David Levy told Israeli radio. “Is the wave which has arisen today an expression of that hidden thought in the hearts of many people there?”
Prime Minister Ehud Barak referred to the phenomenon in the weekly Cabinet meeting, saying that such “incitement” does not contribute to the peace process.
Peace talks with Syria broke down last month, and talks with the Palestinians foundered this month — in both cases over Israeli territorial concessions.
The breakdown in Syrian talks was followed by an escalation of clashes between Israeli troops and guerrillas in Lebanon, where Syria is the main power.
As the violence escalated, official Syrian media accused Israel of carrying out Nazi-like strikes, and of grossly exaggerating the Holocaust to win international support.
Echoing his Syrian patrons, Lebanese President Emile Lahoud condemned Israeli policies as “crimes inherited from the Nazi school.”
In a country where as much as a third of the Jewish population comprises Holocaust survivors or their descendants, such language cuts deeply into the national psyche — and could hamper Barak’s efforts to garner public support for eventual peace deals.
“From a historic point of view it is horrific, a deception,” Shevah Weiss, a Holocaust survivor and a former speaker of parliament who backs the peace process, said of the comparisons with the Nazis.
“Waves of Hatred,” read the front page headline in Sunday’s Maariv daily over an article that said Barak was “embarrassed” by the outbursts.
The rhetoric could stem, in part, from frustration with the sympathy Israel enjoys in the West because of the Holocaust, when Nazis and their allies in German-occupied Europe murdered 6 million Jews.
The Arabs “have no idea what to do with the fact of the Holocaust and that it gets tremendous sympathy, and have no effective way to deal with it,” said Barry Rubin, a Syria expert at Bar Ilan University.
Israeli anger is exacerbated when such images appear in countries with which it has already signed peace treaties.
A cartoon in the pro-government Egyptian newspaper, Al-Ahram, depicted Barak standing on an Arab boy to reach an Austrian ballot box, which he is defacing with a swastika.
The suggestion is that Barak’s condemnation of the inclusion of Joerg Haider’s anti-immigrants party in the Austrian coalition is hypocritical, given Israel’s treatment of the Lebanese.
Such images “among those with whom we are at peace, who compare us to Hitler and cheer Haider, suggests that there is something very deeply (wrong) here,” Levy said.
Levy said Israel was also stung by the support Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak expressed for the Lebanese in a high-profile weekend visit, in which he said guerrilla attacks that have killed seven Israeli troops in recent weeks are “a result, not a cause,” of Israel’s presence in Lebanon.
Barak dispatched two of his top advisers to Egypt on Sunday, apparently seeking answers about the Mubarak visit.
The heated rhetoric also traditionally precedes peace moves, said Gerald Steinberg, another Syria expert at Bar Ilan, as a way for Arab leaders to preserve credibility.
“It is a way of … maintaining the Arab honor,” he said.
The Arabs, too, read a lot into Israeli rhetoric. On Sunday, state-run Damascus Radio called on Levy to apologize for saying “the soil of Lebanon will burn” if attacks on Israeli soldiers persist.