The Jerusalem Post Editorial, March 26, 2004

CHEERING THE ENEMY

On Tuesday, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon visited the Hebrew University's Mount Scopus campus, where he was accosted by Arab students who demonstrated vehemently against the killing of Hamas chief Ahmed Yassin, shouting "We're all Ahmed Yassins."

They also called out: "With blood and fire we shall redeem you, oh shaheed [martyr]," and "Yassin we follow your footsteps."

In a mass protest in Nazareth that day, participants also resorted to the "We're all Ahmed Yassins" chant, along with "There are a million Yassins." Loudspeakers blared a stirring Gaza hit song extolling Yassin as "the light of the sun" and "tomorrow's man." The scene in Nazareth's streets was difficult to distinguish from the streets of Gaza.

Nevertheless, the head of the Monitoring Committee of the Israeli Arab Leadership, Shawki Hatib, maintained that the demonstration wasn't called to mourn the arch-terrorist, but "to protest against the targeted killing" of one.

It takes a fair amount of self-deception to regard demonstrations featuring pro-Yassin slogans and awash with Hamas flags as walking the fine line that Hatib described. We feel that the worst we can do is sweep animosity under the rug or downplay the menacing chants and undisguised abuse hurled in Israel's collective face.

These demonstrations did not stop at protesting against an Israeli action they celebrated a mass murderer of fellow Israeli citizens, including, of course, many Arabs.

Hatib and other speakers delivered inflammatory orations in which they lashed out at the IDF, its commanders, the government, and most of all Sharon. He was branded a fascist, racist, murderer, and child-killer. Hatib blamed him directly for "every drop of blood spilled in this region" not Yassin.

Moreover, such emotional sendoffs cannot be recalled for any of the 1,000 Israeli victims of the Palestinian Authority's intifada in the past 42 months. These included many elderly people and babies in their strollers. The pictures of none of these innocent victims were never borne aloft in Arab demonstrations. No one ever remembered the wheelchairs or prams of Yassin's numerous victims. The demonstrators evinced unreserved empathy for terrorists and zero empathy for their victims.

This is crossing far beyond any redlines that even the most vibrant but non-suicidal democracy can countenance. Vociferously siding with those who would destroy Israel, while castigating Israel's self-defense, isn't something Israel should tolerate in the name of civil liberties.

If a line isn't drawn, these manifestations will only become worse. It would serve the interest of Israel's Arab citizens to realize that disloyalty will backfire. For years they've been claiming that their sole objective is to secure equality.

But by associating themselves with the state's enemies, they will inevitably generate even greater estrangement between themselves and mainstream Israelis than already exists, especially since the bloody riots of October 2000. If they crave ostracism, they can achieve it, but it'll be their own doing.

Increasingly, however, the inescapable impression is that none of the unrest is about standards of living. Israeli Arabs have it better than their brethren in any of the Arab states and that in itself is a point to ponder.

By following disastrous leaders and role models like Yassin, they can only trigger regression and backwardness.

It won't do to portray such flagrant displays of hostility to the state as stemming from economic need. Pouring funds into the Arab sector, as Ehud Barak sought to do, may be warranted, but could be perceived as appeasement absent a marked reversal of the trend toward radicalization.

The time has come for courageous Israeli politicians to tell it like it is and say openly that the problem isn't deprivation, but the "Palestinization" of Israeli Arabs. It would be grossly unfair to them not to emphasize the limitations of what Israel can put up with.

Nationalistic and religious extremism along with insidious anti-Israelism won't yield integration and acceptance. Any society cannot but treat those who applaud its would-be destroyers with suspicion and distrust. This has to be stated loudly and boldly. Failure to underscore the bounds of Israeli tolerance would be remiss and harmful both to Jews and Arabs.

For the sake of all communities, it must be stressed that even in a free land not everything goes.