IRON IN THE SOUL
By Avi DavisThe scene in Jerusalem is all too familiar. Blood soaked streets, mutilated bodies, a blackened, hollowed out cafe. Heartbreak for dozens of families coupled with physical and emotional scars that may never heal. Yet, the victims of this horrifying crime are somehow not victims at all. In the eyes of the western media, they are instead trading cards in a game of reciprocity that is cynically labeled "a cycle of violence." Closing one's eyes to the true nature of evil is certainly nothing new to the liberal intelligentsia. It is, in fact, the kind of denial Jean Paul Sartre, author of the classic existential novel, "Iron in the Soul," made famous. Confronted with hard evidence of the evils of Stalinism, Sartre and his paramour Simone de Beauvoir were unrelenting supporters of the communist regime, and remained so until incontrovertible proof risked turning their reputations as champions of freedom into self-mockery.
Yet revisionism and denial among intellectuals did not die with Sartre and de Beauvoir. Its spirit lives on in myriad academic and left-wing incarnations.
One needs only to read recent revisionist accounts of last summer's Camp David summit by such writers as Deborah Sontag, (New York Times), Robert Malley (New York Review of Books), and Yossi Beilin (Haaretz) to be convinced that the members of the left-wing intelligentsia have staked a claim to the same morally muddied terrain as their predecessors. That should not be surprising.
Today it is possible to read Middle East commentary in the Economist, Le Monde, the New York Times and Ha'aretz, with the kind of bewilderment we once reserved only for tabloids. Here is argued, in all seriousness, that Yasser Arafat's return to terror and violence starting last September was a natural result of the absence of Israeli flexibility at Camp David and, remarkably, should even be excused.
Here we read from a Clinton advisor to Camp David that Clinton and Barak trapped Arafat and that Barak's unprecedented offer of 95% of the West Bank together with most of East Jerusalem was not a serious proposal.
Here we have an Israeli political leader telling us that his negotiations with the Palestinians at Taba in January, while Israelis were being murdered on the roads by Palestinian snipers, was the prelude to a historic peace treaty.
This in spite of evidence that has bubbled to the surface since, that Arafat and his henchmen may have been plotting the intifada even as Camp David was taking place; that Arafat's team did not bother to make even one counterproposal at the summit or that the relentless Palestinian insistence on the right of return for 3-million refugees is an obvious deal breaker that no Israeli government, even one of the far-left, could ever accept.
The British historian, Paul Johnson, who wrote a scathing examination of the private lives of celebrated intellectuals, has shown that certain members of the intelligentsia, whose prime motivation is either ego gratification or self-publicity, will take stands that vitiate against both logic and their own principles in order to advance their careers. But the level of cognitive dissonance necessary to bury one's conscience so completely must require something more.
Certainly the way in which the Hitler and Stalin apologists, who were prominent thinkers, leaders and champions of freedom in their own societies, remained so unmoved by mounting evidence of concentration camps and forced labor gangs, is one of history's more egregious examples of moral blindness.
The Arafat apologists, however, have raised that brand of denial to a new level of acceptability. How these liberal commentators, who have access to far more graphic depictions of daily events, could excuse Arafat's resort to suicide bombings, his tolerance for targeting babies and children or the continued incitement and anti-Semitism of the Palestinian media-no matter what he did or did not do at Camp David-is truly a thing of wonder.
But is the repeated incidence of self-delusion an example of career advancement, or is it just plain heartlessness?
Given the apparent drift of U.S. policy into neutrality and the tacit endorsement of Arafat that it suggests, we should now pay heed to American literary critic Lionel Trilling's admonition that "what begins as failure of perception among intellectuals, finds its fulfillment in policy and action."
Meanwhile, as the ashes of Thursday's bombing are swept into history, it is time for those intellectuals who still consider Arafat a worthy, or even a possible peace partner, to check their spiritual barometers for a malignant condition that should be recognized, unmistakably, as a classic case of iron in the soul.
Avi Davis is a senior editorial columnist for Jewsweek.com and a senior fellow at the Freeman Center for Strategic Studies.