WHO TIRES FIRST?

By Mark L. Levinson

If bullies are picking on your child, let them. They'll stop when they tire of it.

If thieves are ransacking your neighborhood, pay no attention to them. In due course, they'll go away.

Unconvinced? Try this one: The only way to defeat terror is to ignore it. That, in case you missed it on TV, is what Shimon Peres said at the opening of the Peres Center for Peace.

Normally we Israelis don't name institutions after living people, much less after our individual selves, but the Peres Center purports to focus primarily on economics so maybe indeed, like a business, it can be properly named for its founder.

Peres is right that terrorism harms business less than talk about terrorism does. A bomb or two in the marketplace may not seriously endanger the foreign businessman, but the danger sure looks serious when the businessman sees it on CNN. Peres is wrong, though, in thinking that terror would wither for lack of publicity.

In his first official televised step toward losing the last election, Peres showed where reality ranks, as against reportage, on his own scale of concerns. The very first 1996 Peres advertisement, you may recall, featured a question-and-answer session with a poised audience of youth who subsequently gathered round Peres to hug him and to sing him his campaign song. Though the session was edited documentary style, no one could have mistaken it for reality. Compared to those angelic kids, the Trapp family was a street gang. No, Peres didn't waste time creating the reality-- meeting with real youngsters, even for the camera's sake. He went straight for the report, perhaps hoping that real enthusiasm from Israel's youngsters would catch up.

When Peres says that "there's nothing to be learned from history," he evidently includes his own failures. Peres would now like to mount the pretense of a more tranquil Middle East in order that the real Middle East may catch up. If terrorism isn't made an issue of, he believes, then being fruitless it will come to a stop.

Now, let us suppose for a moment that a good business climate in the long term is more important than a few lives in the short term. Let us suppose that terrorists kill Jews not for the mitzva of killing Jews but for the mitzva of publicity. If we're dead and no one cares much, we might as well be alive as far as they're concerned. And let us suppose that though we can't keep the terrorists' bombs off our buses, we can keep their press releases from attracting too much media attention.

What would you do, then, if you were a publicity-hungry terrorist? Me, if I were being ignored, I'd escalate. I'd set about breaking the indifference barrier.

Peres says he is willing to ignore maybe two attacks in a peak month, maybe ten a year. The conventional wisdom is that terror presents no threat to Israel's existence, or as the translation often goes it is not an "existential" threat. That sounds like a war between Sartre and Camus, but it's really a war between being and nothingness, life and death. And particularly if the deaths come to friends' and relatives' attention, a certain feeling of unfulfillment must spread even to those who are turning a profit.

If the war is between those determined to commit terror and those determined to ignore it, then eventually-- as Arafat has predicted-- the demoralized country must succumb to exhaustion.

Luckily, though, Shimon Peres is quite the opposite of a terrorist. Ignoring terrorists will do no good.

Ignoring Peres will.

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Mark L. Levinson lives in Herzlia, Israel.

E-Mail: nosnivel@netvision.net.il


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