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Commentary: Scapegoating versus politics in the Middle East

By Ira Sharkansky

Ira Sharkansky

JERUSALEM–Some basic definitions useful for living in civilized societies and on their fringe:

A scapegoat is an individual or group blamed for faults properly due to some other individual or group. Scapegoating is a way to pass on responsibilities for offenses real or imaginary.
A minority is often chosen as a scapegoat, and Jews have been chosen for the role time and again. In the Middle East, that means Israelis.
Most recently Israelis have been blamed by Hizbollah for the murder of Lebanon’s Prime Minister Rafik Harari. These charges have come along with reports that an international commission is about to accuse Hizbollah of the crime.
Israelis are also being blamed for rocket attacks, apparently sent from the Sinai toward Eilat, which caused injuries and at least one death in the Jordanian city of Aqaba. Leaving aside the Egyptian claim that the rockets did not come from the Sinai, the indications are that they did, and were most likely fired by Hamas operatives or individuals allied with Hamas. Hamas is also the source of accusations against Israel. According to its logic, they were directed in a way to harm Jordanians and to give Israelis an excuse for retaliating against Palestinians.

Politics
is a way of dealing with conflict without violence. It involves discussion, negotiation, voting for the purpose of deciding which individuals or groups ought to have the most influence, and then deciding on matters of dispute in ways to preserve at least a minimum of the comity necessary to avoid violence.

Comity
is a sense of community. It assumes a sufficient sharing of culture, language, and values to provide mutual trust that allows participants in conflict to believe one another, at least enough to give up some preferences for the purpose of keeping matters that are subjects of conflict from straying into violence.
The question at the bottom line of this discourse is, Where scapegoating is common, is there enough comity to support politics rather than violence? For us the practical question: Is peace possible between Israel and Palestinians when the Palestinians are closer in their culture to Hizbollah and Hamas than to Israel?
 
The matter is not only an issue at the upper levels of national and international politics. It also bothers us folks down in the neighborhoods of Jerusalem, where cultural clashes tempting violence are never far away. 
We usually pass by groups of young Arabs from the nearby neighborhood of Isaweea during our walks through French Hill. Usually the encounters are uneventful, and occasionally pleasant, but sometimes one hears insulting words in Arabic directed against us. Is it worth all the implications of confronting 10year olds in order to teach a  lesson?
More serious was the case of a young man who pushed a female jogger to the ground, and might have been intent on something more serious until we yelled and he ran in the direction of Isaweea. That was an occasion for delaying our walk, and staying with the young woman until the police arrived.
Jews are also guilty. An American visitor described meeting with an Arab merchant in the Old City, and going up on the roof of his store to look at the view.

“On the roof, there were yeshiva boys. Young orthodox boys with yalmakas and tzitzit and pay-itz around 12-15. As soon as he opened the door without any exchange of words,  they started swearing at him and taunting him.”

One of my neighborhood friends is a Dutch journalist who writes for a Christian newspaper. We often wave and say hello, and occasionally stop to exchange stories. On one occasion he told me that his church had been vandalized. It is located near an ultra-Orthodox neighborhood. While the guilty had not been identified, that is a standard way for some of the ultra-Orthodox to express their sense of righteousness. The church is also not far from an Arab neighborhood, and Muslims have a history of trashing the religious sites of others. A lack of information requires us to leave open the question of guilt. 
The wider madness that focuses on us comes from the daily threats of destruction by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and the Jewish morons who join various Goyim in sending e-mails insisting that Barack Obama is a Muslim, most likely born in Africa or Indonesia, and intent on Israel’s destruction. No less disturbing are the students and faculty of universities of high and low status, and simpletons like those of Olympia, who are intent on punishing Israel for defending itself in ways that are less destructive of human life, and no less justified than what has been visited on various countries by the forces of the United States and its allies.
And do not forget the messianic Jews who want to populate Arab neighborhoods in ways sure to cause trouble for us all.
What to do in the midst of all this ignorance, animosity, and lack of comity?
Putting aside the occasional temptations for finishing my life in a more placid place with weather at least as good as Jerusalem’s (is there such a locale on the coast of Oregon, or would New Zealand provide a residence permit and access to health insurance?), the sole prospect is to continue coping. Avoid neighborhood walks too late at night or too early in the morning, and urge the hyper-actives in the Obama administration to stop making things worse by promoting a peace process that neither Israelis nor Palestinians are capable of producing. 
Both Israel and Palestine would be better off if their officials could spend more time dealing with their domestic issues, and less time being pushed by intense
Americans and having to maneuver around one another.
Most likely European politicians would stop if the Americans would stop. And no one else matters.
On objective measures of crime, poverty, family crises and other conventional social indicators, Jerusalem probably does as well or better than cities of comparable size. Israel as a whole performs better than a lot of the countries that produce individuals wanting to punish or destroy it. 
So why all the destructive attention?
Now we’ve come back to the topic of scapegoats.
There is also a nagging insistence by religiously-motivated Christians and
Jews that Jerusalem and Israel be better places than elsewhere.

Unfortunately, their persistence, combined with their ignorance, may prod the locals to make things worse. It is best to leave us alone. Good is good enough. 

   
*
Sharkansky is professor emeritus of political science at Hebrew University
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