Yossi Alpher
Bitterlemons (Opinion)
April 26, 2010 - 12:00am

The incitement issue is rife with hypocrisy on both sides. It is exaggerated by both Israelis and Palestinians so as to excuse their refusal to negotiate and to "score points", particularly with the international community. While the latter should be tough on incitement, it should not permit that issue to obfuscate the need for immediate progress toward a solution in more pragmatic spheres of the conflict.

When Palestinians name streets and squares after out-and-out terrorists, label them freedom fighters and glorify them in their school curriculum, then deny this is incitement, this is hypocrisy. But when Israel focuses on this phenomenon and ignores the progress made by the Palestinian Authority in cleaning up its textbooks and Friday mosque sermons, this is no less hypocritical.

Moreover, the Netanyahu government appears to be willfully ignoring the increase in incitement against Palestinians and Arabs in general in Israel's school system--particularly the religious schools, where 80 percent of high school students recently supported denying equal rights to Arab citizens of Israel--and in the rhetoric of religious leaders like Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, leader of Shas. Indeed, there are features of the Israeli media that for years have "incited" against the Palestinian Authority without anyone taking conscious notice. Take, for example, the television and newspaper weather maps that obliterate the Palestinian Authority much the way Palestinian textbook maps ignore Israel.

The point is not that incitement in Israel is as bad as in Palestine (it isn't), or that it began under the current Israeli government (it didn't--decades ago we named squares after Jewish terrorists who murdered Arab civilians before 1948). Rather, the point is that the government of Israel appears uninterested in countering Israeli incitement even as it goes out of its way to excoriate Palestinian incitement. Needless to say, Palestinian complaints about Israeli incitement hardly serve the cause of objectivity when they focus on issues like the very name of Ben Gurion airport.

Yet the incitement issue goes far beyond Israeli-Palestinian relations, and here too hypocrisy reigns. Throughout the Arab world and much of the Muslim world there is vile, racist incitement against Israelis and Jews in general. From newspaper cartoons to school curricula, from Friday sermons to the sale of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, from Iran to Algeria, Jews and Israelis are vilified daily and pervasively. Egypt and Jordan, Arab states at peace with Israel, are no exception.

We do virtually nothing about this. Nor have we ever allowed it to interfere with otherwise peaceful relations with our neighbors. We understand that even a cold peace rife with incitement against us is far better than war. Those of us who take the trouble to discuss the issue with our Arab state neighbors discover very quickly that peace has not brought about the slightest readiness in Cairo to acknowledge the Jews as a Middle East people with the right to self-determination in its historic homeland. Many Muslims everywhere continue to view Jews as, at best, adherents of a second-class religion to be tolerated only if it abandons territorial and sovereign aspirations. In coexisting with Israel, they practice their own form of hypocrisy.

So why do we concentrate on the Palestinians? Is it because we and they are fighting over the same territory and the same historic-religious sites that we demand more of them as a condition for negotiating or ending the conflict? Is the intimacy of our conflict the reason for demanding a host of security constraints that we also don't seek to impose on our other neighbors? Or is it because Palestinians have never had a state of their own and were scarcely considered a people until a few decades ago that we feel we can impose additional conditions?

To be sure, these are all legitimate Israeli concerns when it comes to dealing with the Palestinians. But they don't justify the hypocrisy over incitement.


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