It was interesting to read the article in The New York Times ("It's Freedom, Stupid," October 9) in which Thomas L. Friedman scolded Prime Minister Ariel Sharon for his "stupid and offensive" comparison between the United States and those who tried to appease Hitler.
In his commentary, the popular columnist used the first person plural no less than eight times: "our coalition partners," "the values that we are trying to defend," "our freedom," "we have aided Israel" and the like. Friedman is not alone. Since September 11, America as a whole has adopted the old-new language that "we here" in Israel use at times of war and anxiety.
"Winston Churchill called us `the slumbering giant,'" says an American-Jewish acquaintance, who is highly-placed in the administration. "And indeed we slumbered when they hit us in Lebanon and we slumbered after the blow in Saudi Arabia. We kept on right on slumbering after they hit us in Kenya and Tanzania.
"On September 11, American society as a whole woke up to a war on its values. This war is not a Jewish issue, or an Israeli issue - it's just an American issue. There is one side in it, and believe me, you don't want to be on the other side."
This unanimity around national unity is confronting the government of Israel with a new American road map. If it is not quick to discern the differences that have occurred at the major intersections, a head-on collision will be only a matter of time and degree. No spin-doctor will be able to convince the American media, American Jewry and Congress to rally to the side of a head of state who tries to take issue with the president of the United States. No matter how friendly that country is, and no matter how justified its issues are, it will feel the strong arm of American patriotism.
Better public relations could, at best, persuade the Americans that Israel is the victim of Palestinian terror, and not the other way around. However, the Israeli victims are considered small change by the Americans these days. They believe that under no circumstances should anyone interfere with their president in the running of the world war against the forces of evil. He is defending their children against airborne, biological and - who knows? - maybe even atomic terror.
If President George W. Bush says that in order to win this war, Ariel Sharon has to embrace Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat under fire - the media, the Jews and Congress will stand beside him. Israel's best friends raised an eyebrow when Israel's prime minister dared to cold-shoulder America in its difficult hour.
When Sharon prepared his "Czechoslovakia speech," he most probably thought that this time, as always, the onslaught would be joined by members of Congress from heavily Jewish (or religious Christian) constituencies, pro-Israeli lobbies and right-wing publicists. The prime minister did not take into account that the seams that Israel had learned to unravel were sewn up on September 11.
With respect to Middle Eastern and Islamic policy, the game of Congress and the Jews versus the White House and the State Department has gone into a long intermission. Thus, for example, two senators - California Democrat Dianne Feinstein on the one hand and Kentucky Republican Mitch McConnell on the other - agreed to the administration's request to freeze a bill that would punish the Palestine Liberation Organization for the violence in the territories and for violating agreements with Israel. They too know that their Jewish supporters are in the coalition with Bush. The last thing they want now is to deal with the dilemma of double loyalty.
The new American map is pushing Sharon to choose between two alternatives. One is to adjust the government's policy to Bush's - that is, America's - by making things easier for the Palestinians, by reining in the Jewish settlers and perhaps even by proposing a plan that would go beyond general statements about the Palestinians' right to a state. The other alternative is to thumb his nose at Bush - that is, America - and watch from afar as Israel's strategic advantage with the world's only superpower dries up.
The third alternative - to enlist friends for the struggle against the president - has been wiped off the map. Those friends would like to keep on singing both national anthems - and for "us" not to hit a false note.
Editor's note: A slightly different version of Thomas L. Friedman's article appeared in The International Herald Tribune on October 10, under the headline "Hard Truths for Sharon and Arabs to Follow." In that version, the text reads "America's coalition partners," "the values that America is trying to defend" and so on, and not as cited above.
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