This week, two co-workers were discussing the war in Iraq. I knew from their comments they were anti-Bush, so, trying to offer an opposing view in a good-natured way, I walked toward them as if I had just gotten off Air Force One, saluted, and said, "God bless America."
Luckily, I was among friends. Not everyone is always so blessed, however.
On March 10, Harvard professor and pro-Israel commentator Daniel Pipes spoke to a packed house at London's Jewish Community Centre and, since his York University talk in January was met with 300 protestors, there was concern for security.
"Unnoticed by most westerners," Pipes had written in 1995, "war has been unilaterally declared on Europe and the United States." The aggressor, he says, is militant Islam.
Ever since 9/11, Pipes has been a much-sought-after analyst. He is a regular on the TV talk-show circuit and has a reputation for controversy.
This night, however, his target was, if anyone, Israel and the West.
According to Pipes, America has made a fatal mistake: It thinks the Arab world has accepted Israel's existence. In fact, he says, Israel's concessions to Palestine are considered acts of weakness by an Arab world still trying to destroy it.
Even Israel has fallen into the trap, at times. From the 1993 Oslo accord until 2000, Pipes says, the Israeli government stopped trying to deter Arab aggression. For example, the Israeli withdrawal from a northern corridor was interpreted by the Lebanese as a sign its southern neighbour was "as weak as a spider's web."
As a result, Palestinians were not interested in the last Camp David proposals, even though Israel was willing to make large concessions.
Since 2000, however, Israel has been galvanized. Palestinian violence is no longer working and the chances of a Palestinian state have become more remote. Still, says Pipes, the desire to destroy Israel has not been abandoned and that fact calls for a policy shift.
First, there should be no talk about the final status of Palestine until Palestinians acknowledge Israel. Second, there should no more concessions of any kind until Arabs have a change of heart. Finally, the idea of quick fix should be abandoned.
Replacing Arafat, for example, might bring in someone worse. And unilateral withdrawal from the West Bank would only encourage "Haifa next" thinking by Israel's enemies.
The only real cure for Israel, says Pipes, is the slow, steady process of breaking the Arab desire to crush it. Not necessarily by violence, but by Israel's determination to defend itself.
For all Pipes' pro-Israel position, he had a remarkably generous spirit towards Palestinians. He pointed out peace with Israel would be, for one thing, in the economic and social interest of Palestine. "This is a skilled and dignified people" who could, he said, like Germany after 1945, do much if liberated from anti-Zionism.
A skilled and dignified people? Having questioned Pipes' motivation in a previous column because of one of his speeches on the consequences of Muslim immigration, I had expected Pipes to be almost foaming at the mouth. But then, I had never seen him. Having heard the man in person, Pipes comes across pro-Israel, not anti-Muslim.
Still, I have no idea whether his analysis is correct. Whether Arab hearts have to be convinced Israel is here to stay is beyond my knowledge. Maybe anyone's. And whether Pipes' heart is secretly full of hate, I can't tell.
Yet, for someone so reviled, he was amazingly charitable and low key. As one friend said on the way out, "He talks like he was debating road improvements at city council."
In Saturday's Free Press, Editor Larry Cornies wrote, "These are days that test our ability to express deeply held opinions in constructive, even conciliatory, ways . . . ."
I agree. However, if Pipes is right, it is possible and sometimes necessary to be both un-conciliatory and constructive.
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