These are strange times.
Perennially beleaguered Israel, for instance, was hit all summer long with rockets from Lebanon and Gaza, as the world watched and kept score in an absurd new game of proportionality: Israel was to be blamed because its hundreds of air strikes against combatants were lethal, while Hezbollah was to be excused for shooting off thousands of rockets aimed at civilians because of its relative incompetence.
This week Iran hosted an international conference on Holocaust denial. The gathering was as bizarre as a bar out of Star Wars, a collection of every crackpot anti-Semite the world over, all there for a scripted, tightly controlled hatefest advertised as a "free" exchange of ideas unknown in Europe.
Jimmy Carter, silent about Iran's latest promotion for its planned holocaust, is hawking his latest book — in typical fashion, sorta, kinda alleging that the Israelis are like the South Africans in perpetuating an apartheid state, that they are cruel to many Christians, and, as occupiers, are understandably the targets of suicide bombers and other terrorist killers. Sadly, all that shields this wrinkled-browed, lip-biting moralist from complete infamy is sympathy for a man bewildered in his dotage.
Meanwhile, some members of the Iraqi Study Group apparently think that since Israel's neocon surrogates got us into Iraq, their puppet master must pay the price for getting us out. Thus, Israel must give up the Golan Heights, or perhaps the West Bank, since that would make the Islamic nations so collectively happy that they would join us in ridding Iraq of the terrorists whom many of these nations have subsidized, trained, and sheltered.
The surprise is no longer that the cretin Mahmoud Ahmadinejad calls for the destruction of Israel, but only that his serial threats have still not become banal. In any language, there can be only so many synonyms and idioms for "wipe-out" and "vanish," yet Ahmadinejad always finds some fresh way to express his fundamental desire.
In Washington, realists are back, and they have a point: Israel really does remain at the heart of the furor of the Middle East — just not in the way they suppose.
It is not "stolen" land, or "Zionist" killings, or Jewish "aggression" that gnaws at the Arab Street. And the solution is therefore not to be found in short-term Israeli land-concessions, but only in the now caricatured and apparently waning policy of supporting democratic reform inside the Middle East.
The real problem is that Israeli success, and the resulting sense of failure in the surrounding Arab world, fuels much of the rabid hatred. Many of us have been writing exactly that for years and have been dubbed novices — and worse — who don't understand the complex undercurrents of the Middle East. In January 2004, for example, I suggested in passing the following on these pages:
Instead, [Israel] stoked the fury arising from Arabs' sense of weakness and self-contempt. In the world of the Palestinian lobster bucket, Israel's great sin is not bellicosity or aggression, but succeeding beyond the wildest dreams of its neighbors. How humiliating it must be to be incapable of even muttering the word "Israel" (hence the need for "Zionist entity"), but nevertheless preferring an Israeli to a Palestinian ID card.