HomeJanuary 2012Who’s Paranoid?

Who’s Paranoid?

On the morning of the tenth anniversary of 9/11, I was reminded of something that the great Zionist thinker Ahad Ha’am asked in connection with the charge of blood libel: “Can we say that the world is wrong and the Jews are right?”  On my kitchen table that morning were two newspapers: the International Herald Tribune (“the Global Edition of the New York Times”), and Haaretz (English Edition).  Below the lead article on 9/11 in the Tribune, there was an article entitled “The People’s Radical Revolution: Arab Spring showed hard-line Islamists a peaceful path to change.”  This article, focusing on Egypt in particular, spoke about a new age in the Arab Middle East.  An activist in a once-militant Egyptian Islamic organization said, “we believed that the use of violence was the only path to change because every other door was shut to us.  The revolution opened the door to peaceful change.”  The article went on to say that “the successes in Egypt and Tunisia have convinced at least some radical Islamists that they should give the democratic process a chance.”
Then I glanced at the lead story in Haaretz, expecting to see another 9/11 piece.  To my dismay there was a large headline with the words “Mob Storms Israel’s Cairo Embassy,” accompanied by a picture of several people amid burning rubble with the caption: “protesters waving the Egyptian national flag outside Israel’s embassy in Cairo in the early hours of yesterday morning.”
I went back and forth between the two front pages. Surely the story from Cairo came after the Tribune’s deadline, which would have been around midnight Friday for the Sunday paper.  (The Tribune is headquartered in France, and Egypt and France under Daylight Savings Time are in the same time zone.)  But no — this story started Friday afternoon, when several thousand Egyptians demonstrating at Tahrir Square headed for the Israeli Embassy.  The incident escalated at 6 p.m., when protesters began breaking down the concrete wall surrounding the embassy.  By 8 p.m. the protesters managed to enter the embassy, and at about 9:30 p.m., a decision was made to evacuate Israeli diplomats and their families from Cairo.  While it is true that the end of the incident came a few hours after the paper’s deadline (when, after emergency American intervention at the highest political levels, Egyptian commandos arrived to disperse the demonstrators), surely, to paraphrase the Times’s motto, this story was news that was fit to print?
Can the whole world be wrong and the Jews right?  Staring me in the face on the morning of 9/11 was the same affirmative answer that Ahad Ha’am had given.  The world, in the shape of the international edition of the New York Times, was again minimizing Jewish lives.  Perhaps the world agreed with Egypt’s Foreign Ministry, which downplayed the incident by saying that “the protesters were just letting off steam.”  To the Israelis in the embassy, however, this was no minor incident.  The commander of the security contingent at the embassy (and let’s go out on a limb here and assume that he is no alarmist wimp) told Prime Minister Netanyahu, “If this incident ends badly, tell my family in person and not over the phone.”
Clearly, the editors of the International Herald Tribune could not very well cover the storming of Israel’s embassy in Cairo and publish the beautiful article discussing how the “Arab Spring showed hard-line Islamists a peaceful path to change.”  The world chose the optimistic story over facts on the ground.  The Israeli paper (leftist as it is) gave prominence to the life-threatening incident.  Perhaps the punch line here is a Zionist take on the classic paranoia joke: Just because Israel is paranoid doesn’t mean that we don’t have enemies.


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