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Omar Baddar

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Eric Cantor's Disgraceful Comments on Arab Culture

Posted: 05/24/11 04:09 PM ET

Many Republicans have been wasting no time in trying to capitalize on the contrived dispute that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu picked with President Obama over the uncontroversial statement that a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict must be based on the 1967 lines. The statement is uncontroversial because it is the whole basis for the peace process since its inception in the early 1990s; it is the longstanding basis for U.S. efforts to resolve the conflict; and it is mandated by international law: the mere 22% of the land that Israel acquired after 1967 is considered illegally occupied and Israel is required to withdraw from it.

Many potential Republican presidential contenders claimed that President Obama has "thrown Israel under the bus," in what appears to be an exaggerated effort aimed at shaking Obama's support in the pro-Israel community in the lead up to the 2012 election. But House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) decided to go a step further (and what a step it was) in his remarks to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee's (AIPAC) conference on Sunday, rebuffing the president's emphasis on the 1967 lines by blaming the conflict on Arab culture and the hatred it allegedly entails:

Sadly it is a culture infused with resentment and hatred. But it is this culture that underlies the Palestinians' and the broader Arab world's refusal to accept Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state. And this, this [repeated for emphasis], is the root of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, it is NOT about the '67 lines.

Whether Cantor believes his disgraceful comments or whether he was simply engaging in shameless pandering is not readily clear, but neither looks particularly good for him. While we cannot pretend that hate does not exist, we also shouldn't pretend that it exists on one side, or that it is the "root" of the conflict rather than its inevitable consequence.

Cantor is apparently disturbed by how a "culture" could produce Palestinian suicide bombers (emotionally recounting the story of one Palestinian woman who he claims attempted to murder the very Israelis who saved her life). But either side could come up with a wide list of extreme examples to wrong-headedly argue against the other side's humanity. Would Cantor find it worthy of a rhetorical question to ask what kind of culture could drive half of Israel's high school students to be in favor of denying Arabs equal rights, or how a terrorist who murdered dozens of worshipers in a mosque could be celebrated, or how "death to Arabs" could become a common chant during soccer games in Israel? We can either engage in this distasteful, useless, and purely emotional competition of which side suffers from more hatred, or we can acknowledge the simple reality that hatred is not a cultural phenomenon that drives the conflict, but a symptom that has itself been produced by this conflict.

The root cause of the conflict is political injustice. That political injustice has many aspects, but its primary aspect is Israel's illegal and ruthless occupation of the Palestinian territories, which in turn produces hatred and counter-hatred that snowball into bloodshed. Those who are interested in ending this hatred and bloodshed would devote their energies not to demagoguery, but to ending the political injustice. That starts by acknowledging the very simple and fundamental fact that President Obama alluded to in his "67 lines" comment: peace cannot coexist with illegal occupation.

 

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