Indifferent to human suffering?
April 10, 2020
(JNS)—A Palestinian activist’s harsh response to the first Israeli fatality from the coronavirus has sparked some controversy. It’s a tempest in a teapot, but it also contains an important lesson or two.
The activist, Ms. Leen Dweik, was president of the Students for Justice in Palestine chapter at New York University in 2018-19. In response to the news that 88-year-old Holocaust survivor Arye Even died from the virus in Israel, Dweik tweeted a contemptuous message referencing the painting of her fingernails. Her sneering comment was so ugly that even the president of NYU publicly condemned her.
If Dweik’s name sounds familiar, it may be because of a bizarre incident in March 2019, in which she confronted and screamed at then-pregnant Chelsea Clinton at a public event. Dweik shouted, “The 49 people died because of the rhetoric you put out there!” She was blaming Chelsea for the massacre of Muslims at a New Zealand mosque because Ms. Clinton had criticized the anti-Semitic statements made by a Muslim U.S. congresswoman, Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Mich.).
While Dweik obviously is an out-of-control extremist, she is voicing sentiments that, tragically, are shared by certain other advocates of the Palestinian cause.
I’m not only talking about the other Twitter cheerleaders who responded to the death of Arye Even with extreme callousness or even celebration. No, I’m referring to those senior officials in the Clinton and Obama administrations who were so devoted to the Palestinian cause that they expressed—some off the record, some on the record—a cruel sense of satisfaction concerning Palestinian Arab violence against Israelis.
It’s important to recall these episodes because they offer us an instructive lesson regarding the dangerous power of hate and dehumanization.
On June 22, 1997, The Jerusalem Post reported that “a senior U.S. official” called recent Arab violence against Jews in Hebron “a plausible safety valve” that “lets the Palestinians vent their anger.” The official’s name was not revealed. Martin Indyk, a strident critic of Israel, was the U.S. ambassador in Israel at the time.
On Aug. 26, 1997, the Israeli news agency Arutz 7 reported that advisers to President Bill Clinton recommended to him “that he allow what [they called] the ‘explosive’ situation between Israel and the Palestinians to deteriorate to a violent clash [because] this will convince the sides of the need to renew negotiations.” The officials were not named.
On Jan. 14, 1999, The Jerusalem Post reported that “a senior U.S. administration official” had said there may be “riots in the territories” if Israel did not make more concessions, and “it may be unreasonable to expect that Palestinians at the grassroots level will remain quiet.” Once again, the official was not named.
But on May 21, 2000, one such official went public. Clinton’s national security adviser, Sandy Berger, declared in a speech at Tel Aviv University on May 21, 2000, that Palestinian Arab violence against Israelis was not only a curse, but also “a blessing,” because “the tragedy that awaits in the event of inaction also constitutes the greatest incentive for immediate action” in the Israeli-Arab negotiations.
Berger made the same point in a conference call with representatives of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations on July 31, 2000. He said: “Either there will be an agreement between the Israelis and the Palestinians, or there will be a conflict... If there is no agreement, we may be sadder and bloodier, but then maybe they’ll be prepared to make a deal.”
Sadly, such attitudes did not disappear after the end of the Clinton administration. On May 2, 2014, Yediot Achronot’s Ynet web site reported that a “senior U.S. official” (of the Obama administration) said: “The Palestinians are tired of the status quo. They will get their state in the end—whether through violence or by turning to international organizations.”
Three days later, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported that the Israeli government believed that the official who made the remark was former ambassador Martin Indyk, who in 2014 was the senior U.S. envoy to the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.
It is one of the great tragedies of our era that some people become so wrapped up in their political positions or agendas that they become indifferent to human suffering. It is an even greater tragedy when that indifference evolves into something much worse—people feeling satisfaction at others’ suffering, if it somehow advances a political aim.
No matter where one happens to be on the political or religious spectrum, no matter what lofty goal one claims to be pursuing, such cruelty can never be acceptable.
Stephen M. Flatow, an attorney in New Jersey, is the father of Alisa Flatow, who was murdered in an Iranian-sponsored Palestinian terrorist attack in 1995. He is the author of “A Father’s Story: My Fight for Justice Against Iranian Terrorism,” now available on Kindle.