With friends like Robert Spencer, Israelis need no enemies

Robert Spencer’s hypocrisy knows almost no bounds. Today on his website, Jihadwatch.org, which is one of the most extreme and vicious Islamophobic sites on the Internet, Spencer attacks President Barack Obama for seeking peace between Israel and the Palestinians. Spencer condemns the consensus that has emerged in the United States generally, and more importantly in the White House and the Congress, based on “the conviction that it is in the United States’ as well as Israel’s interest to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict." He claims that, “The Obama White House does not ever seem to consider the proposition that the Palestinians might fight on until they achieve the total destruction of Israel, and that the jihad doctrine of Islamic supremacism mandates that they pursue no other course.” 

There are two points worth making here. The first is that Spencer himself is a religious fanatic driven by a pathological animosity towards Islam and the Muslims, which informs his views on everything in the world, including the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The second is that Spencer and his cohorts are guilty of everything of which they are accusing Palestinians and Muslims: a refusal to compromise and recognize the national rights of one of the two national communities in Israel/Palestine based on religious intolerance, demonization of one of these communities, extreme political fanaticism stemming from those two attitudes, and the denial of the indisputable history of one of the two peoples. Spencer’s grounds for opposing President Obama’s Middle East peace efforts are therefore a form of neurotic projection: he is attributing to large numbers of other people, most of whom do not share these beliefs, his own intransigent, religiously fanatical and politically extreme attitudes opposing peace and compromise. 

Spencer is a textbook study in Islamophobic bigotry, and his own views are completely independent of any facts about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Instead they derive entirely from his well-established animosity to Islam and all Muslims, and his perception that the conflict is a religious war with the Palestinians representing the forces of Islam. Spencer seems to harbor a weird fantasy that he is some kind of holy warrior in an epic and explicitly Christian religious battle against Islam as a faith, a conflict most plainly described in his ghastly book "Inside Islam: A Guide for Catholics." Spencer flatly declares that, “Although there are undoubtedly millions of virtuous Muslims, Islam itself is an incomplete, misleading, and often downright false revelation which, in many ways, directly contradicts what God has revealed through the prophets of the Old Testament and through his Son Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh.” He adds, “Islam constitutes a threat to the world at large,” and that “Islam is not merely a religion; it is a social and political ideology…” The foreword to the book bluntly states that it is “especially for those Christians who want to submit to Jesus’ command to make disciples of all nations.” Translation: Spencer is determined that everyone in the world should eventually come to adhere to his religious ideology, another accusation he frequently levels at all Muslims. 

Spencer is therefore incapable of seeing the Palestinian-Israeli conflict for what it is (at least thus far): a struggle for land and power in the same small territory between two, competing ethno-national communities with incompatible national narratives and aims. He is also therefore incapable of understanding this political conflict is resolvable by political means, and actually has a vested interest in having the conflict continue, intensify, and become increasingly driven by the same kind of extremist religious passions that inform his own work. He is the moral and political equivalent of those Muslims around the world who urge the Palestinians to keep on fighting Israel until the last child in Gaza. 

While there are no doubt many Palestinians and other Muslims who do see the conflict through the lens of a Muslim Brotherhood, or other fanatical, interpretation of “jihad,” most do not. Solid majorities of Palestinians in every single opinion poll and survey over the past 20 years have been in favor of peace with Israel based on two states – the same position that has become formal US policy and an international consensus on the issue. Even after Hamas-backed candidates won a parliamentary majority in January 2006 with 44% of the vote, the overwhelming majority of Palestinians continued to support a two-state agreement and urged both Fatah and Hamas to negotiate with Israel to that end. 

The more important point, however, is that, like the Jerusalem Post op-ed on which I commented yesterday, Spencer’s posting does not recognize that political and religious extremism exists and can readily be found on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian divide. Many Israelis, and friends of Israel both on the Jewish right and among Christian fanatics (including Spencer himself) categorically oppose Israeli territorial compromise with the Palestinians. These include not only the settler movement and its supporters but also many former and present Israeli cabinet ministers (such as the present Israeli Vice Premier Moshe Ya’alon and possibly also the current Prime Minister), and many leading Israeli institutions, organizations and prominent citizens. 

Spencer knows this perfectly well, since he is a friend and passionate supporter of exactly these people. His own site promotes the Israeli maximalism of the worst sort. His sidekick, Hugh Fitzgerald, to take only one instance, in 2008 blogged on Jihadwatch that, “What the Israelis cannot do is give up one more inch of the ‘West Bank.’” The Jihadwatch position on Palestinian national rights is simple: “Israel must give up nothing more. It should have permanently annexed in June 1967 everything it took…” All of this is justified on religious grounds moreover, although it is framed in anti-Muslim rather than Jewish extremist or Christian millennialist terms. Spencer’s site also makes a habit of denying the history and national identity of the Palestinian people, referring to them as “the so-called ‘Palestinians,’” and frequently suggests that most Palestinians are the descendents of recent immigrants from other Arab states (a ludicrous suggestion popularized by Joan Peter’s hoax “From Time Immemorial.”) So, Spencer’s website also engages in the very kind of historical denial the Jerusalem Post article was complaining about yesterday in regard to Jewish connections to Israel, as well as the same kind of religious and political extremism he falsely alleges characterizes the attitude of Palestinians generally. 

I have said in the past of fanatical Muslims — ranging from virtual nonentities such as the Oakland preacher Abdel Malik Ali to more dangerous figures such as the Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad — who are happy to urge Palestinians to continue the conflict with Israel at whatever price (to the Palestinians) in order to satisfy their own personal religious zealotry that, with "friends" like these, the Palestinians need no enemies. Precisely the same is true in this case. With "friends" like Robert Spencer, and all those who urge Israel to continue the occupation and the conflict into the indefinite future no matter what the cost, and to refuse to accept a reasonable compromise involving the creation of a Palestinian state to live alongside Israel, the Israelis too have no need of any additional enemies.