It was good that President George W. Bush visited the Auschwitz crematory during his European trip. The Holocaust museums in Washington and Jerusalem remind visitors of what happened 60 years ago, but not until people set foot in places where history's greatest atrocity occurred can they fully know. The president said that good came to Europe because "there were people willing to take up arms against evil." In a guest book, the president wrote, "never forget."
Evil ceased being a concept, except when politically convenient, sometime in the '60s. Some of the same theologians, politicians, educators and pundits who dismissed evil as a proper metaphor for our "modern time" were quick to invoke the word when it came to policies (mostly Republican) they disliked. Words such as "racism" and "homophobe" have replaced evil in our contemporary lexicon. Those same people who reject evil (as well as its companion and even more "outmoded" word, "sin") ask us to accept that certain things they do not like are wrong, while rejecting a standard - other than opinion polls - by which right and wrong can be measured.
It is puzzling, therefore, that President Bush - fresh from his visit to Auschwitz - now asks Israel to trust its future to the ideological descendants of the architect of the death camps.
One might expect that a people so close to getting what they want would modify their rhetoric and mollify their deeds to show the world how they plan to conduct themselves in a Palestinian state. One might also expect Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to think more clearly about the "final solution" that Hitler failed to achieve but that his Arab disciples see as their mandate. In both cases, one would be wrong to think this way.
On the eve of Mr. Bush's visit to the Middle East, Egyptian government newspapers unloaded invective on the president. Some samples: "Bush is like Saddam, a murderer, tyrant and oppressor" (Muhammad Nafi', writing in Al-Gumhuriya); "Bush suffers from Oedipus Complex" (Anis Mansour in Al-Ahram, the main government daily); "The removal of sanctions against Iraq require the Iraqi people to fight the Americans" (Al-Ahram editorial). This is from a nation that has a peace treaty with Israel and is an "ally" of the United States.
The Palestinian Authority is not letting up on its high-octane diatribes. The PA Education Ministry has announced the top 10 winners among 1 million entries in a children's writing contest. One searches in vain for sentiments expressed by the winners concerning peace, brotherhood and cooperation with Israel. They are all about war, hate and taking all of the land to the sea. The essays reflect what the next generation of Palestinian children is being taught. It is not a preparatory course for coexistence.
Last Sunday (June 1), Israel Television Channel Two showed a tape of Yasser Arafat speaking to a group of children in Ramallah to mark International Children's Day. Arafat's remarks were about "shahid" (die for the cause). He said one shahid who dies for the sake of Jerusalem has power equal to 40 of the enemy dying. Arafat said nothing about peace and reconciliation. Don't expect Arafat's sham prime minister, Abu Mazen, to denounce Arafat's remarks.
The Bush administration and Sharon's government persist with the fiction that further concessions by Israel will satisfy her enemies and that Palestinian promises can be trusted. So, Sharon announces the imminent release of 100 terrorists, including Ahmed Jabara, who was sentenced to life for the 1975 murder of 14 Israelis in a terror attack in Jerusalem. This is styled as a "confidence-building" measure, along with the decision by Sharon to withdraw soldiers from areas where they had been placed to thwart the movement of homicide bombers. The confidence built by these actions will be that of Israel's enemies, who will rightly see them as another sign of weakness by Israel and America and confirm that terrorism works.
President Bush correctly said at Auschwitz that evil must be opposed, even to point of taking up arms against it. If that is true, why does American policy support the forcible dismantling of Saddam Hussein's evil regime, but pressure the democratically elected government of Israel to take steps that are suicidal in the face of evil?
Such a move guarantees the rekindling of the fires of Auschwitz.