Pundits are atwitter over Avigdor Lieberman’s first speech as Israel’s Foreign Minister wherein he committed to the 2003 Roadmap to Peace, but rejected the 2007 Annapolis Accord. The BBC reports that diplomats “shifted uncomfortably” when the Russian-born leader posited that “the other side also bears responsibility” for peace.
As the international community draws up its list of demands for the Right-leaning Netanyahu government to prove “it’s serious about making peace,” they should also give this one to PA President Abbas — “re-instate the Strings of Peace Orchestra.” For the question of the fate of this ensemble will reveal more about the future of the Middle East than any speech or position paper.
Last week, 13 Palestinians, ages 11 to 18, belonging to the Strings of Freedom Orchestra took a brief journey from a West Bank refugee camp in Jenin. Their trip brought them to Holon, Israel to perform a “Good Deeds” concert honoring 30 Holocaust Survivors. “We Sing for Peace,” was performed in Arabic and audience members reciprocated with an impromptu Hebrew song.
If there ever was an example of “the audacity of hope” - this was it. But the Palestinian Authority moved swiftly to quash a small initiative that for a few moments cracked carefully nurtured stereotypes of the Israeli enemy. The concert, insisted an official in Jenin, was a “dangerous matter” threatening the cultural and national identity of Palestinian children! The gesture to elderly Holocaust victims was denounced; the Holocaust, he warned, was “a political issue.” The orchestra was promptly disbanded, its conductor, an Israeli Arab woman, Wafa Younis, barred from the camp and her apartment-studio boarded up.
The silencing of this little orchestra did not occur in a vacuum. It’s echoed by the stony silence of Mideast peacemakers, accompanied by the deafening din of global ritualized Israel bashing.
Is it too much to expect a word of protest from Jimmy Carter, the Mideast Quartet, or The European Union? How about a resolution from UNESCO (E = Education, C = Culture)? Might we hear a note of solidarity from the London Philharmonic or music icons and activists Annie Lenox or Yusuf Islam (aka Cat Stevens)?
And what of the thousands of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that constitute the vanguard of international “civil society” or the distinguished academics chairing well-endowed chairs in Middle East or Peace Studies?
No, self-anointed peacemakers don’t applaud the young Palestinians’ peace concert. They do remain willfully blind, dumb, and deaf to human rights outrages - small or large - if the culprits are Arabs or Muslims.
Evidence the upcoming Durban II UN World Conference Against Racism where chair Libya, aided by Iran, Pakistan, and Sudan will erase any record of their own dismal Human Rights records, even as they lip-sync pre-canned anti-Israel resolutions.
Ditto for the UN Human Rights Council (HRC): Mute about Hamas deploying Palestinian women and children as human shields and using mosques, schools, and houses as depots and rocket launching pads, it’s Special Rapporteur for Palestine, Richard Falk, leads the chorus to deny Israel every member state’s right of self-defense under Article 51 of the UN Charter.
Will academics take up the rights of these Palestinian kids? Not likely. The same Richard Falk, an international law professor emeritus at UC Santa Barbara, just signed a new petition that would deep six the Education Abroad Program linking the University of California and the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, an institutional beacon for outreach to the Palestinians. The petition ratchets up the decibel level of a carefully orchestrated anti-Israel campaign on American campuses - one that increasingly embraces Hamas’ genocidal narrative in the Holy Land.
To bring real change to the Middle East, President Obama’s Special Envoy, Senator Mitchell, needs to break new ground. A good place to start is by re-directing American taxpayer-dollars currently supporting the United National Refugee Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) - which just hired Hamas teachers committed to creating new generations into a culture of death in Gaza.
Mitchell should add two stops on his next visit: First, a solidarity session with Wafa Younis, the beleaguered conductor. It’s the best way for the US to signal the Palestinian Authority to finally dismantle its infrastructure of hatred toward Israel inculcated by West Bank schools, mosques, and media. Then he should pay a condolence call to the family of 13 year old Shlomo Nativ, axed to death by a Palestinian product of that culture of death.
Music’s potential as a universal healer is being played out, not only by Palestinian youngsters silenced in Jenin. Native American musician-composer Bill Miller is currently performing his Grammy Award-winning composition, “The Last Stand,” on tour with Israel’s Kibbutz Chamber Orchestra. The best first - and “last stand” - for true peace resides not in any grandiose road map or political photo-ops, but with people who truly seek coexistence and mutual respect. It is those still small voices that demand our protection and nurturing.
Rabbi Abraham Cooper is associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center and Museum of Tolerance
Dr. Harold Brackman, a historian, is a consultant to the Simon Wiesenthal Center