For Campus Protesters: Seven Questions About the Middle East

From a veteran foreign correspondent, here’s a short quiz for a summer of study.

Jose F. Moreno/The Philadelphia Inquirer via AP
Anti-Israel protesters at Drexel University in Philadelphia. Jose F. Moreno/The Philadelphia Inquirer via AP

Summer is a time for college students to go home, work at summer jobs, and to listen to new voices. I spent my freshman year as a leftist. The highlight was chasing a former vice president of Vietnam around a campus speaking venue. Later, I worked on a ranch at Boyd, Montana, population 40. I came back to my sophomore year with a different world view. In that spirit, I offer seven questions for today’s protest generation:

  1. Mulling the future of an independent Palestine, which is your favorite Arab democracy? Okay, that’s not fair. There aren’t any. Between Morocco and Iraq, the only real democracy is Israel. Arab Israelis account for 21 percent of voters.
  1. Mulling the future of an independent Palestine, who is your role model Arab leader? The PLO’s Yasser Arafat? Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi? Syria’s Bashar Al-Assad? Iraq’s Saddam Hussein?  You might choose the moderate monarchs of Morocco or Jordan. Too late. Creating royal families with some legitimacy was the game of a century ago.
  1. “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.” This slogan,  repeated at protests the world over,  calls for purging Israel of all 7.2 million Jews who live there. Why should they leave? And, why should Jews not take this threat seriously? Since the founding of Israel in 1948, Muslim pogroms have forced virtually all Jews out of Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Iraq, Jordan, Sudan, Syria, and Iran. The Jewish population of the Middle East and North Africa fell to about 3,400 today, from 800,000 in 1948. Some of these vanished communities dated back to the Middle Ages.
  1. Islamic radicals like to say: “Today the Saturday people, tomorrow the Sunday people.” Should I, as a Christian, hope they are kidding? Covering the revolt against Gaddaffi, I saw the desecration of the old Italian cemetery in Tripoli. The broken crosses and headless Marys may be the tips of a continental iceberg. Already, the Christian share of the Middle East’s population has dwindled to five percent today, from 13 percent a century ago. Lebanon has seen its Christian population dwindle to 31 percent today, compared to 53 percent in 1932.
  1. Why kill off the only successful economy in the region? Israel has a GNP of $531 billion. This is 23 percent larger than the $432 billion sum total of Israel’s four  neighbors — Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. Those four nations have a total population of 154 million — 16.6 times larger than Israel’s 9.3 million. Could it be that much of Muslim antisemitism stems from — dast one say it — jealousy?
  1. The Gaza strip has almost 2.4 million people crammed into 141 square miles. For a major world territory, this population density is second only to Hong Kong’s. Pre-October 7 unemployment was 79 percent, according to United Nations Trade and Development. With the territory largely unviable, sort of a Mediterranean Haiti, residents survived on foreign charity and remittances from overseas workers. Given that level of misery and unemployment, why do neighbors block the immigration of Palestinians?

    If Palestinians could one day move past the dead end of Islamic radicalism, Israel would be the natural economic partner for Gaza. For now, go around the clock. Egypt has built moats, steel walls and a mile wide buffer zone on Gaza’s southern border that makes President Trump’s border wall look like a white picket fence. Jordan has about 2.1 million Palestinians, most of them now Jordanian citizens. Jordan is reluctant to take in more, a legacy of the 1970  Black September revolt, when the PLO tried to kill King Hussein.

    Many defeated guerrillas took refuge in southern Lebanon, tipping that region into Islamic radicalism. Wealthy Gulf Arab states cope with their huge labor shortages by importing workers from faraway India, Pakistan, Nepal, and the Philippines. Fearing radicalism, Gulf state monarchies admit only Palestinian professionals on a case by case basis. 

    Despite eight months of fighting in Gaza, few Western countries have stepped forward to take in large numbers of Palestinian refugees. What Western interior minister wants to be accused in Parliament of welcoming immigrant families who celebrate holidays by dressing up their children in toy suicide vests? 
  2. In the spring, several American universities tolerated on campus what amounted to “judenrein” zones — Nazi-speak for zones without Jews. Where were the inspectors from the campus Diversity, Equity, Inclusion units?  Should these $100,000 a year DEI bureaucrats be forced to take summer school classes on the ABCs of tolerance and free speech — or simply be fired?

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