Jew-hatred obstructs Arab progress, prof says here

"You can have a second Nixon, a large number of corrupt politicians. The United States will not disintegrate. You will always be here. We do not have the same luxury you have," said Litvak, a senior research fellow at Tel Aviv University's Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies.

Litvak, who spoke last week at San Francisco's Congregation Emanu-El and other Bay Area venues, is an expert on the Arab world. He grimly reports a brewing Mideast crisis fueled by poverty, despotism, hopelessness and Islamism. But he also laments the political state in his homeland, which just concluded "the most superfluous elections we've ever had."

"We have had the bad luck of too many second-rate leaders. I'm not idealizing the past, in the past people were not perfect either. But leaders had more of a sense of duty. A person like [Yitzhak] Rabin, for instance, gave up his studies because he thought he had to do what was important at the time and do it. Most politicians of the present day care about themselves, their careers, their power or, sometimes, their money," said the soft-spoken, bespectacled professor.

"Politics in Israel has become totally unattractive to many good people and extremely attractive to greedy, power-hungry people."

A government in which intellectuals have been driven from office to be replaced by less-attractive leaders faces Arab regimes that continue to stoke the fires of anti-Semitism to cover up for their own shortcomings, said Litvak.

Arab anti-Semitism is not new, he said, but the overwhelming level of media promulgation and overt acceptance of Jew-hatred among all levels of society are both on huge upswings.

"It has been building up. In the past two years, you have preachers giving sermons throughout the Arab world, very often televised, and they're calling on God to exterminate all the Jews as well as America and the Western countries," said Litvak. He also cited the much-publicized Egyptian miniseries based on "The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion," an anti-Semitic hoax, as a case in point.

"It's reached such proportions that some Arab governments got scared. These sermons are getting tremendous ratings," said Litvak, whose talk at Emanu-El was co-sponsored by the Jewish Community Relations Council and the Israel Center of the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation.

During an interview at the Bulletin, Litvak pointed to the hero's welcome accorded to French Holocaust denier Roger Garaudy in a Mideast tour five years ago. "He was given huge receptions, which all the who's who in the Arab intellectual world came to, was made an honorary member of the Arab Writer's Association and teams of Arab lawyers volunteered to defend him in court in France."

The anti-Semitic obsession keeps the Arab nations from dealing with problems that were serious 50 years ago and have since grown critical. Rattling off a litany of disturbing statistics without missing a beat, Litvak noted that:

*In 1952, Egypt's gross domestic product was equal to Israel's. In 2000, the GDP of Egypt, Syria and Jordan was less than one-half Israel's. The GDP for the entire Arab world, oil-exporting nations included, is only equal to Spain's.

*The United Nations Arab Human Development Report of 2002 claims the Arab world is second only to sub-Saharan Africa in overall poverty and illiteracy, and ranks near the bottom in all human rights categories.

*The number of books translated yearly into all the languages of the Arabic world is less than the number of books translated into Greek. The number of books translated into Arabic in the last 1,000 years is less than the number of books translated in Spain last year.

"This gives you an indication of how serious the situation is. This is a world in crisis. Globalization will either skip the Arab world or they will be on its short end of the stick, the losing side," said Litvak.

"Worst of all, most Arabs know things will not change for the better in the next 10 to 20 years. There is no prospect of hope, especially among the young people. And this is one of the youngest populations in the world because of the high birth rate."

The Mideast's future need not be a short road to the apocalypse, however. Litvak has seen some positive developments in Jordan, but stresses that uneven distribution of wealth means the average man or woman has seen little change. The same is true for Egypt.

The United States could help, he said, by giving more and by giving more judiciously.

"I think giving Egypt 2,000 buses would be a lot more generous than tanks. Egypt is not threatened by anyone," he said.

The growing water shortages in the next decade might force regional cooperation in the Middle East, and could possibly lead to acceptance of a political solution to the Israeli-Palestinian quandary.

"That's the best-case scenario," Litvak notes. "Reality will force the political elites to move toward a political settlement. The worst-case scenario is that doesn't happen. The Middle East continues to deteriorate into a poorer and more miserable region and breed more hatred, terror and violence."

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi is the managing editor at Mission Local. He is a former editor-at-large at San Francisco magazine, former columnist at SF Weekly and a former J. staff writer.