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|Lying is cultural trait of Arabs, says Barak|
|05/22/02 at 22:55:18|
Lying is cultural trait of Arabs, says Barak
Brian Whitaker in Jerusalem
Thursday May 23, 2002
Palestinians have no compunction about telling lies and see truth as irrelevant, the former Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak has claimed in an interview.
"They are products of a culture in which to tell a lie... creates no dissonance," Mr Barak says. "They don't suffer from the problem of telling lies that exists in Judaeo-Christian culture."
"Truth is seen as an irrelevant category," he says."There is only that which serves your purpose and that which doesn't. They see themselves as emissaries of a national movement for whom everything is permissible. There is no such thing as 'the truth'."
Interviewed by the Jewish historian Benny Morris for an article in the latest issue of the New York Review of Books, Mr Barak not only relates his comments about lying to Yasser Arafat in particular, but to Arab society in general.
He says: "The deputy director of the US Federal Bureau of Investigation once told me that there are societies in which lie detectors don't work, societies in which lies do not create cognitive dissonance [on which the tests are based]."
As an example of Mr Arafat's alleged mendacity, Mr Barak cites an incident in October 2000, shortly after the start of the intifada. The Israeli and Palestinian leaders, together with Madeleine Albright, the US secretary of state at the time, were meeting in Paris to discuss a ceasefire.
Mr Arafat had agreed to call a number of his police commanders to implement a truce.
Mr Barak recalls protesting: "'But these are not the people organising the violence. If you are serious, then call Marwan Bargouti and Hussein al-Sheikh [two West Bank Fatah leaders].'
"Arafat looked at me, with an expression of blank innocence, as if I had mentioned the names of two polar bears, and said, 'Who? Who?'
"So I repeated the names, this time with a pronounced, clear Arabic inflection... and Arafat again said, 'Who? Who?'
"At this, some of his aides couldn't stop themselves and burst out laughing. And Arafat, forced to drop the pretence, agreed to call them later."
|05/23/02 at 05:54:57|
|Re: Lying is cultural trait of Arabs, says Barak|
|05/23/02 at 23:25:01|
Was Barak telling the truth?
The ex-PM's disparagement of the Palestinians began long ago
Friday May 24, 2002
Astute observers of Israeli politics have been wondering, ever since Ehud Barak was elected prime minister in 1999, whether his "peace offensive" was a real effort to achieve peace with Israel's neighbours or only an attempt to "expose" the Arabs' intention of destroying Israel.
The debate intensified when the failure of the Camp David II summit in the summer of 2000 was almost universally interpreted as a rejection by Yasser Arafat of Barak's "generous" offer to end Israel's occupation of the West Bank and Gaza and enable the Palestinians to establish an independent state.
An interview Barak recently gave to Benny Morris - a convert to the cause of the Israeli rightwing - which was published in the New York Review of Books (and reprinted in this newspaper yesterday) allows a glimpse into some of his underlying assumptions.
The controversy over what actually transpired at Camp David is well known by now, and Barak's version of events is disputed (yet again) in the same issue of the New York Review by Robert Malley and Hussein Agha. What is more revealing is Barak's view of the people with whom he was purportedly trying to reach a peace agreement.
"Repeatedly during [the] interview," Morris reports, Barak spoke of the Palestinians as products of a culture "in which to tell a lie ... creates no dissonance. They don't suffer from the problem of telling lies that exists in Judaeo-Christian culture. Truth is seen as an irrelevant category. There is only that which serves your purpose and that which doesn't." Curiously, Morris, who did more than anybody to dispel official Israeli lies about the war of 1948, does not record his own reaction to these racist stereotypes.
Polite western society no longer tolerates such characterisations of entire cultures, although I suspect things may have changed, at least in the US, since September 11. But in Israel the public denigration of Arab culture was historically acceptable, since, like all colonial movements, Zionism had to dehumanise the indigenous inhabitants of its country of settlement in order to legitimise their displacement. Thus, as many studies have shown, depictions of the Arabs as conniving, dishonest, lazy, treacherous and murderous were commonplace in Israeli school textbooks, as in much of Israeli literature in general.
For the past two decades, however, Israeli society has been going through a profound and wide-ranging process of liberalisation. A great deal of effort was invested, by the upper-middle strata of Jewish Israeli society (the people who voted for Barak in 1999), in the struggle against the mutual stereotyping of Jews and Palestinians.
A whole industry of "dialogue and coexistence" groups sprouted up. As a result, generalisations such as the ones used by Barak were delegitimised to the point where it became difficult, in classroom situations for example, to make any general statement about a particular group in society. Tragically, all of this was halted by the breakdown of the peace process and the onset of the second intifada.
The question, then, is whether Barak's statements reflect a genuine frustration over the Palestinians' response to his peace efforts; are an effort to cater to changing public opinion; or whether he held this view of the Palestinians all along.
As chief of staff of the Israeli Defence Force, he opposed the Oslo accords, and as minister of the interior in Yitzhak Rabin's cabinet he abstained in the crucial vote on the Oslo II agreement. When he took office as prime minister he reneged on the commitments undertaken by his predecessor, Benjamin Netanyahu, in the Wye Plantation agreement, to further withdraw from occupied Palestinian territory. And throughout his tenure as prime minister he refused to abide by any clause of the Oslo agreements that mandated further Israeli "concessions" to the Palestinians. This behaviour is perfectly understandable if the Palestinians are all pathological liars and agreements signed by them are not to be trusted.
During Barak's year and a half in office as prime minister, he kept warning that Israel was like a ship heading towards certain collision with an iceberg, and that his peace efforts were crucial for avoiding a catastrophe. Unfortunately, what is revealed in the Morris interview is that the captain of the ship may have been blinded by prejudice, so that instead of avoiding the iceberg he sailed full steam ahead right into it.
Yoav Peled teaches political science at Tel Aviv University. He is co-author, with Gershon Shafir, of Being Israeli: The Dynamics of Multiple Citizenship (CUP).
· Israel/Palestine: The Way Forward, a Guardian discussion with Yasser Abed Rabbo and Yossi Beilin takes place at Church House, Dean's Yard, Westminster, London SW1 on Wednesday May 29 at 2pm. Entrance by ticket only (£10); call 020-7494 5551
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