The Rittenhouse Review

A Philadelphia Journal of Politics, Finance, Ethics, and Culture

Thursday, May 16, 2002  

Is "Falafel Curtain" an Ethnic Slur? We Think So.

Mark Shields is out with a thoughtful piece, "Safire's Nutty Conspiracy Theories," in which he takes New York Times columnist William Safire to task for chastising former Vice President Al Gore for, in Shields' words, "failing to proclaim his all-out endorsement of the Israeli military's invasion and occupation, under Ariel Sharon, of Palestinian cities and towns in the West Bank."

Safire asserted in a recent column that Gore avoiding doing so to avoid "the ridicule of liberal pundits," including Mary McGrory and Shields, both of whom in Safire's mind have played an important role in creating the "falafel curtain [that] has descended across our continent transmogrifying the Arab aggressor into the victim."

Shields writes, "What have I done to make Bill Safire's enemies list? In my column and on TV, my case has been straightforward: In the tragic crisis between the Israelis and the Palestinians, there is no military solution. To stop the unbroken cycle of violence, a political breakthrough must be forged through the power and influence of the United States. Terror cannot be stopped by military action and force alone. Israel was not created to be an occupying power. Ariel Sharon cannot 'fire' Yasser Arafat, whom the Palestinians chose as their leader 30 years ago."

Shields agrees that Israeli has the right to defend itself against suicide bombers and other terrorist acts. But he argues, as we do, "against a military operation that destroyed the Palestinians' education ministry, bureau of statistics, 80 percent of the police facilities and force (then demanded repeatedly that the thoroughly decimated force maintain security) and much of the civic structure a people need to govern themselves. The Palestinians are the occupied, and the Israelis are the occupiers."

We further concur with Shields when he writes, "Yes, the Palestinians must fight terrorism totally and untiringly. But there must be a Palestinian civic authority strong enough to do just that."

Unfortunately, there are far too many on the other side of the non-existent "falafel curtain" for whom these are fighting words and those who utter them risk deeply personal and unfair attacks that do little than stifle an honest debate about American foreign policy in the Middle East.

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