The West Wing” has never been ashamed to bask in its own vision of how government should work. The show is moralizing and self-congratulatory, as if the editors of The New Republic decided to dress up and play make-believe. But “The West Wing,” unlike the usually comprehensive and insightful TNR, chooses merely to skim the surface of important political topics. Part of the reason is that writer/creator Aaron Sorkin only has an hour and his audience is probably willing to sacrifice substantive political discussion for the sake of, well, an entertaining program. In a world where prime time viewership will always outnumber annual Dissent subscriptions, it is hard to blame Sorkin for his nonetheless educational program. But the Oct. 3 special episode was altogether unmoving, more or less echoing what we’ve all heard in the past few weeks. Don’t equate Islam with terrorism. Expect some loss of civil liberties. America finally knows what Israel feels like. Well, Mr. Sorkin, two out of three isn’t bad, is it?

Since Sept. 11, there has been an overwhelming tendency to put ourselves in Israel’s shoes. And why not? We are both victims of Arab terrorism, aren’t we? Of course, but that’s too easy. So easy that Sorkin couldn’t resist the chance to equate our current crisis with Israel’s. In last week’s episode, an inquisitive high schooler asks Sam Seaborn (Rob Lowe), “What do you call a society that has to live everyday with the idea that the pizza place you’re eating in could just blow up without any warning?” to which he plaintively replies, “Israel.”

This seemingly innocuous comment makes three assumptions. First, Israel is the helpless victim of terrorism. Second, America’s tragedy is uniquely Israeli, as if the images of Sept. 11 are not real and haunting enough on their own (I think Seaborn should have simply replied “America,” because we all feel vulnerable, scared and confused since the attacks). Third, the kinds of people that blow up pizza joints are Arab Palestinians.

Sorkin’s jab is entirely inaccurate and unfair. It perpetuates the almost unchallenged view of Israel as a victim of terrorism, whose own security policies are necessarily counter-terrorist – a discourse that has permeated U.S. media and politics for decades and fits rather nicely with the overwhelming amount of aid and moral backing we give Israel. Not only is such discourse racist and self-serving (American acts of terror have been couched in the same language), but it also prevents any hope of peace in the region. As long as we cast the Arab-Israeli conflict in terms of a legitimate state versus crazed terrorists, no constructive dialogue should be expected. Moreover, as long as we fund and legitimize the state-sponsored violence of Israeli while dismissing Palestinian violence as terrorism and rejecting Palestinian self-determination, the future appears bleak.

In Blaming the Victim, Edward Said assesses the consequences of our unwavering commitment to Israel. “Violence against the Palestinians who are direct victims of Zionist theory and Israeli policy, is both enabled and fueled.” U.S. support also “allows the Israeli government to create more illegal and deeply provocative settlements . [making] Palestinian life more difficult, more unlivable.”

My point is not to embrace the words of Said and wholeheartedly denounce U.S. policy. Instead, I urge greater caution and clarity in our terrorism discourse. Sorkin was right that there are Palestinian terrorists. He was wrong to compare them to September’s attackers – not because one is more or less reprehensible – but because they are different. There are also U.S. and Israeli acts of terrorism, which “The West Wing” never denied, although implicit in the scene was that these two are always victims, never perpetrators.

Sorkin’s remarks were cowardly because he hid behind his popular television series and now-famous cast. It’s one thing to use a show as a vehicle for your own politics. But to transparently interject your opinion and then suddenly cut to the next scene is completely unadmirable.

Yet Sorkin wasn’t as quick as others in his camp. Martin Peretz, in the aftermath of the attack, asserts, “We Americans no longer need any instructions in how it feels to be an Israeli. The murderers in the skies have taught us too well. We are all Israelis now.” For some reason (a racist one), we’re not Northern Ireland loyalists or Hutus, but Israelis at the mercy of Arab terrorists. Peretz doesn’t stop there, but proclaims, “The principles of the United States and the principles of Israel are the same.” My older brother Paul, to whom I owe much of my politics and my curiosity, responded in a letter to Christopher Hitchens:

“The shared principles of the U.S. and Israel – usurpation, dispossession and slaughter come to mind – are certainly not the one Peretz and Wieseltier are referring to. But I would not describe settlers as secular or liberal. Nor are these the words I would choose to characterize a state that relies on biblical fiat to justify the depredations it inflicts on the land’s original inhabitants.”

Perhaps America and Israel have much in common after all. Assessing U.S. and Israeli foreign policy, however, is not the task at hand. Today’s is a campaign to prevent future terrorism, and I support our efforts insofar as their targets are oppressive, terrorist regimes. But I refuse to support the worthless and misleading statements of those like Sorkin, who manipulate our current fear with their own agenda.

In a fascinating Atlantic article the late Benjamin Schwartz wrote in 1995, he warned that we should be cautious in exporting the American idea of diversity. He concludes, “A crusade in support of multinational, muliticultural tolerance abroad really seeks to validate it at home. But attempting to validate a myth is futile.” Now the inverse of Schwartz’s lesson is just as wise: In the wake of last month’s tragedy, we must not be tempted to import the myth of Israel’s sanitized history.

Patrick Wachter is a senior in the College.

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