Column: Seeking Peace with a Dysfunctional ‘Family’

Their offense was to shake hands with the devil.

After literally shaking hands with a foreign athlete during an international competition last month, an Iranian weightlifter was barred for life from entering his nation’s sports facilities. A state senator from Dearborn, Mich., apologized to her Arab and Muslim constituents for taking an official trip to a country 6,000 miles to the east.

Najla el-Mangoush got the worst of it. She was first suspended and then fired from her job as Libya’s foreign minister, and she subsequently flew from Tripoli, Libya’s capital, roughly 2,000 miles to Turkey for her safety. She was accused of secretly meeting with her counterpart from a devilish country that has been called the Little Satan.

How much more hostile can anyone behave in a cold war? Their attitudes are dangerous, absurd and silly. Obviously, many Arabs – not all – believe they are in a state of war with Israel. If they cared about peace, they would at least support communications.

“We know for a fact that not talking leads to escalation, miscalculation and misunderstanding, which is bad for the American people,” U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo said on CNN on Sunday.

Raimondo was responding to criticism of her talks with the Chinese government, but her words can readily apply to Israel-Arab relations. No doubt she sympathizes with the plight of Libya’s foreign minister.

Najla el-Mangoush’s troubles commenced in Rome two weeks ago when she met with Israel’s foreign minister, Eli Cohen, who subsequently announced in late August that they discussed the potential benefits of expanding relations and the need to renovate synagogues and Jewish cemeteries there, according to The New York Times. Cohen’s statement added that they discussed their countries’ historical ties and the prospect of Israeli humanitarian assistance and cooperation in agriculture and water management.

Cohen’s statement triggered protests throughout western Libya where demonstrators burned tires and Israeli flags, and reportedly set fire to a home belonging to Prime Minister Abdulhamid Dbeibah. Protestors attacked the gates of the Foreign Ministry in Tripoli where security guards turned them back, The Washington Post reports.

Libyan law from 1957 makes it illegal to normalize ties with Israel.

One of Dbeibah’s rivals broached Libya’s version of impeachment. Khaled al-Mishri, the former head of Libya’s High Council of State, a powerful Tripoli-based advisory body, said the reported meetings meant that the government “has crossed all prohibited lines and must be overthrown.”

Mangoush has asserted that the meeting was impromptu, and that she pointed to the issue of Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians, according to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. In typical throw-her-under-the-bus-fashion, Dbeibah confirmed her firing the next day, the Libya Observer reported, adds JTA.

After Mangoush fled, the state security service denied in a statement that it facilitated her flight from Libya.

Mangoush and her government deserve credit for any discussions that could lead to normalized relations with Israel. Such a relationship can only help Libya, but so many of its citizens believe their leaders should snub Israel in order to help the Palestinian cause, whatever that is. It sounds as if most of those who support this cause either do not know what is the Palestinian cause or are committed to destroying Israel. Their hostile attitudes expose how backwards they are.

Perhaps Michigan state Sen. Sylvia Santana’s safety is not imperiled, she may need to flee Dearborn, Mich., if her political career is to survive.

Santana’s sin was a trip to Israel as part of an official visit for Michigan officials. Constituents demanded an apology and she sheepishly caved. Her response rambled on from Dearborn to Ramallah, which is in the West Bank.

“I understand now more than before the level of pain, sensitivity and deep-rooted emotions that this trip has produced,” she wrote in conclusion, on social media. “This experience will always stay with me and will help guide my work in Lansing (the state capital).”

Isn’t this understandable to the average, rational American? If your state senator visits a country you do not like, wouldn’t you demand an apology?

“My presence on this trip has sparked anger…by many in the Arab/Muslim community,” she added, according to media reports in early August. “For this I truly apologize, seek your forgiveness and that you will understand that I had no malicious intent.”

Mostafa Rajaei’s achievement at the 2023 World Master Weightlifting Championships was marred on Saturday, Aug. 26, when Rajaei himself literally shook hands and posed for a picture with Israeli Maksim Svirsky in Poland, according to JTA. Rajaei finished second in his category and Svirsky finished third.

His leaders in Iran did not share his custom of being a good sport. In fact, they punished him for it. Iran’s weightlifting federation announced that it banned him for life “from entering all sports facilities in the country.”

Federation head Sajad Anoushiravani said in a statement, “In addition to apologizing to the leader of the revolution, the families of martyrs and all the people of Iran, I promise we will certainly never witness incidents like this in the weightlifting family.”

A family? An awfully dysfunctional family. Like the people of Libya and the constituents of Sen. Santana.

Rajaei and Mangoush both set fine examples as peacemakers, but the path to peace will become smoother if more of their people follow their leads.

About Bruce Ticker

Bruce S. Ticker, who writes from Philadelphia, also blogs for The San Diego Jewish World and Smirking Chimp and previously for the suspended Philadelphia Jewish Voice. He was previously a reporter and copy editor for daily newspapers in eastern Pennsylvania.

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