“We need to cut their heads off, ” then-President George Bush said of violent anti-western protests in Syria in 2006, former Israeli foreign minister Tzipi Livni said last month in Washington. The protesters had set fire to two European embassies in anger over cartoons of Muhammad that had appeared in the European press.
Livni recalled the exchange at an American Jewish Committee conference on June 10. Asked by David Gregory of CNN about how Europe is responding to the latest wave of terrorist violence, Livni said (minute 7 in the video below), “Maybe I’ll tell a story.”
When I was foreign minister and I don’t know whether you recall, years ago, terror in the region, and some of these lunatics, religious guys, terrorists ignited embassies in Syria I think it was, and I came to the States and I had a meeting with President Bush and he looked at me and he said, “Look at these terrorists, we need to cut their heads off.” I said, “OK Fine.”
On my way back to Israel I stopped in Europe and I had some meetings with European leaders, and they asked me, “What did we do wrong that we deserve this?”
Then I came back to Israel and I heard Israelis saying, “Oh what a crazy world, this is a tough neighborhood, and we need to defend ourselves.”
I believe this is very symbolic because until terror entered Europe, unfortunately, for the European it was something far away, the Middle East. They thought that it was not even their backyard. And they need to understand now, that there is a religious war out there. It’s not the entire Islam against the others, but it is a religious war against all of us, whether it is radical Islam against moderates, Islam against Jews, against Christians. And there is nothing we can do to stop them, in trying to appease them or trying to understand them. We need to fight them…
Because they’re against us because of our values, because of who we are, not because of what we do. And therefore it took some time for the world to understand it. I hope the international community understands it now. But this is what needs to be done.
Livni’s timeline fits a meeting in 2006. Soon after she became Foreign Minister she met with Bush on February 9, 2006. A few days earlier demonstrators had ignited two embassies in Damascus. From the Guardian, February 2006:
Thousands of Syrian demonstrators stormed the Danish and Norwegian embassies in Damascus today, setting fire to both buildings in protest against caricatures of Islam’s prophet..
The demonstrators were protesting against caricatures of the prophet Muhammad that were first published in a Danish newspaper several months ago…
The cartoons, first printed in Denmark and then published elsewhere in Europe, have caused offence in the Arab and Islamic world, in part because Islamic law is interpreted to forbid any depiction of the prophet Muhammad. Aggravating the affront was one caricature of Muhammad wearing a turban shaped as a bomb with a burning fuse.
You may notice that co-panelist Bill Kristol groaned when Livni told the anecdote about Bush. Even he understands that this is not a prescription for good policy.
But Livni seems to think it is. That is her rational Israeli response to living in a “tough neighborhood” surrounded by “lunatic” Muslims in what she regards as “a religious war against all of us”– when the truth is that these people were angry about vicious caricatures of their prophet. Whatever you think of the free-speech issue (and I am a fierce liberal on that issue), it is not appeasement to try and understand a different culture’s values on such issues, in this globalized world.