closeicon

Easily offended? You really should be

The JC essay

November 24, 2016 22:37

Why is antisemitism so popular and prevalent all over the world? Why does it continue, unchecked despite the horrors of 70 years ago? People who care about the fate of the Jews are always searching for subtle, indefinable reasons to explain the continuing intensity of anti-Jewish hostility and hatred. The answer is far from mysterious.

As a matter of fact, the truth is so obvious that you'd have to be brainless not to see it.

My honest view is that as Jews we do little if anything to fight back against such prejudice. It seems to me that everyone knows that whatever the crime committed against a Jew, the only price you'll pay will be that of the ride to the crime scene and back. Then, instead of blaming the criminals, Jews will get involved in an orgy of self-reproach and guilt. And after blaming themselves, they'll start blaming each other.

Somebody will be screaming: "It's your own fault. Why would you be walking in that neighbourhood at two in the morning?". The other one will argue: "Why would I think they would recognise that I am Jewish?" and another voice will yell: "At least you could've been smart enough to wear trainers."

Then somebody says: "Let's report this to the police," while somebody else is saying: "Are you crazy? What if they find out we reported it? Do you want to get us all killed? Right now they don't know who we are. Let's just get out of the neighbourhood".

If people really thought that Jews could represent any kind of risk, they would cower before expressing hostility

It's because antisemites are aware that these are the typical reactions of Jews to any violence committed against them that they feel free to launch their attacks whenever they please. Is it any accident that in Britain and Europe you hear about a rising tide of anti-Jewish attacks, but you rarely hear about the same thing against Muslims? (I know that even right now, you the reader are trembling in fear of what I might write about the Muslims.) And the sad truth about Israel is that its very existence serves as either a cloak or a spur for such bigotry.

While I defend anyone's right to censure the Israeli government, the fact is that too often such criticism is either a coded means of attacking Jews or it has the unintended consequence of feeding and encouraging antisemitism.

Take the former MP for Birmingham Ladywood, Clare Short, who has attacked Israel as the main cause of violence in the world, when it is obvious that for her and her like the only real crime is that the country still exists - something she seems to consider an offense to human decency.

What right do Israelis have to try to live in peace with the Arabs and constantly thwart every attempt of the Palestinian suicide bombers to annihilate their whole population, she seemed to ask? Ms Short claims that the Jews in Israel practice an even more egregious form of apartheid than that which existed in South Africa. Why does she and others call it "apartheid", when every Arab has equal access in every school, to every job, every health-care service and every unemployment benefit? When Arab citizens even hold office in the Israeli parliament and in every other branch of the Israeli government?

Are these people so ignorant that they don't know that none of these opportunities would be granted to any Jew living in an Arab nation? Besides, how would a Jew be able to achieve any of these same opportunities in Arab countries when, in most cases, it wouldn't even be safe for them to live there?

When they attack Israel in such unbalanced, irrational and extreme terms, they simply give licence to thousands of antisemites to pedal the kind of bigotry and hatred from which Jews have suffered for so many hundreds of years.

But these people are likely aware, as are antisemites all over the world, that you suffer few consequences by attacking Jews, particularly if you do so under the cover of attacking Israel.

If people really thought that Jews could represent any kind of risk, they would cower before expressing such hostility, as I believe they now do with Muslims. When was the last time that an Englishman made a hateful speech against Muslims? Not that I'd approve of that. On the contrary - but it seems to me that people are so fearful of Muslims that there are afraid to even say "hello" without apologising. British and American people are now begging forgiveness from Muslims for things they don't even remember doing.

And don't get me started on George Galloway, who makes Clare Short look like Simon Wiesenthal. Mr Galloway is yet another person who attacks Israel while making nice with terrorists, dictators and some of the most vicious antisemites on the planet.

The point is this: when you criticise an Israeli administration, you express views (rightly or wrongly) about the policies of a particular party or group of politicians. When you attack Israel, you express hostility towards an entire population, a nation whose founding and continuing purpose is to provide sanctuary to one of the most oppressed peoples in the history of mankind.

Of course, if you don't think they should be given such sanctuary, then that's another matter - but bear in mind that you'll find yourself in the good company of a host of despots and tyrants.

Hostility to Israel is often used as a blanket prejudice, a blunt instrument with which to attack Jews in place of any reasoned criticism of the Israeli government, which - just like any other government - cannot be exempt from censure or disapproval.

However, such bigotry is far from new. Take one of my country's former presidents, Harry Truman, in the White House at the time of Israel's independence. Jews still wax lyrical about his love for the Jewish people. Whenever two Jews get together and mention Truman, out comes the story of his Jewish business partner, Eddie Jacobson. What they forget is that Truman actually found Jews distasteful and treated his partner with utter disdain. This is evidenced not least when Mr Jacobson pleaded with his former associate, by now the US President, to recognise the state of Israel. Truman's reaction does not bear repeating on the pages of a family newspaper.

As reprehensible, if not worse, was another recent president - Franklin D Roosevelt. At the height of Hitler's atrocities many Jews died needlessly because Roosevelt ignored their plight and, in some cases, even helped Hitler along by refusing to open up US borders, thus sending thousands back to their deaths in the camps.

Was this born out of antisemitism? Or plain indifference? In the end, is there any distinction?

And just the other day the US Ambassador to Belgium, Howard Gutman, came awfully close to finding antisemitism excusable in some circumstances. Calling modern Muslim hatred of Jews a "different phenomenon" from other kinds of antisemitism, he declared: "It is a tension and perhaps hatred largely born of and reflecting the tension between Israel, the Palestinian territories and neighbouring Arab states in the Middle East over the continuing Israeli-Palestinian problem."

And this coming from the son of a Holocaust survivor.

But of course, instead of firing him, President Obama remained mute. And as a result, whether by design or just by plain stupid omission, my president has given a quiet thumbs up the idea that it is "OK to dislike Israel".

Unfortunately, as America goes, so goes the world. But sadly, as the Haggadah says, "in every generation one rises up to destroy us".

Unlike Britain's Jewish community, which spends much of its time trying to blend into the background, many self-proclaimed Muslim leaders spend time demanding respect. We dare not paint the wrong cartoon, sing the wrong song, write the wrong book, look the wrong way, or even laugh without an explanation.

The Jewish people will never survive if we don't learn a great lesson from the power of the Muslim population.

If this world had the same fear of offending Jews as it has of offending Muslims, attacks on the Jews would never occur. Outside Israel, people never feel threatened when attacking a Jew, because he's a little guy with glasses carrying a briefcase who, in case of an attack, will pull out a fountain pen rather than a gun. He won't be ready to shoot the attacker; he'll be busy looking for a piece of paper to write his name down.

"The attacker" always knows that when his victim is a Jew, he won't get hit or hurt. The Jew won't fight. He'll cry, beg, scream or run. The attacker knows he can't lose life or limb because the victim can't fight; he's only preparing to sue.

As I said, this applies to the Jews outside of Israel. If we in the Diaspora continue to follow this pattern of traditional helplessness, instead of emulating the Israelis, who are ready to fight and survive at any price, we will continue to be hounded by antisemitism for the rest of our lives.

We must stand up and be counted, we must show how proud we are to identify with a people surrounded by nations who are committed to their destruction. Even if it infuriates the Claire Shorts, George Galloways and Howard Gutmans of the world.

It invariably takes more courage to stand up against prejudice that than to join in with it, but is it too much to ask that our leaders display such courage from time to time?

And by the way, in case you think that- despite everything I'm saying - the battle has been won and that we no longer need Israel to fulfil its historic purpose, take a look at what is happening in Hungary right now.

Respected public figures- newspaper editors and journalists, judges, political commentators, human rights campaigners (a number of them Jews) - are being removed in favour of members belonging to the ruling, extreme right-wing party. Only last week Istvan Marta, director of Hungary's National Theatre, was forced out by the government and told he would be replaced by an actor who recently campaigned for the right-wing extremist, antisemitic Jobbik Party and by a playwright who is a professed antisemite.

If that doesn't sound horribly familiar and frighten the hell out of you, it should.

But in spite of all that, consider this: if the statistics are right, the Jews constitute but one percent of the human race. It suggests a nebulous dim puff of star dust lost in the blaze of the Milky Way. Properly the Jew ought hardly to be heard of, but he is heard of, has always been heard of. He is as prominent on the planet as any other people, and his commercial importance is extravagantly out of proportion to the smallness of his bulk.

His contributions to the world's list of great names in literature, science, art, music, finance, medicine and abstruse learning are also very out of proportion to the weakness of his numbers.

He has made a marvellous fight in this world in all ages; and has done it with his hands tied behind him.

He could be vain of himself and be excused for it. The Egyptians, the Babylonians and the Persians rose, filled the planet with sound and splendour, then faded to dream-stuff and passed away; the Greeks and Romans followed and made a vast noise, and they were gone; other people have sprung up and held their torch high for a time but it burned out, and they sit in twilight now, and have vanished.

The Jew saw them all, survived them all, and is now what he always was, exhibiting no decadence, no infirmities of age, no weakening of his parts, no slowing of his energies, no dulling of his alert but aggressive mind.

All things are mortal but the Jews; all other forces pass, but he remains. What is the secret of his immortality?

Good question. And no, those aren't my words. They were written in 1897, by another American, the great Mark Twain.

November 24, 2016 22:37

Want more from the JC?

To continue reading, we just need a few details...

Want more from
the JC?

To continue reading, we just
need a few details...

Get the best news and views from across the Jewish world Get subscriber-only offers from our partners Subscribe to get access to our e-paper and archive