The first Israeli victim of Saddam Hussein is a Zionist myth on which we were brought up. The myth tells us that Israel is a haven for all the Jews in the world. In all the other countries, we are told, Jews live in perpetual fear that a cruel persecutor will arise, as happened in Germany. Israel is the safe haven, to which Jews can escape in times of danger. Indeed, this was the purpose of Israel's founding fathers when they established the state.
Now Saddam comes along and proves the opposite. All over the world, Jews live in safety; they are threatened by annihilation in only one place on the planet: Israel. Here national parks are being prepared for use as mass graves, here (pathetic) measures against biological and chemical weapons are being prepared. Many people are already planning to escape to the communities in the Diaspora. End of a myth.
Another Zionist myth died even before that: The Diaspora, so we learned in our youth, creates anti-Semitism. Everywhere the Jews are a minority, and a minority inevitably attracts the hatred of the majority. Only when the Jews gather in the land of their forefathers and constitute the majority there, we learned, will anti-Semitism disappear throughout the world. Thus spoke Herzl, the founder of modern Zionism.
Nowadays this myth, too, is giving up its blessed soul. Whatever good the existence of the State of Israel may or may not have done, the current government of Israel is quickly undoing. The Sharon government is a giant laboratory for the growing of the anti-Semitism virus. It exports it to the whole world. Anti-Semitic organizations, which for many years vegetated on the margins of society, rejected and despised, are suddenly growing and flowering. Anti-Semitism, which had hidden itself in shame since World War II, is now riding on a great wave of opposition to Sharon's policy of oppression.
Sharon's propaganda agents are pouring oil on the flames by accusing all critics of his policy of being anti-Semites. Many good people, who feel no hatred at all towards the Jews but who detest the persecution of Palestinians, are now called anti-Semites. Thus the sting is taken out of this word, giving it something approaching respectability.
The practical upshot: not only is the State of Israel not protecting Jews from anti-Semitism, but—on the contrary—its government is manufacturing and exporting the anti-Semitism that threatens Jews around the world.
Many good people, who feel no hatred at all towards the Jews but who detest the persecution of Palestinians, are now called anti-Semites.
For many years, Israel enjoyed the sympathy of most people. It was seen as the state of Holocaust survivors, a small and courageous country defending itself against the repeated assaults of murderous Arabs. Slowly, this image has been replaced by another: a cruel, brutal, and colonizing state, oppressing a small and helpless people. The persecuted has become the persecutor; David has turned into Goliath.
We Israelis, living in a bubble of self-delusion, find it hard to imagine how the world sees us. In many countries, television and newspapers publish daily pictures of Palestinian children throwing stones at monstrous tanks, soldiers harassing women at checkpoints, despairing old men sitting on the ruins of their demolished homes, soldiers taking aim and shooting children. These soldiers do not look like human beings in uniform—the world does not see "the neighbor's son" most Israelis see. These soldiers look like robots without faces, armed to the teeth, heads hidden by helmets, bullet-proof vests changing their proportions. People who have seen these photos dozens and hundreds of times start to see the whole State of Israel in this image.
For Jews, this creates a dangerous, vicious circle. Sharon's actions create repulsion and opposition throughout the world. These actions reinforce anti-Semitism. Faced with this danger, Jewish organizations are pushed into defending Israel and giving it unqualified support. This support enables the anti-Semites to attack not only the government of Israel, or the State of Israel as a whole, but local Jews, too. And so on.
Anti-Semites of all stripes and hues are, of course, repulsive. They will vilify Jews whatever we do. Anti-Semitism, like other forms of racism, is never justified. But that is not the point. The point is that the actions of the Sharon government, and the unqualified support given to this government by the Jewish establishment, has enabled these hard-core anti-Semites to win over well-meaning people who are repelled by Sharon's actions.
The Israeli government pretends to speak for all Jews around the world, yet no attempt has been made by mainstream Jewish organizations to reject this claim. This may turn out to be a terrible mistake.
In Europe, Jews already feel the pressure to reject Sharon. But in the United States, Jews still feel supremely self-confident. In Europe, Jews have learned over the centuries that it is not wise to be too conspicuous and to display their wealth and influence. But in America, the very opposite is happening: the Jewish establishment is practically straining to prove that it controls the country.
Every few years, the Jewish lobby "eliminates" an American politician who does not support the Israeli government unconditionally. This is not done secretly, behind the scenes, but as a public "execution." Just now the Jewish establishment rallied against the black congresswoman Cynthia McKinney, a young, active, intelligent, and very sympathetic woman. She had dared to criticize the Sharon government, to support the Palestinian cause, and (worst of all from the Jewish establishment's standpoint) she had gained the support of Israeli and Jewish peace groups. The Jewish establishment found a counter-candidate, a practically unknown black woman, injected huge sums into the campaign, and defeated Cynthia.
All this happened in the open, with fanfare, to make a public example of McKinney—so that every senator and congressperson would know that criticizing Sharon is tantamount to political suicide. Not content with this flexing of power, the pro-Israel lobby—which consists of Jews and extreme right-wing Christian fundamentalists—is now pushing the Bush administration to start a war in Iraq. This, too, openly and in full view of the American public. Dozens of articles in the important newspapers point out the Jewish pro-war influence as a plain political fact.
Of course, Jews have a right, just like every other citizen in the United States, to raise their voice in the political arena. But, as the ancients remind us, "pride comes before the fall." The shameless flaunting of Jewish power, the buying of representatives and senators, the immense pressure put on the media, is counterproductive in the long run. It is the ghetto mentality turned upside down; instead of timidity, arrogance.
What will happen if the war the pro-Israel lobby is advocating ends in failure? If it has unexpected negative results and many young Americans die? If the American public turns against it, as happened during the Vietnam War?
What will happen when Sharon's policies bring about revolution in the Arab world, as they will if he is allowed to continue on his current path? As long as the Jewish establishment can convince the American public that the interests of Israel and the United States are identical (an idiotic notion) this will not arouse anger, but when the day comes—and it will come—when the two countrys' interests are seen as diverging, what will be the reaction then?
One can easily imagine a whispering campaign starting: "The Jews have pushed us into this," "The Jews support Israel more than they support America," and, finally, "The Jews control our country."
Of course, the special political culture of the United States encourages the rise of special interest groups—but that was also true in Spain of the Golden Age and in the Weimar Republic in Germany. History does not have to repeat itself, but neither should one disregard its lessons. Just because Jews can constitute a special interest group does not mean that creating a disproportionate influence over Congress and the White House is the best strategy for enhancing the future of the Jewish people.
There are people in Israel who secretly wish for the victory of anti-Semitism everywhere. That would confirm another Zionist myth on which we were brought up: that Jews will not be able to live anywhere but in Israel, because anti-Semitism is bound to triumph everywhere. But the United States is not France or Argentina; it plays a critical role in the Middle East. Israel's national security, as established by all Israeli governments since Ben-Gurion, is based on total support from the United States—military, political, and economic.
If I were asked for advice, I would counsel Jewish communities throughout the world as follows: break out of the vicious circle. Disarm anti-Semites by breaking the habit of automatically identifying with everything the Israeli government does. Let your conscience speak out. Return to the traditional Jewish values of "That which is altogether just shalt thou follow!" (Deut. 16:20) and "Seek peace and pursue it!" (Psal. 4: 14). Identify yourselves with the Other Israel, which is struggling to uphold these values at home.
All over the world, new Jewish groups that follow this way are
multiplying. They break yet another myth, that the duty of Jews
everywhere is to subordinate themselves to the edicts of the current
Israeli government. They know that the true duty of Jews worldwide
is to cling fast to Jewish values.
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