Beliefnet

Is Hamas Amalek? I have no idea. Also I do not care. It is bad enough that Hamas is Hamas. (Was Hitler Amalek? No, he was worse.) Anyway, Amalek is not all that justifies the use of force. But the important point is that Amalek justifies nothing but the use of force. There is no other solution to the Amalek problem. And that is why all this pessimism is not only intellectually sloppy, it is also operationally superfluous. It is a view of history that provides no foundation for Israeli restraint, and sometimes restraint is the intelligent policy. Consider this week's calamity. If Netanya was Kristallnacht, then Rishon Letzion was Kristallnacht. The villain in Netanya came from Jenin, and Israel turned its might on Jenin. The villain in Rishon Letzion came from Gaza, but Israel is not turning its might on Gaza. Why not? The logic is the same. The answer, of course, is that this is not the logic of statecraft. If, as the Israeli press is reporting, there may be signs of flexibility on the Palestinian side, it is the duty of the Israeli government to stay its hand and have a look. These signs may be false; but too many people have perished not to take their measure. The exploration of opportunities for accommodation and understanding is a matter of both prudence and principle. It may be that Ariel Sharon, of all people, has comprehended this. As long as the prime minister of Israel continues to speak of the eventual establishment of a Palestinian state, Kristallnacht is over. (For Netanyahu, by contrast, every Nacht is Kristallnacht.)

The fright of American Jewry is owed also to a new recognition of the reality of antiSemitism. Up to a point, this is as it should be: The happiness of the Jews in the United States certainly demands a regular refreshment of their awareness of evil. There is something a little odd, though, about the shock with which the news of European anti-Semitism has been met, since it is for the Jews the oldest news. There was one blessing, and one blessing only, that the Second World War conferred upon the Jewish people, and it is that the future of the Jewish people forever departed Europe. Anti-Semitism in Europe must be fought, but not with the confidence that this will be a European fight, too. European nationalism includes no conception of the multiethnic state. European culture is permeated with a contempt for otherness. Indeed, the moral incompetence of European culture with regard to otherness now falls more heavily upon Muslims than upon Jews.

The acknowledgment of contemporary anti-Semitism must be followed by an analysis of contemporary anti-Semitism, so that the magnitude of the danger may be soberly assessed. Is the peril "as great, if not greater" than the peril of the 1930s? I do not see it. Jewish history now consists essentially in a competition for the Jewish future between Israel and the United States, between the blandishments of sovereignty and the blandishments of pluralism; it is a friendly competition, and by the standards of Jewish experience it is an embarrassment of riches. In many significant ways, the Jewish present is discontinuous with the Jewish past, and some of these discontinuities will stand among the finest accomplishments of Jewish history, though the ruptures were sometimes very bruising. The predicament of contemporary Jewry cannot be correctly understood except in terms of these saving discontinuities. Anti-Semitism has not disappeared, obviously; but Zionism was not premised on the expectation that anti-Semitism would disappear, it was premised on the expectation that anti-Semitism would not disappear, and in the United States the prejudice has never been granted political or philosophical legitimacy. (It was the legitimacy of Jew-hatred in European society that made it lethal.)

In Israel and in the United States, moreover, the Jews found not only safety, but also strength. The blandishments of pluralism in America have included the fierce and unembarrassed pursuit of Jewish interests, and so brilliantly that the American Jewish community has become the model for what an ethnic group can accomplish in such conditions of freedom. The blandishments of sovereignty in Israel have conspicuously included military power. Suicide bombs are sickening; but it is the Israelis who command an army and an air force, and also a nuclear arsenal. These instruments of warfare are themselves conclusions properly drawn from a severe history in which Jews lacked the means of self-reliance and self-defense. There is nothing vexing about the strength of the Jewish state, though there may be something vexing in the manner in which the Jewish state sometimes (but not often) exercises its strength. And military power has political purposes as well as military purposes.

So Israel has adversaries, but Israel is stronger than its adversaries. That is why the real threat to Israel comes not from Jenin and Gaza, but from Baghdad and Tehran; not from booby-trapped casbahs, but from advanced missile technologies. But not even that threat, and it is grave, can be accurately compared to the plight of the Jews in Hitler's Europe. The comparison breaks down over more than the fact that this time the Jews have a spectacular deterrent. The Jews in the 1930s and 1940s were fighting, when they fought, for nothing more than a splendid death. They knew that the fight was futile, which makes their courage almost unbearable to contemplate. The Jews in Israel have no reason to believe that the fight is futile. And they are fighting for their home.

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