I felt a sickening roiling in my stomach. It was a familiar feeling composed of anger, frustration, fear, hurt. Could someone really believe this? I decided to suppose that this person is well disposed toward Jews, and simply disapproving of Israeli policy. Let us imagine that he really reluctantly believes the Israeli army tries to shoot children. Could this be? Would it survive a scintilla of critical thought?
Whenever I hear of such a blasting critique of Israel, I am always tempted to ask the person a few questions. I used to ask: can you imagine what the United States would do if Khomeini took over Texas? Would you counsel restraint? Is there any country who, faced with an implacable enemy on its borders, has responded with the country club gentility asked of Israel?
But I would actually like to ask some more pointed questions of my typical counterpart in this discussion, if only to begin a serious dialogue, not a litany of accusation.
1. First, and most obvious: Why Israel?
I read a good deal of news, much of it on the Internet, and see little discussion of the depredations of Syria, or Zimbabwe. I read nothing of India's 1 billion dollar fence, shutting off most of the desperately poor Muslims in Bangladesh. I know that there are 188 nations in the United Nations. Among them are North Korea, a slave state, and an assortment of despots and tyrants. The only state among the 188 that may not serve on the UN Security Council is Israel.
The Holocaust, which should have signaled the end of hatred of the Jews, acts for many as a shield. "I certainly don't feel the way the Nazis do, or wish what Hitler did" is supposed to be enough to prove that the speaker is not anti-Semitic. But there is a long road between fellowship and genocide.
It is hard to credit all this to geopolitics. How can Israel be the one state that bears the brunt of such rage? Why is the vandalism in France, the community center burning in Argentina, the defacement of synagogues throughout Europe, all tied to the policy of this one small nation? Despite the raping of Tibet, the systematic destruction of the culture, there is no trade block with China, no violent protests throughout Europe, no Tibetan terrorism. Is there more to understand here--perhaps an underlying hatred apart from politics?
2. Where would all those who wish Israel to disappear want the Jews to go?
Back to Europe? Should every Jew live in America? Does anyone think that the Jews could simply live in peace next to Arabs in an Islamic state, when the Arab countries have never, in thousands of years, granted Jews equal rights?
3. Is Israel the engine of intolerance in the Middle East?
Where were the vituperative voices when the Jordanians controlled Jerusalem and turned the Western Wall into a garbage dump? There was no UN resolution about that sacrilege. Where were they when the Arab countries prevented Jews from entering the old city of Jerusalem? For that matter, where were those voices when Assad killed thousands of his own people, or when the late King Hussein of Jordan slaughtered thousands of Palestinians?
4. Do anti-Semites recognize their own prejudice? Most don't.
Recently our synagogue hosted Father Baugh, the professor of film at the Vatican Pontifical Institute in Rome. The purpose was to consider the movie "The Last Temptation of Christ," which he severely criticized, but along the way he discussed his own upbringing. He said he was taught (growing up in French Canada) to fear when he walked by the synagogue--because the Jews might run out and snatch him. He could not play with Jewish children. In church he recited scriptural comments about the "perfidious Jews." Yet well into adulthood if you had asked him, "Are you anti-Semitic?" Father Baugh said he would have insisted he was not.
It took him a long time to recognize that the attitudes he harbored were indeed anti-Semitic. His honesty is a refreshing change from the A.N. Wilsons of the world, smugly tucking themselves in at night imagining they are lovers and benefactors of humanity.