One of the things I find so challenging about being Jewish is that, at the same time that anti-Semitism has gotten a new lease on life (this time from the Left rather than the Right), Jews are told to sit down, shut up, and stop seeing every critique, assault, or massacre on them, their culture, and their institutions as anti-Semitism. One of my favorite news blogs had a heated comment thread in which Rabbi Meir Kahane’s name came up, was predictably slandered, and the blogger’s rationale for practically banning discussion of his words and deeds was that Kahane was crazy (evidence: his belief that there could one day be a second Holocaust on American soil). A high school classmate living in the Bay Area has hopped on the anti-circumcision bandwagon, and when I explained that this measure is a gross distortion of the procedure and a direct assault on the identity and practice of Jews and Muslims, she insisted that the measure, and the accompanying comics which portray mohels as evil, sinister, and fanatical, are not anti-Semitic. And today I read that Yale University is shutting down its Initiative for the Inter-disciplinary Study of Anti-Semitism (YIISA). Its reason? The university claims that the initiative “has not borne the kind of academic fruit to justify its continuation,” according to Phyllis Chesler. Chesler, who argues that the Initiative bore far more academic fruit than most academic departments and scholarly fora these days, sees a direct correlation between the shutting down of YIISA and the rise in financial contributions from Arab states and influence at the university of voices that promote Arab/Islamist/terrorist agendas. She also perceives that the focus at YIISA on contemporary anti-Semitism’s warm home in the Arab Muslim world is unpopular in the current academic climate, which increasingly marginalizes voices which critique the messages of hate and blame that frequently come out of the Arab world’s despotic and/or Islamist regimes.
Even the Shoah, a watershed in the last century proving what inhumane depths Western civilization can sink to and the urgency of defending Jewish identity, culture, and mere existence, is under attack. Holocaust denial by politicians and “academics” is given credence as “the other side of the story,” and infamous Holocaust deniers like Mahmoud Abbas, Mahmoud Ahmedinejad, and Westerners like David Irving, are given the podium at universities and the UN to spout their “revisionist” history. Those who vow “never again” are cheered and patted on the back, but if they support Israel’s right to defend its citizens against terror and mayhem, they are silenced as aiding and abetting “the Occupation.”
Those who claim to revere international law show a very vague understanding of it as it relates to Israel. (The video below breaks down beautifully who the West Bank and Jerusalem really belong to.)
Here, too, ignorance seems to reign supreme. Those who claim that Israel’s possession and settlement of the West Bank and Jerusalem are violations of the Geneva Conventions have either never read the Geneva Conventions, or have no knowledge of the history of this region (or both). They are ignorant of the fact that there is no precedent, historical, diplomatic, or otherwise, for earmarking these lands for Arabs to create another Arab state. Quite the contrary, in fact; these lands belong to Israel diplomatically, historically, and in every other way.
One of the rabbis on my beit din made a little speech on the day they agreed to convert me. He said, “The Jews are not a popular people.” I’ve known that ever since I saw the mini-series “Holocaust” (1978, with a young Meryl Streep) on television when I was ten. I knew it when I was told I was going to hell by a Christian classmate in Georgia when I was eleven. And everything I’ve learned about Jewish history, from its earliest days to the present, has corroborated that statement. That suits me fine. I have never looked for popularity. I’ve always been geeky, enjoyed having a small cadre of close friends and my solitude, and wouldn’t know what to do if I were suddenly sought-after. Over the years, Jews have become more accepted in America, and this newfound measure of popularity has proved a double-edged sword: Jewish women pursued by non-Jewish men who find them “exotic,” non-Jewish women discovering that Jewish men make excellent husbands and fathers, and non-Jewish couples getting married under a chuppah because it’s a beautiful custom. I don’t know if one sees that kind of attitude toward Jews in other parts of the world. But if one isn’t popular, isn’t it possible at least to be accepted? Or is the necessary opposite of popular, a pariah? Must we be reviled, boycotted, sanctioned, and divested against? Is it subversive for Jews to be in positions of responsibility and influence beyond their proportion in society? Does it discomfit the world to see a Jewish state established in its homeland and able to defend itself, by itself? Is it really so easy to believe that the Middle East’s only democracy, with freedom of press, religion, speech and all the rest, ranks with North Korea as the greatest threat to world peace?
I know that the Ahmedinejads, the Helen Thomases, and the Vanessa Redgraves don’t speak for all of humanity. I know there are a good number of staunch supporters of Israel and Jewish life on the streets as well as in the corridors of power. But it’s also hard to ignore the fact that Israeli Apartheid Week enjoys an increasing presence on university campuses every year (which makes me wonder whether the university community has abandoned holding students to any level of serious scholarship, or whether they stand aside and let these circuses set up every year to allow the students to blow off steam and exercise their rights to freedom of speech, even if it’s full of lies and hatred). It’s hard to ignore the fact that the UN General Assembly invites Ahmedinejad to spew forth his wrath every year, and doesn’t rise and file out as a body while he’s speaking. It’s hard to ignore the traction the idea of a unilaterally declared Palestinian state has gotten in the international community, when it is clear (at least to those of us living here) that such a state will not create peace in the Middle East or anywhere else, and will very likely create more war and bloodshed than ever.
So what’s a Jew to do? Pandering is distasteful, and never garners popularity anyway. Keep explaining ourselves? While I may be overly pessimistic about this, I think those inclined to understand us do so already, and the rest can’t be bothered with the facts. I remember a (Jewish) professor of mine in graduate school telling me to stick to my own path of scholarship on an assignment, saying “Don’t look left, don’t look right.” Looking it up, I see it’s paraphrased from Isaiah 30:21. “And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, This is the way, walk in it, when you turn to the right, and when you turn to the left.”
What matters is that we keep to the Torah, to our faith, and our ethical principles. After that, as they say, יהיה מה שיהיה.