This week, the LA Times published a political cartoon depicting a Jewish star as hand cuffs and the United States as a person with its wrists locked in the midst of the Jewish star. The cartoon accompanied an op-ed by Professors Walt and Mearsheimer, who wrote a best selling book on "The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy" which has been praised by anti-Israel, anti-Bush administration, and anti-Jewish people as a critical examination of the power of world Jewry in influencing American politics for the benefit of Israel and to the detriment of the United States. It is a work that rightly should find its home on the shelves of hate mongers between The Protocols of the Elders of Zion and Mein Kampf, full of conspiracy theories about the power and manipulation by Jews of gullible Christians in positions of authority in order to get them to act on behalf of Jews to their own detriment. Yet it finds itself praised in all too many circles. Also this week, Arun Ghandi, grandson of Mahatma Ghandi, wrote an op-ed published in the Washington Post that blamed Israel and Jews in general for creating a "Culture of Violence" and for exploiting the Holocaust in order to manipulate the international community. Ghandi has since apologized for saying that Israel’s policies are representative of Jews as a whole, but did not apologize for saying that Jews exploit the Holocaust.
Is there anyone who legitimately believes that Antisemitism, that Jewish hatred, is a thing of the past? How can anyone put forth such an argument when two of the leading newspapers in the United States, the LA Times and Washington Post, in the same week, published items that are blatantly Anti-Jewish and not just criticism of Israel? It has become so politically acceptable to bash Israel that even criticisms that go well beyond the point where they become anti-Jewish are given voice. If you don't compare all Jews to Satan, just about anything seems acceptable.
Those who would spew forth hatred are given the opportunity under the protection of free speech and from what they see as the moral high ground of criticism of Israel. Yet those who offer these criticisms of Israel's use of military might almost never equally condemn the violence of those against whom Israel must defend itself. Israel's attempts to defend its citizens are lumped together with the actions of those seeking to murder them under the guise of the misleading term, "cycle of violence." Blame for the violence against Israelis by Palestinians is given solely to Israel and its continued occupation. This is done without consideration for why that occupation came about, nor the factors on the Palestinian side that result in Israel maintaining it despite Israel’s efforts to end its occupation and to help to create a viable Palestinian state.
Professors Walt and Mearsheimer, for their part, argue that the US would be much better liked around the world if it just did not support Israel so much. They are certainly correct in that. Those who want to destroy Israel and who hate Jews in general would be much happier and there are far more of them than there are Jews in the world, much less Israelis. If only the US would not provide Israel with the means to defend itself? Perhaps then so many would be able to become happier and our world would be a much nicer place, just without a Jewish state and the untold numbers of Jews who would perish. Many of those same people would be even happier if the United States vanished first, but Walt and Mearsheimer don't mention that.
Walt and Mearsheimer's work unfortunately has been given the imprimatur of too many because they are academics and certainly academics cannot possibly be purveyors of Jew-hatred! Unfortunately, those who consider themselves to be liberals and leftists, many academics among them, seem to appropriately and swiftly condemn hate speech emanating from the political and religious right, but to hesitate or fail to do so when it arises on the political or religious left. They shout from the rooftops when hatred of Jews is espoused unless that hatred comes from the mouth of one seeking an end to conflict against everyone but the Jewish state.
During the High Holidays a couple of years ago, I addressed the questions, “Should we give up who we are to please others? Should we change ourselves so as not to offend others who do not like our differences?” in the context of interfaith marriages. I feel that also applies to the Jewish state and its neighbors, who theoretically want peace. “Should Israel give up what it is in order to please them? Should it change itself so as not to offend others who do not like its difference from them?” The same answer applies. Of course not!
Just as someone who wants to be your friend should not say, “Change who you are, become like me, and I will be your friend,” so too is it wrong for those who wish to be friends with Israel to demand that it cease to be what it is, a Jewish state, for there to be peace. When those who would do so threaten to kill us unless we leave or become like them, must we leave or become like them so as to bring them happiness? Of course not!
The great Reform Rabbi, Abba Hillel Silver, wrote, “Any movement for good will which demands of me self-abnegation is a hostile attack. The man who would be my friend only if he can convert me to his way of living and thinking and believing, is not my friend. He is my enemy. He does not like me for what I am. He would like to see his own reflection in me.” That is exactly what is being asked of Israel by the Arab world in the peace process.
Peace will not come by pursuing that end. Both sides must reach out to those who are willing to live at peace and both sides must actively reject and even act against those who are not so willing. Israel must work to strengthen those among the Palestinian population who are willing to stand up against radical elements. It must work to combat those in its own population who seek to prevent a solution to the conflict. The Palestinians, for their part, must act against the members of their own population who do not wish to see peace alongside a Jewish state of Israel. They must come to see that rockets fired from Lebanon or Gaza into Israel harm not just Israel, but their future.
Is peace possible? With hard work and difficult concessions, maybe. Nothing is certain. Without defending those seeking peace from those seeking to prevent it, peace cannot be achieved for either side. Israel’s ability to defend its population from attacks is mandatory. Palestinians must act on their own to stop their own from attacking Israelis.
Yet also mandatory is the necessity of preventing attacks and confrontations between radical elements on the Israeli side and Palestinians desiring of peaceful coexistence. That is where the process must go. That is step one of the Road Map toward peace. Both sides must act as if they want peace by striving against those who do not want it even, in fact especially, among their own populations. Right now, one side is doing a whole lot more toward this end than the other, but even that side will eventually need to do more.
In this conflict, many refer to security barriers as “barriers to peace.” Yet, preventing violence between the sides is the only way to move toward peace. In my mind, before achieving any final agreement, there needs to be a time when Israel is largely out of Gaza and the vast majority of the territory in the West Bank that will become a Palestinian state. The sides must be able to coexist at peace and demonstrate a willingness to enforce the peace upon their own populations or else any agreement will become but a cease fire before renewed conflict.
Israel's neighbors do not necessarily like its existence. Yes, Walt, Mearsheimer, and Ghandi, we are a persecuted people and Israel, the home of nearly half of the Jews in world, all the more so. Over the years Israel’s neighbors have sought to destroy it. They are displeased that Israel still exists. They are unhappy that the United States continues to support its defense against those who would end its existence and in no small number, the existence of its Jewish citizenry. Making them happy is not an option.
Perhaps, just perhaps, US support for Israel is principled. Just perhaps, it is based upon common ideals: democracy among them. Just perhaps, Israel faces some of the same enemies that America faces, not all Muslims, but certainly radical militant ones. Just perhaps, support of Israel in spite of the anger that it causes among those who would like to see Israel destroyed is a good thing, a thing to praise. I believe that this is true.
When the founders of the nation of Israel discussed what name to give the new nation, many suggested that it be called Judah or Judea. That had been the name given the political entity for more than 1,000 years until the Romans, angered by the Jewish revolt, renamed it Palestina. Ben Gurion spoke up at the time of the nation’s founding and said in essence that this nation is not about the land, but about its people, the people Israel, and thus that name came to be chosen.
During this year of the 60th anniversary of Israel's independence, it is important to remember that there are many who would have aborted its birth and who continue to work for its swift demise. Israel needs our support as much today as it ever has.