The Challenge of anti-Semitism

Despite the Zionist revolution and Israeli sovereignty, we’re still Jews. As Jews we must defend ourselves, and as Jews we must stand for justice.

Ari Shavit
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'Death to Jews' graffiti discovered on grounds of Paris' Notre Dame Cathedral, August 14, 2014.Credit: AP
Ari Shavit

Years ago I published a scathing article in a leading American newspaper, blasting my government and state for an aggressive, unsuccessful military operation, in which hundreds of thousands of civilians were driven from their homes and hundreds of innocents were killed.

It wasn’t hard to publish the article. Criticism of Israel gives the writer a place of honor in the international media. But it was hard to read some of the enthusiastic responses to my article. Among the celebrants were peace-seekers from Sweden and well-wishers from California, but also obvious anti-Semites.

To my astonishment, my text was adopted by Israel-haters from right and left, Christians and Muslims. When I read their chilling letters I made a vow – never again to forget that I belong to a small, persecuted nation, whom many in the world want to see gone. I will forever remember that the Jewish state, the Jewish people and the Jews as individuals arouse dark impulses among millions of people.

In the past two months we’ve seen these dark impulses run rampant. The ancient hatred has returned, with a vengeance. American students tell me they’ve never experienced what they’re going through since Operation Protective Edge started – anti-Semitism. Young Britons tell me they never thought they’d know what their parents and grandparents knew – anti-Semitism. The same goes for France and Belgium, of course, Spain and Hungary, the Arab Muslim world and large parts of Europe.

All at once everything broke loose, the masks were removed. The legitimate criticism of the occupation became illegitimate criticism of Israel, became a malignant hatred of the Jews. Many of the nations that sent the Jews in their countries to Auschwitz lost all shame. The grace period has ended. Israel-hatred is back.

We must not ignore the way Israel played into the hands of the new anti-Semites. There is no worse abomination than a Palestinian youth being burned alive in a Jewish state. In a democratic Jewish state it is absolutely prohibited for hatred of minorities to burst forth, with raging xenophobia and hooligans marching in the streets. The IDF, too, must make more careful and intelligent use of its immense firepower.

But none of Israel’s sins can justify the return of Israel-hatred. Winston Churchill bombarded Dresden, Franklin Roosevelt bombarded Tokyo and Harry Truman destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki. No decent man in the world thinks that because of these disproportionate acts these great leaders became war criminals. Bill Clinton attacked in Serbia, Tony Blair attacked in Iraq and Barack Obama attacked in Afghanistan. No honest person in the world believes that because of those strikes Britain and the United States are illegitimate.

Only when Israel makes massive use of its power and only when Israel displays ugly fringe phenomena is the response a denial of its very right to exist. Only when Jews act like any other nation would act in similar circumstances is the result a rage at their very existence.

Anti-Semitism creates certain obligations. First of all, it sets a challenge before the world’s nations – don’t go back there. Western culture will cease to be a culture if it allows the ancient hatred to make it lose its senses again. But anti-Semitism also sets a challenge before Israelis, from right and left. The nationalists among us must finally understand that we are not China or Russia; we’re not a superpower. Both because of our values and our circumstances, we don’t really have a prospect for living by our sword alone.

The liberals among us must also understand that we’re not China or Russia, not a superpower. We’re a tiny minority-nation under attack, and sweeping criticism of this nation is like sweeping criticism of the black, gay or Yazidi minority. Despite the Zionist revolution and Israeli sovereignty, we’re still Jews. As Jews we must defend ourselves, and as Jews we must stand for justice.

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