In the Mideast, Israel is the opium of the people


“Why aren’t you as an Arab lady writing about Gaza?”

“Where are your columns about Gaza?”

“Say the Israelis are wrong!”

The messages started to arrive soon after Israel’s bombardment of Gaza killed close to 300 Palestinians. Implicit was the pressure to toe the party line: Hamas is good; Israel is bad. Say it, say it! Or else you’re not Arab enough; you’re not Muslim enough; you’re not enough.

But what to say about a conflict that for more than 60 years now has fed Arab and Israeli senses of victimhood and their respective demands to stop everything else we’re doing and pay attention to their fights, because what’s the slaughter of anyone else — be they in Darfur, Congo or anywhere else — compared to their often avoidable bloodletting?

Hasn’t it all been said before? Has nothing been learned?

And then the suicide cyclist in Iraq made me snap, and I had to write — not to take sides but to lament the moral bankruptcy that is born from the amnesia rife in the Middle East.

On Sunday, a man on a bicycle blew himself up in the middle of an anti-Israel demonstration in the Iraqi city of Mosul. The technique legitimized and blessed by clerics throughout the Arab world as a weapon against Israel had gone haywire and was used against Arabs protesting Israel’s bombardment of Gaza.

That twisted and morbid full circle completed on the streets of Mosul can be captured only by paraphrasing Karl Marx — Israel is the opium of the people.

What else explains the collective amnesia on display last weekend in the Middle East?

Has Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni forgotten already that just last year she was close to ousting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert for his handling of Israel’s 2006 war on Lebanon, which was launched under very similar circumstances to those that preceded the bombardment of Gaza? And yet there she was making the rounds of U.S. Sunday news shows to explain why Israel had to act against the Muslim militant Hamas movement in power in Gaza.

Does Israel want to make heroes of Hamas in the way it did Hezbollah? What has been achieved from the blockade of Gaza except for the suffering of civilians, whose leaders care for them as little as Israel does?

Talking about Hezbollah and unwise leaders, has Hassan Nasrallah forgotten that while he rails against Egypt for aiding the blockade of Gaza, he lives in a country — Lebanon — that keeps generations of Palestinian refugees in camps that serve as virtual jails?

And the demonstrators in Jordan and Lebanon? Who reminds them that in 1970, Jordan killed tens of thousands as it tried to control Palestinian groups based there, forcing the Palestine Liberation Army into Lebanon, where in 1982, the Phalangist Christian Lebanese militiamen slaughtered 3,000 Palestinian refugees in the Sabra and Shatila camps?

Not a single Phalangist has been held accountable for that massacre. An Israeli state inquiry in 1983 found Ariel Sharon, then defense minister, indirectly responsible for the killings at the refugee camps during Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon. But don’t hold your breath for an Arab inquiry. It is Israel that gives sense to our victimhood. The horrors we visit upon each other are irrelevant.

It is difficult to criticize Palestinians when so many have died this weekend, but the Hamas rulers of Gaza are just the latest of their leaders to fail them. For those of us who long to separate religion from politics, Hamas has given the truth to the fear that Islamists care more about facing down Israel than taking care of their people. The Palestinians of Gaza are victims equally of Hamas and Israel.

Where was the anger when two Palestinian schoolgirls were killed in Gaza when Hamas rockets meant for Israel misfired, just a day before Israel’s bombardment?

As for the country of my birth, Egypt, President Hosni Mubarak, in power for more than 27 years, has presided over a disastrous policy that on the one hand maintains a 1979 peace treaty his predecessor, Anwar Sadat, signed with Israel and on the other unleashes state-owned media fury at Israel that has fanned a near-hysterical hatred for the country among ordinary Egyptians.

Yes, Israel’s occupation of Arab land angers Egyptians, but there is absolutely no space in Egyptian media, culture or intellectual circles for discussing Israel as anything but an enemy. And neither is there an attempt to forge it.

And now Mubarak, old, tired and out of new ideas, is reaping a policy that plays all sides against each other in an attempt to make his regime indispensable.

But my question to Egyptians and others across the region incensed at Israel is where is their anger at the human rights violations, torture and oppression in their respective countries? If such large crowds turned out onto Arab capitals every week, they could’ve toppled their dictators years ago.

It is the ultimate dishonor to the memory of Palestinians killed last weekend to call for more violence. It has failed to deliver for 60 years.

We honor the dead by smashing through the region’s amnesia until we break through to the taboos and continue to smash.

Talking to Hamas? Israel should do it if it will end the violence. Focusing on internal issues in each Arab country and ignoring the opium that is Israel? Egyptians, Jordanians, Lebanese, Syrians, et al, should do it before their respective states fail for the sake of Palestine.

Palestinians still have no state. What a shame it would be for one Arab state after the other to fail in the name of Palestine.

Mona Eltahawy is a columnist for Egypt’s Al Masry Al Youm and Qatar’s Al Arab. She is based in New York.

Trip highlights our duty to help worldwide


Having grown up in and around Los Angeles my entire life, I am awe-stricken by the thriving Jewish community and the venerable reputation it has made for itself.

Considering our history, the present situation of Jews in America is one that would have been coveted by any Jew from almost any other time period. And if, God forbid, any Jew is to forget the adversity through which we have suffered and endured throughout the ages, I would expect it to occur now more than ever.

These thoughts became very clear to me after a recent visit to the Philippine Islands, where I found myself exposed to a situation that I will value forever.

Filipino streets are crawling with beggars who are able to survive only because food and shelter cost almost a tenth of what Americans pay. These people are subject to the generosity of people who would also be considered destitute if compared to Los Angeles’ neediest.

I came equipped with a stack of 2,000 pisos, equaling $50, which I planned to distribute as charity whenever it was solicited. My eyes were opened when I visited a tourist town popular among beggars. A small boy accosted me with an extended palm, and I handed him a 20-piso bill. Only later did I become aware that this was an enormous amount for beggars to receive, despite its U.S.-value of only 50 cents, and that so many other indigent people who witnessed my generosity were willing to employ almost any means to take advantage of it.

Within seconds I was swarmed by a mob of the most impecunious people I have ever seen. I was met with appeals ranging from sobs of supplication from elderly women to snarls of desperation from struggling mothers to the aggressive attempts of children to wrest the money from my grip. My attempts to form a line to hasten the fulfillment of their pleas were fruitless. They did not relent.

Never having experienced anything like this in my life, I am almost embarrassed to admit that though I felt an emotional connection to their desperation, I laughed, not knowing how to outwardly express my emotions in such a sudden and tumultuous shock. I am still haunted by the possibility that they suspected me of teasing them with the hope of receiving charity. I also wonder what they might have thought when they saw me laughing had they known I was a Jew. I suspect that they would have expected a certain sensitivity from a Jew — a member of a nation that has overcome trials far more daunting than theirs and which now has the resources to alleviate the hardships of others.

It is not my goal to persuade people to give charity to Filipino beggars; it was just the event that opened my eyes to the needs of other people in the world. There is another issue toward which I expect Jews should feel more sensitive — the crisis in Darfur. I am not discounting the steps already taken by Jews to aid the victims of one of this century’s most devastating acts of man against his fellow. However, I do mean to bring to attention to what I perceive as deficiencies in the reactions of Orthodox Jews around me.

Though I would never advise Jews to replace Orthodox tradition with humanitarianism, I have always felt that the Darfur issue is one in which I would expect more Orthodox Jews to be active in resolving. Our inability to react now strongly resembles America’s self-imposed ignorance during the Holocaust. America and its Jews should redeem themselves now by contributing whatever they can to humanitarian aid to those suffering in refugee camps and in homes on the brink of destruction. It is also our responsibility to avoid the hypocrisy of not working to alleviate the pain of a people who are subject to the genocidal whim of an oppressive government. What will the world say when the Jewish people or the State of Israel solicit anyone’s assistance in a life-threatening situation? It has been established that the Jewish people possess an indestructible conviction to survive and prosper, but how many enslavements, expulsions, pogroms, and genocides must we endure, and witness others endure, before we live up to our God-given name of a “light unto the nations”?

For these reasons I urge all Jewish institutions to educate their students and congregants in atrocities committed against mankind throughout the world. Our schools’ students yearn to contribute what they can to worthy causes, but no outlets are provided by their educators. Orthodox synagogues seem to always have tikkun olam on their agendas, but the most significant differences they can make are being forgotten.

In 1927, before the Holocaust, Edmund Fleg said, “I am a Jew because in every place where suffering weeps, the Jew weeps. I am a Jew because at every time when despair cries out, the Jew hopes.”

Our Jewish communities now have the resources they never had before. We have a certain influence over everything in which we become involved. Let us now employ the hope that defines us as Jews and ameliorate the world’s conditions for ourselves and for whomever else we can before our entrenchment in despair becomes possible again.

Jacob Goldberg is in 11th grade at Yeshiva University of Los Angeles High School for Boys.

Speak Up!

Tribe, a page by and for teens, appears the first issue of every month in The Jewish Journal. Ninth- to 12th-graders are invited to submit first-person columns, feature articles or news stories of up to 800 words. Deadline for the February issue is Jan. 15; deadline for the March issue is Feb. 15. Send submissions to julief@jewishjournal.com.

I’ve never had real heroes


If you grew up as I did, on more than one continent and surrounded by people of different faiths, you know what I mean when I say I’ve never had real heroes: For every truth in one place, I’ve encountered doubt in another; for every icon in one culture, I’ve met iconoclasts in another.

As I look back, I realize that the only public figures I have admired and perhaps trusted were authors — those authors, that is, who wrote about the time and place they lived in, whose purpose was to discover the truth, bear witness, unveil secrets, no matter what the cost to themselves or others. Most of these authors — Albert Camus, Marguerite Duras, Oriana Fallaci — lived through World War II. Most of them explored the mysteries of the human soul — how it’s at once capable of great kindness and unspeakable cruelty, how it tends to shy away from taking ownership of its sins.

Among them, of course, was Gunter Grass, Germany’s greatest author since World War II, who wrote “The Tin Drum” and a dozen other books; who has dedicated his career and his public life to exposing the dark corners of his nation’s psyche, making sure it doesn’t forget, doesn’t rationalize, minimize or move on from — the Holocaust.

Grass has been quick to denounce hypocrisy and deceit anywhere he has found it, and he has done so with a vigor — some would say brutally — that has not softened with his advancing age. He has pointed a finger at the mighty and the weak; deplored the lack of moral righteousness in Europe and the United States. Most of all, he has held his own people accountable for crimes against humanity. As recently as 2002, he wrote, in “Crabwalk”: “History, or, to be more precise, the history we Germans have repeatedly mucked up, is a clogged toilet. We flush and flush, but the shit keeps rising.”

Born in 1927 in the then-German city of Danzig (now Gdansk in Poland), Grass had, until this year, always maintained that he was recruited by and served in the German army in the last days of the war, but that he was not a part of the SS. He made a point of this, in fact, when he spoke in Israel in 1967: “You can tell by the date of my birth that I was too young to have been a Nazi but old enough to have been molded by [the Nazi] system. Innocent through no merit of my own, I became part of a postwar period that was never to be a period of real peace.”

That he refused to take credit for not having joined what he calls the “Nazi system” is one reason he was admired the world over — enough to win the Nobel Prize for Literature. It’s also one reason he has been denounced so vehemently in some circles by what he revealed this year in his memoir, “Peeling the Onion,” that he had, in fact, willfully joined and served in the Waffen SS during the war, that he did so in spite of opposition from his parents, that he had admired Hitler and never believed the stories about concentration camps until later, during the Nuremberg trials.

Suddenly, the man who has made a career out of digging for truth in other people’s lives turns out to be a liar himself.

In the memoir, he speaks movingly of the suffering of the German people during the war, while admitting that it paled in comparison with that of Jews and other victims of the Holocaust. He talks, with not a trace of self-pity, about how he suffered from hunger and loss and fear, how he lived as a refugee for years after the war, how he learned later that his mother had been raped repeatedly by Russian soldiers.

Perhaps, understandably, he stands at a safe distance from the young man whose story he has set out to tell, reminding the reader often that he is not — doesn’t even recognize — the 15-year-old who joined the Hitler Youth. He says he was called up by the SS only when Germany had lost the war and never actually fired a shot. He says he kept silent about his past because he was ashamed. He says that his confession now, when he is 84 years old and near the end of his life, is impelled by a conscience that has weighed on him from the start.

Publicly, Grass has insisted that his books and his involvement in German politics for over half a century should serve as proof that he had learned the lessons he has tried to teach others; that he should be judged for all the good he has brought to the world through his work and not for his personal conduct.

No wonder he wrote in “The Tin Drum”: “I expected more from literature than from real, naked life.”

Do I believe him?

I’m not sure. But I don’t think it matters. Too old, perhaps too cynical myself to look for heroes anywhere, I think Grass has taught us, through his own life, a lesson that transcends his influence as an individual.

Asked to comment on the Grass controversy, Italian playwright Dario Fo, also a Nobel laureate, responded: “Pity the land that needs heroes.”

It is true that Grass has brought much good into the world by his writings. It is also true that his late-in-life revelation calls into question or, depending on your point of view, entirely invalidates his right to the high moral ground he has for so long occupied. But in doing so, he has proven to those of us who have followed his life and career what he says he learned as a POW after the war: That no truth is ever entirely true, that what we revere today may become indefensible tomorrow, that the wisest path through life is to distrust certainty and instead to walk, in Grass’ own words, “the long route, paved with doubts.”

Gina B. Nahai is an author and a professor of creative writing at USC. Her latest novel, “Caspian Rain,” was published this fall. Gina Nahai’s column appears monthly in The Jewish Journal.

British boycott moves reveal anti-Israel bias


The utter hypocrisy of the British National Union of Journalists, which recently voted to boycott only Israel, has now become evident in the face of the silence over the recent move by Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez to suppress dissent by the media in his leftist regime.

General Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan, too, has now imposed massive press censorship. In many of the other hard-left favored countries – Cuba, China, Iran, North Korea and Zimbabwe – suppression of the press is routine, and imprisonment of journalists is common.

But there is not a peep about these countries from the British National Union of Journalists, who seem to admire tyranny and condemn democracy and openness.

Only Israel, which has among the freest presses of the world, is being targeted for sanctions. Even Arab and Muslim journalists have more freedom of the press in Israel than in any Arab or Muslim nation. While Palestinian terrorist groups murder, kidnap and threaten journalists, the British Union exempts the Palestinian authority, run by the censorious Hamas, from its journalistic sanctions.

The reason is obvious. The British Union cares less about journalists or freedom of the press than it does about blindly condemning the Jewish state.

The same can be said about the British University and College Union, which has voted to move forward with the boycott against only Israeli academics. Israel has more academic freedom – for Jews and Muslims alike – than any Arab or Muslim nation and than the vast majority of countries in the world.

Israeli scientists have developed, on a per capita basis, more lifesaving medical technologies than any nation in the world. Yet the British Union has singled out Israel alone for boycott.

Again, this has nothing to do with protecting academic freedom or scientific inquiry. It has everything to do with anti-Israel bigotry.

Now academics around the world are fighting back against this British bigotry. Led by more than a dozen Nobel Prize winners, thousands of American academics have signed a petition declaring themselves to be honorary Israelis for purposes of any academic boycott. They have pledged to refuse to participate in any events from which Israeli academics are boycotted.

Any academic who wishes to join this moral response to an immoral boycott can e-mail ScholarsforPeace@aol.com.

Shutting Jewish mouths; A civil tone of voice


A Civil Tone

Last week’s Letters section offered a fascinating window on the views and feelings of our community (Letters, Feb. 23). Most of the letters were thoughtful, informative and passionate. Two stepped over the line.

One nasty note was directed at Rob Eshman personally, condemning him for once belonging to Peace Now, calling him a traitor and a pogrom, while besmirching all Jews who disagree with the writer as people who would “sell their soul for a fake peace.” I’m afraid someone’s been listening to too much talk radio.

And speaking of talk radio, the other letter lumps together Messrs. Prager, Medved (and David Klinghoffer for good measure) as “notorious Jewish hypocrites,” while managing to disparage all evangelical Christians as people who “do not respect Judaism.” Sad.

Be they on the left or the right, some folks don’t seem to realize that it’s indeed possible to debate with facts, rather than fanaticism. Mr. Rohde’s letter proved it beautifully, with his clearly laid out rebuttal showing that our Founding Fathers did respect other faiths beyond the Judeo-Christian realm.So why tolerate the name calling?

While I congratulate you for having the guts and openness to publish even the most vitriolic letters, perhaps there’s a better way.

The Journal already imposes some restrictions on writers, requesting that letters be of a certain length and contain a valid name and address. May I make a suggestion? How about also requiring a civil tone?

Want to get nasty and call names? Go someplace else.

It would be a small thing, true, but maybe it’s a first step toward elevating the debate to at least a minimum level of respect.

Abe Rosenberg
via e-mail

Jewish Mouths

I thoroughly approve of your approach and point in this editorial (“Shutting Jewish Mouths,” Feb. 16). Two Jews, three opinions has always characterized our tribe and always will. Even with the fear injected into the conditions of dissent from the Israel lobby line, still we rise. I hope we always will.I especially appreciate your point of the destruction of all but the most reactionary views of history and current events when the left is walled off and vilified.

Stuart M. Chandler
Mar Vista

Rob Eshman speaks proudly of having sought Jewish support for a Palestinian state 20 years ago, when it was a minority position in the American Jewish community, saying, “The moral of the story: Today’s dissenters [like Tony Judt and Tony Kushner] might just be on to something.”

Doesn’t Eshman understand the danger of creating a Palestinian state today, which would have Hamas and Fatah running the show, whose charters call for Israel’s destruction and use of terrorism, and who would continue to promote hatred and murder of Israelis in its media, mosques, textbooks and youth camps and refuse to arrest and jail terrorists?

We agree with the former head of the IDF, Gen. Moshe Yaalon, who has repeatedly stated that “a Palestinian state should not be created. It will only increase the likelihood of war.”

Morton A. Klein
National President
Zionist Organization of America
New York

Absurd Assertion

I coordinated the recent Los Angeles Combatants for Peace (CFP) events (“Divided We Fall,” Feb. 9).

StandWithUs’ (SWU) assertion that CFP presentations are “one-sided” is false, and its categorization of CFP events as “anti-Israel” is cynical and absurd.

CFP is a joint Israeli and Palestinian peace group, and all CFP events in the UnNited States feature representatives from both peoples. CFP is comprised of former Palestinian militants and Israeli combat soldiers who have realized the futility of the violence they have perpetrated on each other, and now believe that there is no viable military solution to the conflict and that both sides are wrong to persist in armed hostilities against the other.

If SWU applies the “anti-Israel” label to any gathering that fails to promote the integrity of greater Israel, CFP events are properly categorized as such. Otherwise, SWU’s labeling of CFP events as “anti-Israel” evidences a profound measure of political solipsism.

Further, I would be interested in learning what “unsubstantiated charges” and “misinformation” SWU claims CFP is disseminating. As a matter of policy and design, and out of a desire to discourage debate over ancillary matters, CFP makes no charges and takes no positions other than those expressed in its threefold mission.

Joel S. Farkas
Santa Monica

Azerbaijan Democratization

I was pleased to read one more article about Azerbaijan which stresses the tolerance of its population toward different religions and nations (“Borat, Meet Elin,” Feb. 23).

However, I see a threat: Because of authoritarianism and pressure on political opposition, more and more people have started turning their faces toward radicalism. An ordinary citizen believes now that it is impossible to change the government in a democratic way.

According to OSCE reports, all elections since 1993 have been falsified by the former local KGB and Communist Party boss Heydar Aliyev and by his son, Ilham, after the father’s death in 2003. Some experts have started warning about the danger of revolution in Azerbaijan. Yet, will it be “colored revolution” as in neighboring Ukraine and Georgia to democratize the country or Iranian-like path?

I do believe that only by urging authorities to cease the pressure on democratic opposition will we succeed in preventing Azerbaijan from falling into radicalism and finally starting democratization.

Elgun Taghiyev
Program Assistant
National Democratic Institute
Baku, Azerbaijan

‘Curly Top’ Arkin

To see Alan Arkin bald is so shocking to my system, considering here is a guy who, in a gentile high school environment, had the most glamorous and envious beautiful curly head of hair of any of us seven or eight gifted Jews who were literally his friends (“Alan Arkin: Not Just Another Kid From Brooklyn,” Feb. 16).

When it came to having that suave, utterly curly head of hair, Alan had no equal.

Sheket, b’vakasha!


Shutting Jewish Mouths

We were surprised to read the mischaracterization of the American Jewish Committee (AJCommitee) in Rob Eshman’s column (“Shutting Jewish Mouths,” Feb. 16).

As our 175,000 constituents know, we welcome a wide range of viewpoints in the AJCommitee “tent” and our members count themselves as liberals, conservatives and everything in between. AJCommitee is a strictly nonpartisan organization, long viewed as centrist in its orientation and we pride ourselves on a deliberative style of discussion and debate on policy matters. Contrary to Eshman’s view, there is no “party line” at AJCommitee.

Legitimate and informed discussion of Israeli policies is welcome, and, as ardent defenders of the Jewish state, we have been long-time participants in that debate. Indeed, AJCommitee is a leading advocate for a negotiated two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But we must take umbrage with anyone, even fellow Jews, who call for Israel’s demise.

The essay by professor Alvin Rosenfeld of Indiana University addresses a very real threat that a Jewish imprimatur gives to the campaign to challenge Israel’s very legitimacy. As the American Jewish community’s leading think tank, the AJCommitee chose to publish the essay because it is important to illuminate views held by those on the political fringes asserting that Israel has no right to exist and should either be destroyed or morphed into a so-called bi-national state, which means the end of Israel as a Jewish state.

Their language needs to be read to understand why professor Rosenfeld, a highly regarded scholar, felt compelled to write his essay and why AJCommitee chose to publish it. It can be found at www.ajc.org.

Meanwhile, those who claim that an effort is underway to stifle debate are just wrong. Discussion online and offline has been vibrant, and we hope interest in the Rosenfeld essay will spark serious conversation on the important issues he raises.

Sherry A. Weinman
President
Los Angeles Chapter
American Jewish Committee

Bravo, well said … and it needed to be said. I admire your courage in speaking out against an increasingly stultifying establishment… which, of course, was itself the point.

No matter how much heat you catch — and I’m sure it will be plentiful — know that you have many readers who respect your resolve to deliver real journalism. Kol hakavod l’cha.

Rabbi Ken Chasen
Leo Baeck Temple

Your statement about being the former head of Americans for Peace now [in Los Angeles] made everything clear about how you have used The Jewish Journal to put down the religious Jews who really care about their G-d-given birthright, the land of Israel and the nominally Jewish traitors who would sell their soul for a fake peace with the Islamic terrorists who want nothing more than to eradicate Jews from the face of the earth.

If ever there were a case for removing a traitor from a “Jewish” publication, it is you. You are a pogrom all by yourself.

Bunnie Meyer
via e-mail

In “Shutting Jewish Mouths” (Feb. 16), Jewish Journal Editor in Chief Rob Eshman makes an almost comical argument: the American Jewish Committee can stop Peace Now’s abusive criticism of Israel.

But pacifists, whether in England in the 1930s, West Germany in the 1970s or in the West today, always blame the victim first.

Thus, while friends of Israel seek to improve Israel’s public image, Peace Now supplies the raw materials for anti-Israel coverage. While Israel seeks new markets for its products, Peace Now assists in economic boycotts. While the IDF maps Iranian nuclear sites, Peace Now maps settlements. While Hamas prepares to introduce sharia, or Islamic law, into the formerly “occupied” Gaza strip, Peace Now advocates splitting Jerusalem. While Hezbollah and Syria plan another round of missile strikes, Peace Now demands that Israel surrender the Golan.

It’s true that we all love Israel. But love from pacifists tends to hurt — a lot.

Nathan D. Wirtschafter
Rehovot, Israel

Justice Takes a Beating

Joe R. Hicks’ otherwise excellent article about the sentence of freedom given to the gang that nearly beat to death three innocent young girls on the street while screaming anti-white racial epithets against them left out the most important information: the judge’s name (“Justice Takes a Beating in Racial Hatred Case,” Feb. 16).

It is Superior Court Judge Gibson Lee, not only the object of worldwide scorn via the Internet and talk radio, but thankfully the subject of a recall petition. Lee is a disgrace to the bench and to America, and should resign immediately.

Caroline Miranda
North Hollywood

Dennis Prager

In the course of his lukewarm, non-defense of Dennis Prager, David Klinghoffer adds insult to injury by claiming that the “Muslim scriptures do not deserve” the same recognition as the Bible because “what has made America so special” can be traced to “a unique blending of Christian and Jewish beliefs,” in which the “Quran played no role whatsoever” (“Prager Shouldn’t Lose His Museum Post,” Feb. 16).

Klinghoffer needs to go back and study his U.S. history. What made America so special is not some Christian/Jewish exclusion of other religions, but the inclusive principle of religious tolerance.

Campaigning for religious freedom in Virginia, Thomas Jefferson demanded recognition of the religious rights of the “Mahamdan,” the Jew and the “pagan.” Richard Henry Lee asserted: “True freedom embraces the Mahomitan and the Gentoo [Hindu] as well as the Christian religion.”

Jefferson recounted that in the struggle to pass his landmark Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom (1786), the Virginia legislature “rejected by a great majority” an effort to limit the bill’s scope, “in proof that they meant to comprehend, within the mantle of its protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mahometan.”

Officials in Massachusetts were equally insistent that their influential Constitution of 1780 afforded “the most ample liberty of conscience … to Deists, Mahometans, Jews and Christians.”

If the Situation Were Reversed


What would happen if a Palestinian terrorist were to detonate a bomb at the entrance to an apartment building in Israel and cause the death of an elderly man in a wheelchair, who would later be found buried under the rubble of the building? The country would be profoundly shocked. Everyone would talk about the sickening cruelty of the act and its perpetrators. The shock would be even greater if it then turned out that the dead man’s wife had tried to dissuade the terrorist from blowing up the house, telling him that there were people inside, but to no avail. The tabloids would come out with the usual screaming headline: "Buried alive in his wheelchair." The terrorists would be branded "animals."

Last Monday, Israel Defense Forces (IDF) bulldozers in Khan Yunis, in the Gaza Strip, demolished the home of Ibrahim Halfalla, a 75-year-old disabled man and father of seven, and buried him alive. Umm-Basel, his wife, says she tried to stop the driver of the heavy machine by shouting, but he paid her no heed. The IDF termed the act "a mistake that shouldn’t have happened," and the incident was noted in passing in Israel. The country’s largest-circulation paper, Yedioth Ahronoth, didn’t bother to run the story at all. The blood libel in France — a woman’s tale of being subjected to an anti-Semitic attack, which later turned out to be fiction — proved a great deal more upsetting to people. There we thought the assault was aimed against our people. But when the IDF bulldozes a disabled Palestinian to death? Not a story. Just like the killing, under the rubble of her home, of Noha Maqadama, a woman in her ninth month of pregnancy, before the eyes of her husband and children, in El Boureij refugee camp a few months earlier.

And what would happen if a Palestinian were to shoot an Israeli university lecturer and his son in front of his wife and their young son? That’s what happened 10 days ago in the case of Dr. Salem Khaled, from Nablus, who called to the soldiers from the window of his house because he was a man of peace and the front door had jammed, so he couldn’t get out. The soldiers shot him to death and then killed his 16-year-old son before the eyes of his mother and his 11-year-old brother. It’s not hard to imagine how we would react to the story if the victims were ours.

But when we’re implicated and the victims are Palestinians, we prefer to avert our eyes, not to know, not to take an interest and certainly not to be shocked. Palestinian victims — and their numbers, as everyone knows, are far greater than ours — don’t even merit newspaper reports, not even when the chain of events is particularly brutal, as in the examples given. This is not an intellectual exercise but an attempt to demonstrate the concealment of information, the double morality and the hypocrisy. The indifference to these two very recent incidents proved again that in our eyes there is only one victim and all the others will never be considered victims.

If a European cabinet minister were to declare, "I don’t want these long-nosed Jews to serve me in restaurants," all of Europe would be up in arms and this would be the minister’s last comment as a minister. Three years ago, our former labor and social affairs minister, Shlomo Benizri, from Shas, stated: "I can’t understand why slanty-eyed types should be the ones to serve me in restaurants." Nothing happened. We are allowed to be racists. And if a European government were to announce that Jews are not permitted to attend Christian schools? The Jewish world would rise up in protest. But when our Education Ministry announces that it will not permit Arabs to attend Jewish schools in Haifa, it’s not considered racism. Only in Israel could this not be labeled racist. The heritage of Golda Meir — it was she who said that after what the Nazis did to us, we can do whatever we want — is now having a late and unfortunate revival.

What would happen if a certain country were to enact legislation forbidding members of a particular nation to become citizens there, no matter what the circumstances, including mixed couples who married and raised families? No country anywhere enacts laws like these nowadays, apart from Israel. If the Cabinet extends the validity of the new citizenship law today, Palestinians will not be able to undergo naturalization here, even if they are married to Israelis. We have the right, you see. And if the illegal Israeli immigrants in the United States were hunted down like animals in the dark of night, the way the Immigration Police do here, would we have a better understanding of the injustice we are doing to a community that wants nothing other than to work here?

What would we say if the parents of Israeli emigrants were separated from their children and deported, without having available any avenue of naturalization, no matter what the circumstances? And how would we classify a country that interrogates visitors about their political opinions as soon as they disembark from the plane at the airport and bars them from entering it the security authorities look askance at the opinions they express? What would happen if anti-Semites in France were to poison the drinking water of a Jewish neighborhood? Last week settlers poisoned a well at Atawana, in the southern Mount Hebron region, and the police are investigating.

And we still haven’t said anything about a country that would imprison another nation, or about a regime that would prevent access to medical treatment for some of its subjects, according to its national identity, about roads that would be open only to the members of one nation or about an airport that would be closed to the other nation. All this is happening in Israel and is pulling from under us the moral ground that makes it possible for us to complain about racism and anti-Semitism abroad, even when they actually erupt.

Reprinted with permission of Haaretz © 2004.


Gideon Levy writes for Haaretz.