Fate inserts assorted unexpected subplots into our lives. Some months ago, a reader from Germany responded to a column of mine in so insightful a manner that I thought it merits acknowledgment. From there sprang forth a friendship by e-mail that still thrives. This non-Jewish German friend quickly explained that his unwavering support for Israel is by no means the bon ton of his Bavarian milieu and that his outspokenness on its behalf hardly enhances his popularity.
A relative of his, a philosophy professor who currently teaches in China, won’t hear of visiting Israel due to its “flagrant human rights violations.”
But aren’t Beijing’s abuses, pressed my Internet interlocutor, far more off-putting?
China, retorted the professor, “clearly imposes capital punishment according to the law. Hence any reasonable person must arrive at the conclusion that China is a Rechtsstaat” – a state of justice. Not so Israel, judges the professor. “What law anywhere permits bombardment of Hamas training camps? Israel therefore is a Räuberland” – robbers’ land. The professor stresses that he wouldn’t even dignify Israel with the title of “state.”
It didn’t end there. My friend wondered whether double standards, demonization and delegitimization of Israel don’t attest to anti-Semitism (as per Natan Sharansky’s three-D test). The professor stood his ground: “If you want to know why anti-Semitism is resurfacing, ask all those people who had lost money and whose living standards were lowered. You will then hear names like Goldman-Sachs and Lehman Brothers and you will know why.”
The Jewish collective is clearly held liable for the conduct of individuals. It matters nothing that publicly traded companies like Lehman’s and Goldman’s haven’t been necessarily or exclusively Jewish-run for years. Non-Jewish names like Bear Stearns, Merrill Lynch or Morgan Stanley obviously trigger no hostility.
My friend recently attended a family birthday party where one of the guests, a retired German judge, opined that “you can’t make peace with a Jew.”
Plain and simple with no reservations or elucidations. His flat-out ruling went unchallenged by any of the celebrants. It was axiomatic.
Those among us who still strive to pretend that Jew-revulsion isn’t a formative factor out there may dismiss these as irrelevant anecdotes. But they aren’t. They are crucial facts of life which many Israelis and Jews prefer to repress.
It’s more comforting to make believe that we don’t face bottomless blind hate which we cannot moderate. It’s distressing to recognize that underlying animus (even when camouflaged and rationalized) poisons minds and tilts the scales forcefully against Israel in the kangaroo court of world opinion.
It’s disagreeable to realize that de rigueur Israel-bashing has unleashed latent predilections which, despite their transitory apparent abeyance, festered beneath the floorboards of human decency. They aren’t really suppressed even in a country like Germany, where minimal introspection and circumspection (not just on the official level) may be expected.
Admitting that the cards are stacked against us, that there’s little we can do to make ourselves better liked, goes against the ancient Jewish instinct to ingratiate ourselves. We want the world to appreciate the real us – virtuous, liberal and altruistic to a fault.
It’s reassuring to assume, even if misguidedly, that everything hinges on our improving our behavior. That imparts a semblance of control. The reverse awareness, even though eminently accurate, is agonizing. It implies lack of control.
It tells us that even our best conduct can’t change the way we’re perceived. We cannot face-lift our image. We can explain ourselves till we’re hoarse and employ the most ostensibly effective and sophisticated PR, but it won’t make an iota of a difference. We’ll end up convincing ourselves, preaching to the choir and not getting so much as a polite hearing abroad.
THAT’S WHAT happened in the Gaza-bound flotilla’s case. We couldn’t emerge smelling sweet no matter how things were handled. Our hankering after good press is essentially what emboldened the Mavi Marmara terrorists to resort to homicidal violence against our commandos. We willingly fell for the illusory façade of “aid ships” ferrying pacifist, “Kumbaya”-crooning philanthropists.
We fell for their mendacious mantras because we desired to show restraint and to regard the Mavi Marmara’s Hamas/Muslim Brotherhood passengers in the same amiable light that their propaganda radiated throughout Europe and in America’s “progressive” enclaves. We wanted to be just as loved in those same quarters. We declined to delve into why terror mongers are endeared and why we, who seek to defend ourselves, are so vilified.
Refusing to look unpleasant truth squarely in the face, we sent naval units to a violent encounter armed with paint-ball guns. The shipboard Hamas-boosters promised nothing but passive noncompliance and we chose not to remember that even when Arabs blow up fast food eateries and lob rockets into a sleepy outlying town, they manipulatively resort to “human rights” and “resistance” terminology.
If anything, we were guilty only of wishful thinking. It’s therefore especially galling that Israel’s most ardent promoters of such wishful thinking and self-deception are our loudest Monday-morning quarterbacks, the ones who most vehemently let us know (in retrospect, of course) which moves the government should have made. Their hindsight, as always, is remarkably flawless.
But self-flagellation is fundamentally futile. There is no way Israel could have won or could win the world’s sympathy. In the recesses of too many minds within the supposedly enlightened international community dwells the notion that Jews are inherently to blame for whatever befalls them. It’s nothing new. It’s unrelated to any policy practiced by any Israeli government. It predates Israel.
It can be monstrous.
In 1858 Bologna the Papal Police burst into the Mortara home and abducted the Jewish family’s six-year-old son, Edgardo. The pretext was that sometime during his infancy, Edgardo’s nanny surreptitiously baptized him. The Vatican remained impervious to the widespread outcry and the distraught family’s entreaties. Pope Pius IX “adopted” the child and kept him cloistered in a monastery. Edgardo was never returned. In time he was ordained a priest and dispatched to proselytize Jews.
Yet Pius IX managed to blame the Jews for the outrage. He maintained the parents could have Edgardo back instantly, if only they would convert. When they refused, Pius cleansed his hands: Obstinate Jews inflict pain on themselves. All the Mortaras had to do was give in.
The identical message resonates today. Obstinate Israel inflicts pain. All it needs to do is voluntarily capitulate. Otherwise, it will be pilloried.
My late father used to say: “We will be condemned whatever we do, but to be condemned for nothing is stupid. We ought to at least earn the inevitable censure, deserve it just a bit.”
The sooner we come to grips with this reality – unlovely as it is – the better for our national psyche. We have to do what’s good for us and not view ourselves through lenses tinted by the prevalent likes of the above-mentioned professor and judge.