Part I Israel Gives Jews a Bad Name
When I was growing up in a Jewish community in New York in the late fifties, there was a predictable collective response to news events that expressed itself in one question:
“Is it good for the Jews?”
Many persecuted minorities made up largely of immigrants operate in an inward looking culture characterized by a fear of persecution, and a desire to keep a low profile for fear of stirring up anti-semitism or just “trouble.”
Jews who have been victimized throughout history tend to look at the world though the prism of that victimization, even when their own community is being viewed by others as victimizers. Their fears are easily manipulated with appeals to a collective memory.
Back in my youth, every time some big crook’s picture was splashed in the tabloids, I was reassured by being told, at least he isn’t Jewish.’ Although later, I learned about Jewish gangsters like Meyer Lansky who practically ran the Mafia. If you want proof, rent one of those Godfather movies.
Later, I learned from YIVO, The Institute for Jewish Research, there had been as many Jewish criminals in our community as in others, Learning about this helped me contextualize what I came to see as a perversion of Jewish values into a dominant Zionist narrative that embraced or ignored crimes from the earliest days of the conquest of Palestine up through the current war on the people of Gaza.
Jewish writers have not downplayed this history, reports the YIVO Encyclopedia that even speaks of Jews from Latin America:
“Literary stereotypes, exemplified by the refined Jewish pimp in Sholem Aleichem’s short story “A mentsh fun Buenos-Ayres” (A Man from Buenos Aires; 1909) created the image of white slavery as a quintessentially Jewish occupation. Scholars remain divided as to the extent to which Jews were disproportionately represented in the trade. The association of Jews with international prostitution prompted energetic communal initiatives in Europe and in the Americas against gangs of Jewish procurers.”
Once Israel was established after a war of terror against the British, the new government began to eradicate all vestiges of Jewish institutions, replacing thousands of years of Yiddish –language culture—which they saw as a culture of weakness—with Hebrew and the cult of the macho sabra and military heroism.
This attitude infests the whole society despite formal equality for woman. In a recent interview, Joanne Zack-Pakes, director of Open Door Counseling Centers, the flagship project of the Israel Family Planning Association, speaks of an Israeli Culture “that is very sexual, but specifically a culture shaped by macho sexuality and male power.”
No wonder, soon, the Kibbutzim that relied on Jewish labor to avoid exploiting Arabs were gone. The Labor Movement was gone. The right became ascendant. The seeds of hatred and contempt towards Palestinians were planted and nurtured as their communities were displaced from the own lands by a settler-run almost colonial society. It based itself on occupied lands all in the name of a questionable biblical mythology. Noam Chomsky says it is not like South Africa’s apartheid. It’s worse.
Now, let’s fast-forward into the present, in the era of Wall Street with a disproportionate number of leading Jewish bankers and lawyers, including, until recently, Bernard Madoff who typified the hypocrisy of being a prominent philanthropist while at the same time, a skillful and serial financial gangster, not above ripping off Jewish charities and the rich and poor alike. He even took money from Eli Wiesel, the pro-Israeli author of prize-winning books on the holocaust and a backer of the Israeli firsters.
I cite all this not to feed the racist and fabricated conspiracy theorists that have been blaming “the Jews” for everything from time immoral, from the fraudulent “protocols of Zion” conspiracy through the ravings of Nazis then and now.
My concern is more internal. What has our community done to reinforce our own stereotypes, and actively, if not aggressively, cultivated a reputation for “toughness” as an antidote to the well known but misleading image of a people who passively went to the gas chambers?
In some circles, Jews blame themselves while vowing “Never Again” and supporting or rationalizing extreme militarism, and systematic human rights abuses. in the name of Israel and Jewish survival.
The extremist Jewish right-wing encourages us to be even tougher, to forget about standing up for justice and identifying with oppressed people. An article in leftist turned rightist, David Horowitz’s website, FrontPage, features a prominent U.S. PR expert, Ronn Torrossian, singing the praises of “the top Ten Living Tough Jews.”
“The list of the Top 10 Living Tough Jews it is not only about brute physical strength,” he writes, “ it is about a people who are smart, strong, resilient, rugged, bold and fearless,”
This is a reflection of good, tough Jews who are positive representations of the Jewish people, (no gangsters here) – don’t let a yarmulke fool you.”
And, yet, who tops his toughnesss list of role models, the people he wants us to emulate?
1.“Israel Defense Forces: All of the men and women of the Israel Defense Forces – the holy Jewish army are the toughest (and holiest) Jews one can ever imagine. They protect the people of Israel against tremendous odds, and with Israel’s survival threatened daily these Jews are consummate warriors, fighting not only for a country but for an important ideal.”
Weighing in at number 8 is none other the number one funder of America’s right-wing politicians, the man every GOP hopeful sucks up to: Sheldon Adelson. “The richest Jew in the world, Adelson, is famously resilient, stubborn and focused on winning. The son of Jewish immigrants, Adelson grew up lower-class, dropped out of the City College of New York – and has built one of the largest casino empires in the world?”
You get the idea. Be tough. Become a zillionaire. And run a country that now has the fourth largest military in the world (US funded of course) that can target an overcrowded ghetto like Gaza—not unlike those many Jews were once forced to live in—turning it into a shooting gallery for the most sophisticated weaponry, all justified as necessary for their country’s survival.
Writer and former New York Times correspondent Chris Hedges who reported from Gaza, calls Israel’s tough guy but very slick PR campaign, “the Big Lie.”
“The Big Lie makes it clear to the Palestinians that Israel will continue to wage a campaign of state terror and will never admit its atrocities or its intentions,“ he writes.
“The vast disparity between what Israel says and what Israel does tells the Palestinians that there is no hope. Israel will do and say whatever it wants. International law, like the truth, will always be irrelevant. There will never, the Palestinians understand from the Big Lie, be an acknowledgement of reality by the Israeli leadership.
Hedges adds, “Israel’s ambassador to the United States, Ron Dermer, in a Big Lie of his own, said last month at a conference of Christians United for Israel that the Israeli army should be given the “Nobel Peace Prize … a Nobel Peace Prize for fighting with unimaginable restraint…. The Big Lie destroys any possibility of history and therefore any hope for a dialogue between antagonistic parties that can be grounded in truth and reality.”
To Jewish Rabbis like Michael Lerner, it’s not just the truth that is being trashed. It is Judaism itself.
He writes on Salon: “…it is the brutality of that assault which finally has broken me into tears and heartbreak. While claiming that it is only interested in uprooting tunnels that could be used to attack Israel, the IDF has engaged in the same criminal (emphasis mine) behavior that the world condemns in other struggles around the world: the intentional targeting of civilians (the same crime that Hamas has been engaged in over the years in its bombing of Sdeyrot and its current targeting of Israeli population centers, thankfully unsuccessfully, which correctly has earned it the label as a terrorist organization).
Using the excuse that Hamas is using civilians as “human shields” and placing its war material in civilian apartments, a claim that a UN human rights investigatory commission found groundless when it was used the last time Israel invaded Gaza in 2008-2009 and engaged in similar levels of killing civilians), Israel has managed to kill over 1,500 Palestinians and has wounded over 8,000 thousand more.”
On and on he goes, as someone who has backed Israel for years, excoriating the way Israel’s needs and Zionist ideology as defined by a harsh right-wing government, dominated by a military dominated “security cabinet, “has come to speak for and define the needs of Jews in the world.
He realizes that Israel. by use of military power, political lobbying and media manipulation now defines the narrarative of what being Jewish is supposed to be.
Critics, especially Jews like myself, are dismissed, and marginalized if not attacked violently in Israel and labeled as “self-haters” for not embracing this redefinition of Judaism as militarism, idealism as authoritarianism, and a new fascism with a Hebrew face.
Rabbi Lerner of Tikkun Magazine adds, “I’m heartbroken to see the Judaism of love and compassion being dismissed as “unrealistic” by so many of my fellow Jews and rabbis. Wasn’t the central message of Torah that the world was ruled by a force that made possible the transformation from “that which is” to “that which can and should be”? And wasn’t our task to teach the world that nothing is fixed, that even the mountains can skip like young rams and the seas can flee before the triumph of God’s justice in the world?
Instead of preaching this hopeful message, too many rabbis and rabbinical institutions are preaching a Judaism that places more hope in the might of the Israeli army than in the capacity of human beings (including Palestinians) to transform their perception of “the other” and overcome their fears.”
So whatever Israel is “winning,” the Jewish People are loosing. The key lesson of the holocaust was human rights of all peoples need protection. That is not a lesson that the droning on robots of Israel’s Sparta-like Israeli PR Army has any use for.
The rest of the world is judging us. Jews have to judge us well.
Let me close with the words of Ahmad Kathrada who spent 26 years in prison in South Africa alongside Nelson Mandela , and was considered his closest comrade, He recently visited Palestine and said it felt all too familiar. He wrote recenty:
“What worries me is the sheer impunity with which Israel acts. It reminds me of the many years that apartheid was allowed to flourish in South Africa with little constructive action on the part of the major powers such as the US, France, Germany and the UK, including some of the leading Arab states such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt.
“While writing this, my thoughts go back to August-September of 1951, when I visited the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland. I find myself asking: “Has apartheid Israel so quickly forgotten the millions of Jews, communists and gypsies who were exterminated by the Nazis, that they now commit the same crimes?”
Can his observation also be applied to Israel, and all the countries like our own, that fall over each other endorsing what Israel says and then ignoring what it does
Among the other more immediate crimes against Palestinians, international law and history, Israel gives Jews a bad name.
Israel Is Bad for The Jews, Part 2
New York, New York: I would have become a rich man in the Fiddler in The Roof sense if each of the insults, putdowns and venomous asides about my recent article, “Israel Is Bad For The Jews,” had a monetary value.
For so many years, we used to joke, “Five Jews, Ten Opinions,” as a comment about the perennial, ongoing and never ending arguments and debates that made our culture so rich with its many religious tendencies—Reform, Conservative and Orthodox, and their many spinoffs competing over the best way to serve God.
Politically, we had more organizations and positions than any one Jew has fingers, as conservatives battled liberals, Zionists quarreled with anti-Zionists, and the many factions of the left and the right battled each other.
This rich diversity of perspective is what spawned so many passionate writers, and engaged intellectuals to pick over the carcass of our history, and its many interpretations of what Judaism is and what are the right values and beliefs to guide us.
Even in our Passover Seders, in the modern form and ancient traditions, we sang of our differences, with subtlety and irony. There were always moral choices. Never one answer!
Isn’t it sad today when Jewish critics write about Israel, the content of their concerns are dismissed, apriori, and answered by by an endless spew of personal attacks on their character.
When it comes to this issue, only one correct party line, pro-Netanyahu position masquerading as support for country that is always facing threats, especially when funds are to be raised.
If you think the Stalinists kowtowed to a party line, check out the Zionists. There used to be disputes between many Labor Zionist groups with each other while the Settlers had their own differences and fanatics.
Now, there is no tolerance for anyone you disagree with. There is little difference been some of the religious autocrats there and the mullahs in Iran. Tehran has its ayatollah and Israel its “Security Cabinet!” Who cares about debate in the Knesset?
Only one line is allowed—or else. Figure out why l00 members of the 100 member U.S. Senate groveled before embracing Israel in the same resolution, and you will understand the way this game is played.
Dissent, however mild or reasonable, is not permitted. It’s always their way or the highway! We are supposed to hail AIPAC the way the Romans hailed Caesar.
Disagree, and quickly, life-long semites become anti-Semites, and people who love justice are blasted as haters, guilty for even invoking the names of people of deep knowledge like that son of a Rabbi, Noam Chomsky, a moral conscience and national treasure, now in his 80’s.
Chomsky, oy vey, has heard it all from all sides, but keeps going!
May we all sing, “bidi-bidi-bum?”
As a graduate of a Jewish School, albeit not a religious one, who took pride in his culture and identity, I am a pronounced a “Jew hater,” an anti-Semite, and, to boot, an ignoramus, even an enemy!
Oh, yes, also, as one respondent told me, I am as bad as HAMMAS (misspelled!)
My article appeared on several sites including The JewishReporter.com. I was told that many of the site’s supporters demanded I be silenced, and my article be taken down, I guess as heresy.
(It’s too bad the “Scarlet Letter” is not in vogue anymore even if Jews know all too well the way how our ancestors were forced to wear stars of David and later concentration camp numbers. It didn’t matter what you thought, it was who you were,)
Dr, Avi Perry, a technologist who appears on PalTalk shot off a “Dear Danny” letter to me to share his wounded feelings:
“I have known you as a far-leftist who bashes Israel at every opportunity, but your recent article, titled: “Israel Gives Jews A Bad Name” exposed your own ingrained Jew-hating tendencies….
“Your article and your assertions are wreaked with the same blind spots that every antisemite and every Jew-hater embraces inside their souls.
“Calling Israel an apartheid state is an insult to the word – apartheid. Did South Africa afford voting rights to its black residents? Did the true apartheid regime have a black resident on their Supreme Court? Did they have blacks (who preached white genocide) as members of Parliament? Did white folks in apartheid South Africa work for black supervisors? Did black doctors work in white hospitals, treating white folks as well? There are hundreds more examples of how prejudiced you are. You clearly don’t know what you are talking about.
“You quote Noam Chomsky — the most supreme Jew-hater in history. (I noted that he said Israel was not like South Africa, but worse!)
“You provide proof for Meir Lansky’s crimes from a movie —a fiction-based novel” Etc. Etc.
Oops, and now, the closer: “And finally, there is plenty more I could say to you and to those who share your antisemitic views. But it will take a whole book, and I’m not in the mood to write one at this moment.”
Never mind that I have written books, articles and produced a TV series about South Africa. And, never mind, that on this past Saturday one hundred thousand South Africans marched in solidarity with the Palestinians of Gaza, You would think their memory of Apartheid qualified them to make that parallel.
But never mind…
My friend, the distinguished African journalist and editor, Marie-Roger Biloa wrote to me from Paris, when I told her about the nasty response, “that is usual, stupefying that so many Jews, among the best and the brightest, just do not understand and accept that people protest in the streets against Israel’s policy. I just listened to a German Jewish writer lashing out at “antisemitism disguised as anti-zionism.”
No doubt, the vehemence of my critic’s views, and his immediate labeling of me as antisemitic or worse, speaks to how cantankerous the discourse on this subject has become.
It is now verboten to challenge the consensus of the Israel firsters who speak not just in sanctimonious defense of a state dominated by a malicious far right-wing government, but make it appear they are speaking for all Jews everywhere. All that takes is a couple of hundred million for PR and media spin.
Sadly, this tendency has become true of a onetime hero of mine, Elie Wiesel, with whom I produced a TV pilot for public television. (I didn’t have the heart to tell him that the station, WNET in New York, rejected the series because they thought his accent would limit is appeal. That smelled like antisemitsm to me at the time.)
Wiesel, whose books turned him into the moral Ambassador for World Jewry because of his reputation as a powerful speaker and holocaust survivor, now is Israel’s #1 defender without every really disclosing how right wing his politics have become.
According to the Electronic Intifada, “Wiesel has been a chair of the advisory board of Elad, a group of fanatical religious Israeli setters actively involved in ethnic cleansing of Palestinians from the eastern sector of occupied Jerusalem.”
Now Wiesel is leading a campaign to further demonize Palestinians
Press Release: “Rabbi Shmuley Boteach has released a stirring advertising campaign that is accusing Hamas of child sacrifice. Along with Nobel Peace Laureate, Elie Wiesel, the ads will run in leading American publications including: The Washington Post, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Chicago Tribune, The Los Angeles Times, The Miami Herald, as well as an extensive social media campaign.
This World Founder Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, stated, “Our purpose is to bring one of the greatest moral voices of our time and one of the most respected human beings alive, who bore witness to the atrocities of genocide and the Holocaust, to respond to the ugly and fraudulent criticisms of Israel and call for an end to the genocidal aspirations of Hamas.”
These ads have triggered a press controversy with the usually conservative Murdoch owned title, The Times, refusing to run it while the usually progressive Guardian carrying it in England. Palestinians call it an incitement to genocide and question its accuracy.
The Israeli Writer, Gilad Alzmon, blasts Wiesel, a personality who until now is usually revered as a human rights hero.
“The ad’s headline reads: “Jews rejected child sacrifice 3,500 years ago. Now it’s Hamas’ turn.” Wiesel’s statement is a blatant lie and the London Times knew it.
Jews have never stopped sacrificing their children. The Hannibal Protocol is an IDF directive that orders soldiers to take ‘necessary measures’ to prevent their comrades from being captured by enemy forces. ‘Necessary measures’ include risking the life of the Israeli soldier and anyone who happens to be in his vicinity. Similarly, the Kastner Affair shows that at the peak of the Shoah, Ben Gurion and the Zionist establishment were willing to sacrifice many Jewish lives on the altar of the Zionist goal.”
Over 100 Jewish survivors and descendants of Jewish survivors of the Nazi genocide have signed on to a letter condemning the invasion of Gaza and “speak out against the abuse of their histories to promote the dehumanization of Palestinians advanced by Elie Wiesel among others.”
They write, “…we are disgusted and outraged by Elie Wiesel’s abuse of our history in these pages to promote blatant falsehoods used to justify the unjustifiable: Israel’s wholesale effort to destroy Gaza and the murder of nearly 2,000 Palestinians, including many hundreds of children. Nothing can justify bombing UN shelters, homes, hospitals and universities. Nothing can justify depriving people of electricity and water.
…We call for the full economic, cultural and academic boycott of Israel. “Never again” must mean NEVER AGAIN FOR ANYONE!”
Another Israeli, Miko Peled, is speaking out too. He was born in Jerusalem; His grandfather, Avraham Katsnelson, signed Israel’s Declaration of Independence; His father, Mattityahu Peled, fought in the 1948 war, and was a general in the war of 1967.
Sadly, His 13-year-old niece Smadar was killed in a suicide attack in Jerusalem. At her funeral, according to an article summarizing Peled’s book, Ehud Barak, who had just been elected to lead the opposition, explained that “in order to win votes he must disguise his real intentions as a ‘peacemaker.” In reply, Peled said, “Why not tell the truth … That this and similar tragedies are taking place because we are occupying another nation and that in order to save lives the right thing to do is to end the occupation and negotiate a just peace with our Palestinian partners?”
Peled is among many Israelis who challenge Israeli militarism. But is the Palestinians who are forced to live with it, with many not making it.
Read this story and weep:
“When Ahmed Owedat returned to his home 18 days after Israeli soldiers took it over in the middle of the night, he was greeted with an overpowering stench.
He picked through the wreckage of his possessions thrown from upstairs windows to find that the departing troops had left a number of messages. One came from piles of feces on his tiled floors and in wastepaper baskets, and a plastic bottle filled with urine.
If that was not clear enough, the words “Fuck Hamas” had been carved into a concrete wall in the staircase. “Burn Gaza down” and “Good Arab = dead Arab” were engraved on a coffee table. The star of David was drawn in blue in a bedroom.”
Why is Israel bad for the Jews? Reflect on that smell as if it was in your home. I reported on a very similar report on the IDF’s trashing of a community Media Center in Ramallah years ago.
That is the smell and face of hate, and more than a big oy vey.
News Dissector/filmmaker Danny Schechter blogs at Mediachannel.org and edits Mediachannel.org
By Danny Schechter, teleSur