Among the harm that hardline Israeli policies have inflicted on Judaism is the erosion of the traditional Jewish tolerance toward dissent, now virtually forbidden if it involves criticizing Israel, as Danny Schechter learned when he asserted that “Israel is bad for the Jews.”
By Danny Schechter
I would have become a rich man in “The Fiddler on 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! “Dayenu” anyone?
Isn’t it sad today when Jewish critics write about Israel, the content of their concerns are dismissed, a priori, and answered 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 a country which 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. Many Labor Zionist groups used to have disputes with each other, while the settler movement had its own differences and fanatics. Now, there is no tolerance for anyone who disagrees with you. There is little difference between some of the religious autocrats in Israel and the mullahs in Iran. Tehran has its Supreme Ruler and Israel has its “Security Cabinet.” Who cares about democracy in the Knesset?
Only one line is allowed or else. Figure out why 100 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 my culture and identity, I am a pronounced a “Jew hater,” an anti-Semite, and, to boot, an ignoramus, even an enemy! Oh, yes, 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 had 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 100,000 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 anti-Semitic 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 to achieve is a couple of hundred million dollars 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. Too Jewish? That smelled like anti-Semitism 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 No. 1 defender without ever 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 settlers 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 carried it in England. Palestinians called it an incitement to genocide and questioned 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, Peled’s 13-year-old niece Smadar was killed in a suicide attack in Jerusalem. At her funeral, according to an article summarizing Peled’s book, The General’s Son, 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 it 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 faeces 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 were in your home. I reported on a very similar situation involving 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. Comments to [email protected].