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Wednesday, November 05, 2003

If only we could be left in peace

Banagor's piece (directly below) has made me think about waiting, and about the affects of prolonged waiting. I wrote this next bit a year ago; it was published in the Boulder Weekly.

At that time, I thought that if people had the facts, knew the history, they would be open to learning, to changing their minds. I don't think so anymore. (At least it's only happened once that I know of during the intervening year.)

I am more discouraged now than I was then. I am more likely to shake my head than to gasp when Israel is accused of anything evil under the sun. It is deeply disturbing that I see myself becoming acclimated to antisemitism.

So I'm posting this piece because it marks a year for me, because I miss that freshness in my outrage that seems young and naive in retrospect and because with so much talk now about the Holocaust, we forget the rest of it.

Besides, it's my blog, and I can if I want to.
Atmara Nareem accuses me of supporting apartheid, segregation and ethnic cleansing ("Of Zionists and Jews," Letters, Oct. 10). The writer insinuates that there are logical and apparently compelling reasons for anti-Semitism. S/he cites Zionists "promoting themselves as Jews" and makes the especially repugnant statement that "Zionism is about Jews being a chosen people, a master race."

Charges of apartheid and segregation are meant to associate Israel's treatment of the Palestinians with the official racial segregation formerly practiced in South Africa. Blacks were a majority in that country yet had neither citizenship nor voting rights. In striking contrast, Israel's citizens are from more than 100 countries, of all colors and races, and include Jews (80 percent), Muslims and Christians. All Israeli citizens have equal rights by law. The Palestinians are not citizens of Israel, but live in disputed territories won by Israel in a war forced upon her in 1967. Israel has not annexed those territories, but has repeatedly offered land for peace, graduated independence and negotiation of boundaries. The Palestinian Authority's response has been to increasingly foment terrorist violence. The situation tragically remains unresolved, but it is not apartheid and not analogous to South Africa.

Ethnic cleansing is too serious a charge to be casually asserted. Ethnic cleansing means genocide, and genocide means the murder of an entire people or ethnic group. It is insanely fraudulent to accuse Israel of this. When Israeli forces go into disputed territories to take out terrorists, their arms and explosives, non-combatants are sometimes injured or killed. That's not ethnic cleansing, that's war. And if the Palestinians don't want war, Israel would be glad to hear them say so.

Nareem's thinking about anti-Semitism is disturbing. While I have nothing new to offer in this centuries-old conversation, I strongly object to the idea, likewise ancient, that anti-Semitism stems from the attitudes, philosophies or behaviors of the Jews.

Anti-Semitism is the hatred and persecution of Jews as a group, simply because they are Jews. I can give here only a tiny glimpse of the extent of it in time and space.

The earliest occasion of which I am aware is the forcible deportation of Jews from the land of Israel to Babylonia in 597 Before the Common Era (BCE). These were the first homesick, the first Zionists ("By the rivers of Babylon we sat down and wept when we remembered Zion"-Psalm 137).

In 627 BCE, Islamists publicly beheaded some 800 Jewish men in Medina and enslaved the women and children. We were expelled from Rome by the emperor Claudius in 49 CE, from the Holy Land by the Romans in 137. The Byzantine Empire forbade study of the Torah in 553, and Jews were kicked out of Spain for the first time in 694. We've been expelled from France probably six times, and Switzerland four.

When the Crusaders captured Jerusalem, they herded the city's Jews into a synagogue and set it ablaze. In 1190, hundreds of Jews killed themselves at York rather than submit to forced baptism. Twenty-four wagonloads of Talmud and other sacred texts were burned in Paris in 1242. King Louis IX of France decreed that Jews wear a distinctive yellow badge-seven centuries before the Holocaust. The Jews of Basle were burned alive in wooden houses especially constructed for that purpose.

In 1492, we were expelled from Sicily, Sardinia, Lithuania and Spain. There was not another native Jewish child born in Spain until 1966.

During the 15th century, we were expelled from Arles, Italy, Carinthia, Austria, Portugal and Nuremberg. The 16th century saw Jews burned at the stake in Berlin and our sacred texts burned in Venice. In 1521, Arabs blamed Jewish use of wine for a severe water shortage in Jerusalem. The Jews of Barbados were forbidden to engage in retail trade. The Russian Cossack Chmielnicki, may he rot in hell, died in 1675 with the blood of more than 300,000 Jews on his hands.

In the 18th century, we were expelled from Brussels, the Ukraine, Little Russia, Great Russia, Prague, Bohemia, Moravia and Warsaw. Believe it or not, in 1862 Ulysses S. Grant expelled the Jews from what is today northern Mississippi, Kentucky and western Tennessee.

Arabs attacked a Jewish enclave called Petach Tikvah in 1866, the same Petach Tikvah where there was a suicide bombing in May of this year. The Jews of Tel Aviv were expelled by the Turks in 1914 and 1917. Jews were slaughtered during Arab riots in 1920, 1921, 1929 and 1936-39 in what Nareem must want to call "Palestine."

Then came the Holocaust, and the world closed its doors to Jews who sought to escape it.

Kristallnacht, Nov. 10, 1938, a coordinated Nazi attack on the Jews of all Germany, saw Jewish homes attacked, synagogues burned, bonfires of our holy books. The windows of all Jewish businesses and stores were smashed, covering the streets with the film of broken glass that gave the night its name.

Thirty-seven years later to the day, the U.N. General Assembly passed a resolution that "Zionism is a form of racism."

This is absolute rubbish. Zionism is the national liberation movement of the Jewish people, based on the conviction that we are entitled to live in freedom and security in our own homeland, like any other people. Zionism is simply our will to live.

"If we could only be left in peace.
But I think we shall not be left in peace"-
Theodor Herzl, 1896