Suppose that you are a Jew
, and that you were asked to view a movie in support the national cause of some Eastern or Central European state, newly freed from Russian domination. Suppose the movie greeted you with this accusatory harangue:
Dear Jews, we are going to keep our independence and our Christian religion despite your opposition. Your bigotry killed our Lord and savior. Your greed caused you to come here as tax collectors sent to exploit our people by kings. Your capitalism robbed our poor. Your power lust brought you here as officials of your Communist government to carry out purges, but you cannot take our country away from us now.
Would such a hypothetical appeal move you to support the independence of Belarus, Poland, or the Ukraine? Not very likely. It would probably make you feel you are an enemy of whoever wrote that text. Those who want to solicit the support of Jews and other outsiders usually have the sense not to reason in that way.
Imagine my reaction then, when I came across this text, part of an appeal for united Jerusalem:
Your inquisitions, pogroms, expulsions, the ghettos into which you jammed us, your forced baptisms, your quota systems, your genteel anti-Semitism, and the final unspeakable horror, the Holocaust (and worse, your terrifying disinterest in it)...
The text was incorporated in a letter written in 1969 and republished in revised form not long ago in the Jerusalem Post* A version of the text was also used into a brief movie posted at a "Jewish" Web site where it is attributed to someone else.
The "your" in the text may have been a rhetorical device. When it is spoken by a narrator with frantic urgency, the effect can be unnerving. It is the auditor who is now "you' who "owns" all these horrible crimes. The racing narration emphasizes the hysteria and paranoia that are inherent in the content. The rapid fire Jeremiad slams home the immediacy of the accusations against "YOU" - an anonymous and collective YOU that must include every non-Jew in the world, iand especially, the poor viewer of the film.
Whether the viewer is a 15 year old Baptist in Bethesda, a Congregationalist in Cape Cod, a Buddhist in Beijing, a Hindu in Hyderabad or a Taoist in Tokyo, the movie makes them "owners" of the Holocaust, anti-Semitism, pogroms and forced conversion They are liable to be convinced that all Jews must have a burning, paranoid hatred for all "Goyim" - all the "YOU." including themselves. Can we really blame them? That is what the text tells them, that in our eyes they are all Hitler, Torquemada and Loy Henderson rolled into one. Forget Irena Sendler, Oscar Schindler, Harry Truman, Arthur Balfour, Orde Wingate and every other one of the millions - or billions - of non-Jews who have sympathized with us, supported us, or helped Jews, sometimes at considerable risk to themselves. Ignore your non-Jewish neighbors and colleagues at work who may smile and be helpful. They must all be sinister enemies by definition. It is a conception of the world and the place of the Jews in that world, as hateful and unacceptable as the views of Jeremiah Wright or Louis Farrakhan about "White America" if not more so, and as grotesque as the ranting of Osama Bin Laden against "infidels."
As a public relations strategy, it is not constructive. Not many non-Jews will be big hearted enough to find this attitude deserving of respect and consideration, though one may hope that most people are intelligent enough to understand that that text doesn't represent the ideas of most Zionists.
The charitable comment of most non-Jews I asked was that in the best case it will be ineffective - pleading that can only "convince the convinced." It projects an image of Jews as vengeful and bitter, bad as a self-image as well as a public image. A Black Muslim may make similar claims based on historic mistreatment. They do not arouse your sympathy, do they? This film may well make enemies for Israel. Why would we need more enemies? It is one thing to say that we must be masters of our own fate and self-reliant. It is quite another to propagate the idea that everyone, or the majority of non-Jews, are our implacable enemies. This is a fairly efficient way to encourage those who were not yet enemies of the Jewish people to join the enemy camp, because we tell them that we view them as such.
Of course, not all parts of the letter or the movie are wrong. An injustice was done to the Jews in Jerusalem. We fought for what is ours, and it is ours by right. Every outrageous manifesto is invariably based on truth and distortion of truth. The text is remarkable not for the truths it states, but for the outrageous use to which it puts them.
Jerusalem has a special place in my heart and mind, not related to the Old Testament or national considerations. It was home to three generations of my family, and I lived there as well for a time. The earliest photo of my ancestors that I have was taken in Jerusalem. But this attachment has nothing to do with the Holocaust, ghettos and pogroms.
In my view, UN policy, including the policy of the United States, regarding unification of Jerusalem and internationalization of Jerusalem, the handling of the expulsion of Jews in 1948 and the subsequent denial of access to the holy places, has been unfair to the Jewish people, and has denied us our rights. It is certainly right to remind people of our rights and to defend those rights.
However, the hapless non-Jewish auditor is probably not at fault for the injustices regarding Jerusalem, much less for pogroms and ghettos. Even those who favored internationalization of Jerusalem, or who may today favor dividing Jerusalem in order to make peace, are not necessarily anti-Semites. In fact, many Jews also believe a compromise may be needed in Jerusalem. Do we really want to force all those people into identifying with the persecutors of the Jews? With Hitler, Eichmann and Torquemada? Can't we all distinguish between people who honestly disagree with our viewpoint, and those who are dangerous racists?
Many peoples have suffered, and might have a right to hate everyone else, including us, for the indifference of the rest of the world to their suffering. The Sudanese in Darfur, Africans brought to America as slaves, natives of North America, the countless victims of Stalin's nationalities policies, Tibetans, the Amazigh of North Africa, the Bahai of Iran, the Kurds and the Roma people ("gypsies"). We would not like to stand accused of being responsible for all their suffering, though it is certain that most of us did little or nothing to help them, because we could not do much. That is the way of the world.
It seems to me that this manic accusatory harangue is very "Jewish" in a way - a bad way. I pondered why and how this tactic of pleading a case has come to be accepted for Jews, by both Jews and others, and viewed as almost unexceptional. Why did I, perhaps because I am an Israeli, react to it more strongly than many others? Because it hurts my self-image, the image of Israelis and Jews that I was taught to accept by my Zionist background.
The Jew who sees in every non-Jew the embodiment of all his persecutors, who seeks revenge and redress for age-old injustice in every dealing with non-Jews is a stereotype. He is a being who is dangerous, dehumanized, crazed by suffering, whose anguish and confused thought processes were captured so well by the narrator of the film. It is a role that has become part of Western culture and has been so for a very long time, methinks. Do we hear echoes of the letter here?
If you prick us, do we not bleed?
if you tickle us, do we not laugh? if you poison
us, do we not die? and if you wrong us, shall we not
revenge? If we are like you in the rest, we will
resemble you in that. If a Jew wrong a Christian,
what is his humility? Revenge. If a Christian
wrong a Jew, what should his sufferance be by
Christian example? Why, revenge. The villany you
teach me, I will execute, and it shall go hard but I
will better the instruction.William Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice, Act 3, Scene 1. Emphasis added.
Isn't it time to step out of the role cast for us by medieval Christendom and dramatized by the bard of Stratford, time for us to stop persecuting ourselves and demeaning ourselves? That is what that text and that movie really seem to mean.
Like every other person, we ask only for justice, not for revenge. Not out of malice, but out of self-respect and mutual respect. Jerusalem is our birthright, not "a pound of flesh nearest the heart" to be exacted in revenge for the Holocaust and the ghettos and the forced conversions, or a benefice to be bestowed by a repentant world. We fought hard for the most basic right of self-determination and at last we have it. We have a state of our own. We are homeless no longer. We can stand on our own two feet and defend our rights with equanimity and with the self assurance that is born of self reliance. Bitter rants like the narration of that film betray insecurity.
If we are sure of ourselves, we do not need to yell. Self-assurance, dignity born of humanity and magnanimity born of strength will earn the respect of all, including those who remain our enemies. It will also bring us more friends. If we are all resolved that we must have Jerusalem, then we have the best chance of keeping it by displaying polite but firm determination, and not by disseminating agitated harangues about Holocausts, pogroms and forced conversions.
If, on the other hand, these creations are meant for other Jews, if we are really carrying on some internal dialogue about our own differences of opinion, then we should not use outsiders as scapegoats, and we should not carry on this dialog in articles and films posted on the Web. The part of "Merchant of Jerusalem" is ugly and ill behooves any self-respecting people.
Do not hesitate to be an advocate for Israel and Zionism, but be a proud Zionist. If Zionism is unable to free the Jewish people from the crippling psychological stereotype of Shylock, then the Zionist revolution will have failed. Israel would be just a ghetto for stereotype ghetto characters, rather than the cradle of the reborn Jewish people. Such ghetto caricatures are not Zionists and cannot plead the case of Zionism or defend our rights.
We are Israelis, not Merchants of Venice. Do not insult me and yourself and do not demean us by putting the raging and frantic pleading of an anti-Semitic caricature in our collective mouths. Don't put the Jewish people in the position of the suppliant asking for redress of grievances. Come as a fellow human, explaining what you will do and must do.
Defend our people and our rights with dignity, empathy and grace. Say your piece with quiet and firm determination, certain that your audience will answer your appeal to common humanity and shared values. Make the audience into a sympathetic jury of your peers, rather than the accused in the dock who must defend themselves against your indictment, or the judge or ruler who is empowered to dispense justice. Sovereignty means just that. We are no longer asking for the overturn of Tsarist ukases and imperial decrees, but we are not here to judge the world either.
Regardless of their religion, as Shakespeare pointed out, others are people very much like you. They bleed like you, but they also love like you and laugh like you and have ideals as you do. Approach them as equals and fellow humans. Those who hate, will project hate on others, and will get it back. Those who empathize, are more apt to get empathy. If they feel your sympathy for them as well as your self-confidence, your readers and auditors are more apt to be sympathetic to you. When you write, remember who you are and how you want others to see you. Remember always that we are a small people who need the support of everyone who will offer it, and most important, remember not to do unto others what is hateful to you.
* See http://www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?cid=1195546681914&pagename=JPost%2FJPArticle%2FPrinter - where it was attributed to Eliezer Whartman
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Replies: 2 Comments
What is the reasoned argument justifying the current British claim to all of London or the claim of the Americans to all of Washington, D.C. Washington is probably holy ground for some Indian tribes and should be shared with them.
Madrid should be shared with the Muslims as well.
The real question is, what is the reasoned argument justifying sharing of the city that has been the center of Jewish national life for 3,000 years, recognized as such by Western and Muslim culture alike? Muhamad flew there on a horse in one night? Get real. Jesus died there? so? Arabs live there? Jews lived in Kiev, so what? It was never their capital city and they never had sovereignty there. What is the reason for the demand to internationalize Jerusalem, which only arose when there was a question of Jewish rule there. Is it based on the curse of St Eusebius?
See also: http://www.zionism-israel.com/his/Jerusalem_history.htm
Ami Isseroff, Tuesday, June 3rd
What is the reasoned argument justifying the current Israeli claim to all of Jerusalem?
An argument from "grievance" will not convince the international community that contemporary Israel is entitled to retain a unified Jerusalem.
But what IS the argument that will convince the international community?
JWF, Sunday, June 1st
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