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Anti-Semitism: See Under Hate, Envy, and Israel


Every weekend I go down to the American River to wash my eyes with its beauty, and to refresh my mind as to what truly matters. I have a saying: Every week that ends by the river, was a good week; every week that begins in the river, will be a good week. But a couple of months back when I went there for my weekend visit, I was shocked to see a swastika painted in white on the bike-trail, from where I take a small dirt path that leads to the bank of the river. I saw no one around, and still went ahead with stopping by my favorite tree on the small hill, washing my eyes with the beauty of the rapids, enjoying the cool breeze, marveling at the flight of the birds.

And yet, this incident kept rolling in my head weeks after I’d informed the police and the park authorities about it, and after I’d been informed by a Park Ranger that they erased it. I did visit the river again, of course, and was happy to see that the hateful emblem was no longer there. Still, with everything else going on around the issue of anti-Semitism—I don’t need to spell it out for you, do I?—I decided to jump into these turbulent waters, see if I can reach the other side with something of value to tell you.

Here’s what I found: The cause of anti-Semitism is rooted, first, in deep old hatred. Hatred that, for whatever reason, is ingrained in some people hearts and minds. I can hardly explain it, as I’m not sure I know where it comes from; but it’s being passed on from generation to generation. Some people are so full of hatred and resentment, it simply blind them to the truth. They bring up and educate their offspring this way, and the children grow up hating Jews, yet without knowing really why they do, just as other people hate blacks or gays no matter the progress we’ve made. That’s the reality that some people live with, while trying to inflict and spread their venom around.

For me, however the question of envy is more prominent. Let’s be frank about it: The Jewish people—wherever they were, however much suffering, atrocity, and misfortunes befallen them—always managed not only to survive, but to excel. They are successful in most things they try their hands in, with some of the best doctors, scientist, artists… you name it. No wonder no other group, race or ethnicity, while being such a minority, can claim so many Noble Prize winners among their ranks. And of course, the need to survive in tough environments and circumstances had thought them how to be good in business. Yes, with money. How to work hard and make a good living.

Nothing wrong with that. Except in the eyes of some uneducated people, who’d rather lay around drinking beer instead of getting an education, or working-skills. Some poor people hate rich people; some unsuccessful people hate successful people; some downtrodden people take these feelings of envy and resentment on the most obvious easy target: the Jews. In their misinformed minds, Jews are responsible for all their problems. If it weren’t for the Jews, they would be well off. They’d get their money and be successful without the need to work hard and get an education. Blame the Jews, it’s easier; unleash violence too, and conspiracy theories on them.

As of late, though, I find myself concerned more with another source for the prevalence of anti-Semitism. It’s the “New anti-Semitism,” as I call it, result of Israel’s government actions, and the attitude of its people. This reason for anti-Semitism, especially in Europe, is a cause for great discontent among Jewish people, especially here in America. Because, when it comes to Israel and the way it deals with the Palestinian people and issue—the occupation and military rule over other people, the constant violation of basic human rights—they prefer to look the other way.

But in the world we live in, this might be of greater cause for anti-Semitism. Many people the world over, most of them democrats, liberals, open-minded people—most prominently in academia, media, and the arts—refuse to look the other way when it comes to Israel’s constant abuse of human rights and international law. Of course, Jewish organizations here in America are quick to equate it—wrongly!—with anti-Semitism. Add to that the large immigration of Muslim refugees, in Europe and also here, from Middle Eastern and North African countries, and we have a combustible situation ready to be ignited.

The Israeli government, especially all these years under the rule of Netanyahu, had operated under the belief that the increase in anti-Semitic virulent sentiments and violent actions in Europe and America, will in return increase the immigration of Jews to Israel. Will help Zionism, the way they see it; decrease the unfavorable demographic situation, and will help deflect the need to solve the Palestinian conflict. Which, to a degree, is what has happened. However, it’s also very unscrupulous and dangerous, as it continues to cultivate and fester anti-Semitism outside Israel, with accusation of Apartheid state in-the-making, and with unforeseen consequences.

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In the land of Israel

Amazon.com

In the land of Israel—modern Israel, that is—never lived a finest man than Amos oz. As a writer; as a salt-of-the-earth farmer and warrior; as a peace-loving man and activist; as a man of his word and vision. And when he died unexpectedly from a sudden illness at the end of last year, at age 79, a voice whispered in my ear—it was him, I believe—that his optimistic outlook of Israel just couldn’t stand the disaster—cry for the ages, as we like to say in Hebrew—of the coming elections, and of what they might bring upon the country and people he so much loved.

About the latter I will write in the next month or two, just before the elections, but about the former—the man and his vision—allow me to add my humble voice to the many who spoke and wrote so appraisingly about him. To my sorrow, though he was one of the founders of the ‘Peace Now’ movement (and in a way, so was I), we never met. But that’s not exactly true, since I’d met him so often through his essays and books. One of which I’ve found in my library, in a section reserved—one shelf for fiction, one shelf for non-fiction—for the best works I ever read.

I reread ‘In the Land of Israel’ in his honor. And though his fiction was always more to my liking—The New Yorker just published his beautiful short story, “All Rivers,” from which you can learn so much about the man and his origins—I found plenty to admire, and to fear, in this book from 1982. In it, Amos Oz chronicled his interviews with everyday Israelis, which he had conducted throughout the land, and the occupied land, allowing them to speak their mind freely. It was first published in the Israeli morning paper ‘Davar,’ and later collected into this book.

He took a journey while writing it, becoming “a tourist in his own country in order to explore and record the cauldron of emotions, fears and prejudices” of Israelis. As he writes in his ‘Author’s notes:’ “Every place is an entire world and every man is a world in himself, and I reached only a few places and a few people, and even then I was able to see and to hear only a little of so much.”

In line with his words, I’ve chosen to highlight only two people who spoke to him, from two different “worlds,” though they lived so close to each other. The first person (he names no names, generally, in this book), it that of a resident of the development town of Bet Shemesh, whom he met at a Café in the center square, together with some others, all of them Mizrachim: Immigrants from Arab countries and North African countries. What used to be referred to back then as the “Second Israel.” Among so many other things, he’d said this:

“When you were on top (he meant Ashkenazim, kibbutzniks, the “First Israel,” H.D.), you hid us in holes, in moshavim and in development towns, so the tourists wouldn’t see us; so we wouldn’t stain your image; so they’d think this was a white country. But that’s all over now, because now we’ve come out of our holes. You still haven’t figured out what hit you, have you?”

And still more: “You guys, your time is past. Even after Begin (the Prime Minister then, H.D.) you won’t make a comeback in another hundred years. We are sick of you and your squabbles. Yes to the Palestinian state or no to the Palestinian state… To give back or not to give back, peace in the Galilee or not… Anything goes.”

Two things strike me here: First, the force of the hurt and resentment that existed back then; second, the prophecy ingrained in his simple words. It may be that, as to the former, the equilibrium had changed, but if so, just a bit. What used to be the “First Israel” is now centered in Tel Aviv and around it, no more just Ashkenazim but liberals, secular Israelis of all backgrounds, who emphasize democracy first and Jewish second.

The “Second Israel” is now centered in Jerusalem and elsewhere in the settlements of the West Bank, and it’s not only Mizrachim there now, but everybody who put the emphasis on Jewish first and democracy second. Moreover: As the second quote indicates, the “Second Israel” is still in power. It is actually the “First Israel” now. And the hell with the rest. The occupation is not occupation; the West Bank is Judah and Samaria; the rule of law is our law; the hell with the rest of Israel.

Here’s then is the second quote, from a veteran member of Amos Oz’s kibbutz, Hulda: “Ask them—hand on your heart, as they said to you in Bet Shemesh—whether now, when the power is in Begin’s hands, and in theirs, they really think it pays to settle accounts with us like this, the night of the long knives. And ask them another thing as well, hand on your heart: Was everything we did in this country in 50 years, or 80 years, so bad? Was it all malicious? Everything we built here at such great sacrifice, everything we created out of nothing, including the mistakes we surely made? What would the Land of Israel look like without the Labor movement?”

There would be no Land of Israel, if you ask me. Certainly not the “Land of Israel” where Amos Oz walked and wrote. He left us very poor, I’d say that, teetering on the edge of an abyss.

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