Tangled Up In Jews
Anti-Israel diatribes spring from Iran’s leaders like fleas from a dog, but a recent Iranian Parliament statement stood apart, containing as it did a remarkable admission.
The statement was in reaction to a comment by Esfandiar Rahim Mashai, the Iranian vice president for tourism, who contended that Iran is “a friend for all people in the world, even Israelis and Americans.”
Calling for Mr. Mashai’s dismissal because of that “unforgiveable mistake,” the parliamentarians went on to declare that “We do not recognize a country called Israel and so we cannot recognize a nation called Israel.”
The internal logic of the declaration aside, it would seem to depart from the common trope among “progressives” that Iran’s leaders, and others like them, hate only contemporary Zionism, not Jews.
The statement laid bare something more. Not only is a “country called Israel” illegitimate in the signatories’ eyes; so is “a nation called Israel.” Perhaps that means Israeli citizens – disturbing enough. Or perhaps it means the “Israel” of antiquity, who carry the name that G-d bestowed on their forefather Jacob.
The Agudath Israel movement is not part of either the secular or religious Zionist camps, and indeed was founded in 1912 in large part to distinguish itself from both the part of the Jewish world that saw a Jewish state as a high political ideal and the part that invested the quest for a contemporary Jewish state with spiritual significance. And while Agudath Israel today is deeply committed to Israel’s security, and its adherents in Israel fully participate in the country’s democratic system, we “Agudists” remain theologically distinct.
Still and all, we recognize that much, if not most, of the negative sentiment aimed at Israel is tightly tangled up with hatred for Jews.
The point was made back in 1975, after the infamous “Zionism is Racism” United Nations resolution. The late and greatly missed Rabbi Moshe Sherer, the then-president of Agudath Israel of America, wrote that “Though the resolution was supposedly aimed only at secular ‘Zionism’… the slander is an attack on the entire Jewish people.”
Even if the hatred was aimed only at certain Jews, he continued, “we [Agudath Israel adherents] would feel precisely the same responsibility to come to the defense of our brethren. While we may have our own quarrel with secular Zionism, when Jews are libeled, their affiliation does not matter; our love for our brothers and sisters draws us to their side.” But what is more, he pointedly stressed, “the U. N. resolution is aimed at all Jews, for it assails the historical Jewish right to Eretz Yisrael. The Torah bestowed that right, and any attack on it is an attack on Judaism and the Jewish people.”
One can certainly be critical of Israel and not be an anti-Semite. But equally true is that there is a symbiotic relationship in some circles between criticism of Israel and hatred of Jews. Whether the chicken of anti-Zionism or the egg of anti-Semitism came first is of only academic interest. The final fricassee is animus for both. Which is why visibly Jewish European Jews, loyal citizens of their respective countries, are attacked by Arab hooligans, and Jewish cemeteries vandalized with anti-Israel graffiti.
I had a correspondent (actually, still do, if one considers his forwarding me articles and my consigning them to my trash file to constitute correspondence) who is a professor at the University of Alberta. He first wrote me a year or so ago with a pleasant note about an article I had written about Jewish ethics. When I thanked him, though, he quickly turned the topic to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. His take – essentially that whatever Israel does is evil, whatever Palestinians do is noble – was so bizarre that I had to tell him it sounded like the sort of libels against Jews with which history is rife.
He took great umbrage, insisting that his criticism was only of Israel, not Jews. Gently ending our conversation, I responded that I would take him at his word but remained at an utter loss to understand what could possibly lie behind so skewed a perspective as his.
So he put me on his e-mail list for receipt of articles from websites dedicated to applauding premeditated murder and condemning self-defense (at least when the self-defender is Israel). I click the messages away, unopened, to e-mail Hades. A recent one’s subject box, though, caught my eye. It read something like “This is kosher?”
The attachment was the first among the scores that had arrived over the year whose subject was not one or another of Israel’s “crimes.” It was a news report about workers’ claims of mistreatment at a kosher meatpacking concern in Iowa. Now what on earth, I thought, does that have to do with Israel?
The answer was “nothing,” of course. Like the Iranian parliament, the good professor had simply revealed the broader scope of his ample ill will.
© 2008 AM ECHAD RESOURCES
[Rabbi Shafran is director of public affairs for Agudath Israel of America.]