There’s an old political saying that if your opponent is committing suicide, get out of the way. Yet Professor Sean Elias requires a response, so hateful was his odious retort in the Aspen Times to my column, ”Why coexist with a mortal Iranian threat?”
Evidence that society’s oldest prejudice endures after a post-Nazi dormancy, Elias’s letter-to-the-editor reflects the bigotry that’s inciting lethal anti-Jewishness in Europe, and existential threats to Israel, the only nation-state of the Jewish people and the sole democracy in the Mideast’s radicalized swamp.
No other nation is surrounded by as much hostility or is targeted for destruction by governmental and terrorist groups. Yet Vermont-sized Israel, nine miles wide at its narrowest point, suffers unreasonable scrutiny, despite comprising only 0.3 percent of the region’s territory and 1.6 percent of its population.
Peddling prejudices as obvious truths, Elias employs familiar stereotypes to convince you to Think Again about Jews, Israel and its leaders, hoping to incite hatred for a people who’ve suffered 2,500 years of unrelenting oppression while inspiring more free and decent societies.
Before the Jews, the pagan world resembled today’s Islamic State, devoid of freedom and dignity. It was “the Jews,” American founder John Adams noted, who “contributed more to civilized man than any other nation. They have given religion to three-quarters of the globe and have influenced the affairs of mankind more than any other nation, ancient or modern.”
Unfortunately, “things change, anti-Semitism remains,” observed Auschwitz-survivor and Nobel Peace Prize-winner Elie Wiesel. Because words have power, he insists, “we can bring hope, or despair — it’s always in our hands.”
Elias chooses despair, scolding “Jewish fanatics;” “Jewish misbehavior;” “Jewish jingoism;” a rhetorically “handicapped rabbi;” “radicalized Jews who would have the US sacrifice its citizens to defend an Israeli state;” and “Judeocentrism” at the Aspen Times, invoking the classic canard, Jewish control of the media.
Calling my column a “fanatical Zionist propagandist piece,” Elias argues, “Extremist Jews like Sturm will welcome the blood-tainted, saber-rattling, opportunistic prime minister of Israel…. Benjamin Netanyahu (who’ll)…soon slither into the halls of Congress.”
The professor represents a growing anti-Jew movement — thriving on campuses and in international organizations – aimed at delegitimizing and ultimately denying Jewish self-determination in the Jews’ ancestral homeland. Activists don’t care about depriving the world of Israeli innovations — medical, technological, renewable-energy, water-conservation — only destroying Israel.
Though Israel’s Arab citizens – one-fifth of its population – are freer than all citizens living in 22 Arab nations, and despite the country’s free press, independent judiciary and regular elections, anti-Jewish activists brand Israel a “racist, apartheid state,” an insult to those who’ve suffered real apartheid.
Last week, Stanford’s student government joined a growing list of organizations favoring divestment from Israel, citing “human rights abuses.” In a world of human rights violators, Israel is demonized as a pariah – not China, North Korea, or Iran.
Since Israel is a liberal, free, immigrant-friendly, multiethnic oasis in a cesspool of political, religious and sexual persecution, what else besides Jew-hatred explains the doubled standard applied to the world’s only sovereign Jewish community, and it’s singling out for isolation and strangulation?
Reflecting on his five-years as an AP reporter in Israel, Matti Friedman blasted the media’s “groupthink,” arguing it has “moved away from careful explanation and toward a kind of political character assassination on behalf of the side it identified as being right.”
New “settlement” houses are newsworthy, not new rockets smuggled into Gaza or Hamas’s placement of military installations near schools and hospitals. Deaths and injuries from Israel’s defensive military operations are stories, not Hamas’s war crimes, generating civilian casualties on both sides.
When journalists “portray the Jews of Israel as the party obviously in the wrong, when they omit all possible justifications for the Jews’ actions and obscure the true face of their enemies, what they are saying to their readers…. is that Jews are the worst people on earth,” Friedman concluded.
Should anti-Israel activists succeed, Friedman believes democracy and modernity will be replaced by ruthless extremism, as in Iraq, Syria, Libya, and Yemen, “ending the only safe progressive space in the Middle East, the only secure minority refuge in the Middle East, and the only Jewish country on Earth.”
On the frontlines of the battle to preserve freedom, Israel is the canary struggling to survive the noxious coalmine, not the cause of the deadly fumes. Hatred that targets Jews never ends with Jews. Eventually it reaches Christians, women, gays, and liberals, as evident throughout the Mideast today.
This will be Netanyahu’s message to Congress. Representing a people whose contributions include the ethical tenets underpinning civilization — equality before the law, sanctity of life, freedom, social responsibility, peace as a commandment — his goal is to join with America, history’s greatest champion of these values, to preserve them.
Think Again – As Wiesel urges, by bringing hope, not despair, to public discourse, we can help the forces of tolerance, freedom and peace repair the world.