Sunday, June 13, 2010


It’s now been a couple of weeks since the flotilla incident shined a nice red light on Israel’s Gazan policy, and as I pointed out last week, it also brought into the open what zealots on both sides have been thinking but have not been willing to say publicly. Helen Thomas was the first celebrity to speak her mind in the wake of the incident. Sadly, she will now be known in the future as an anti-Semitic journalist, rather than simply as a journalist. There’s no other way to construe the idea that the Jews should “get the hell out of Palestine” and “go home” to such places as Poland and Germany.

But Thomas was not alone in revealing her deepest thoughts. This week, observers of the Middle East were privileged to hear from New York Senator Charles Schumer. Here are some of his words, as delivered to the Orthodox Union: “"The Palestinian people still don't believe in a Jewish state, in a two-state solution. More do than before, but a majority still do not. Their fundamental view is, the Europeans treated the Jews badly and gave them 'OUR' land - this is Palestinian thinking.”

So far, I have to say that Schumer was accurate. Looking at the Palestinians I know who claim to believe in a two-state solution, not one believes that either state should be a “Jewish state” with any special privileges for Jews. Nor would any dispute that the land belonged to the Palestinians, and the Europeans inappropriately seized it away from them and gave it to the Jews.

Unfortunately, Schumer didn’t stop at that. In speaking about the Palestinians, Schumer said that “they don’t believe in the Torah, in David.” Schumer added that “you have to force them to say Israel is here to stay.” And speaking specifically about the Gazans, he stressed the need "to strangle them economically until they see that's not the way to go, makes sense."

It’s not exactly the kind of diplomatic words you’d expect from a politician. Yet in the polarized climate that now characterizes Israeli-Palestinian relations, you can pretty much get as extreme as you want and find audience after audience to say “amen.” In the so-called “peace movement,” otherwise known as the Palestinians-are-the-victims crowd, Israel is assigned 90+ percent of the blame. By contrast, in mainstream Zionist organizations, otherwise known as the Israel-can-do-no-wrong crowd, everyone may claim to believe in peace, but they don’t really believe it’s possible and they’re not doing much to make it possible. And so it goes, the war that never ends.

I saved my final barbs last week for Thomas because the kind of anti-Semitism she spewed strikes a particular chord with me as a Jew. I don’t care if she’s 89, or for that matter 109; only a Jew hater would speak such trash.

Still, if I am going to hold Thomas to task, can I sit back and say nothing about Schumer’s words? To begin, I am mystified by the part about the Palestinians not believing in the Torah or David. Does he realize the irony of that statement? The Muslims deeply respect the Torah and consider the main figures in that book to be Prophets of God – including David. By contrast, most of my fellow Jews have little appreciation for what’s in the Qur’an and frequently refer to it mockingly, as if it encourages suicide bombings (which is absolutely false). If anyone should be apologizing for “not believing” in the other group’s holy texts, it’s us Jews.

Moreover, what really rankled me about Schumer’s statement is the idea that Israel needs to strangle the Gazan economy. Surely he’s echoing the views of the Israeli Government. Why else do you deprive your neighboring people of food, hygiene products and medicine? The idea would have to be to destroy the Gazans and bring them to their knees, when they will finally have no choice but to send Hamas packing and embrace peace with the ones who have tortured them.

Those words don’t even pass the laugh test. You can strangle the Gazan economy, but you can’t strangle the will of the Gazan people to fight the ones who oppress them. And don’t fool yourself: Israel is oppressing them. I cannot envision a more counterproductive strategy than the one Senator Schumer is advocating.

That said, Schumer and I agree that the Gazans haven’t exactly made things easy on Israel. In fact, even if Israel were to take their advice from Moses, Jesus and Mohammad, they still might not have peace – many Palestinians would continue to threaten Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state, and I can’t see those men advising Israel to destroy itself. The truth is that BOTH sides must together take the steps to embrace peace. And at present, neither side trusts the other enough to see any point in taking such steps.

It’s called a stalemate. It has lasted for six decades. And it will take the Israelis, the Palestinians, other Arab states, and those of us in America and Europe to fight together to make sure it doesn’t last for another six decades.

For now, all we can do is listen to the Chuck Schumers and the Helen Thomases and keep taking notes. At least the truth is coming out. At least we’re learning exactly how much disdain is out there, and how difficult it will be for the peacemakers to take control. Stated simply, the two sides have dug two pretty deep holes. There’s no better time than now to cover them up with love and respect. We must have no more insensitivity about the Holocaust. We must have no more calls for strangulation. Love and respect sound like obvious principles, but apparently, people have forgotten about them. It’s time to cut the macho crap and embrace the “other” before our grandchildren inherit the same war that we did. And wherever you live, be it Hebron, Haifa, Hamburg or Houston, if you care about the “peoples of the book,” this is YOUR war. Let’s end it together.

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