My cousin A. lives in Fairfield County, a part of Connecticut that touches New
York and is sometimes referred to as the Gold Coast.
She has been
attending a series of public lectures about the changing situation in the Middle
East “after the Arab Spring.” It draws a large, mostly non-Jewish
The latest lecture, which she enjoyed, brought the Israeli
point of view into the discussion.
She wasn’t sure of the speaker’s
ethnic background, but thought he did a good job answering the
Then she posed a question to me.
“A member of the
audience,” she told me by e-mail, “asked the following: ‘Why isn’t the etiology
ever examined of why the Arabs were friends of the US prior to when we became
staunch allies of Israel? In other words, we only have problems because of the
hatred between the Jews and Arabs. If we “get rid of Israel,” we’re good!’”
Wrote my cousin, “The speaker said he totally disagreed with her premise and
I was a little upset with the question but would rather
respond [to it without] emotion. How would you have answered?” I’ve been
thinking about this for a while, cognizant of how hard coming up with the right
answer often is with an audience waiting in anticipation. Often the perfect
answer appears in the middle of the night after the audience has long since
My senses tell me I should first empathize with the speaker.
It is indeed unpleasant to have so many people hate you. As an Israeli and a
Jew, I know that feeling well. It makes you think that there might be something
terribly wrong with you that causes the furious burning of your flag and the
calls for your death and destruction. (Ironically many residents of those same
countries who call for America’s destruction would apply for green cards by the
millions if they were easily available.) Like the speaker, I might have aimed
first at the fallacy of the premise. America’s friendship with Israel isn’t the
true cause of anti-Americanism.
Many scholarly treatises and books have
been written on the origins of anti-Americanism in Muslim countries. They
document just how forthcoming the US State Department has been to repressive
They show that whether America is expressing goodwill by
supporting the rebels fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan, or standing up for
Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, anti-Americanism just doesn’t
Anti-Americanism is irrational, like anti-Semitism, and it
demonizes American social, economic and political institutions, as well as
American traditions and values. In the Middle East, it’s often related to a
distaste for American women that predates feminism, for their lack of modesty.
The demonization of America is less related to specific political views than to
creating a convenient scapegoat for frustrated societies that have not overcome
low achievements despite massive aid.
I could also suggest that a
strategy of jettisoning Israel would be counterproductive to
European countries’ shifting to anti-Israel positions has not
endeared them to the Muslim world. If it had, they could take down their
security cameras and disband their anti-terrorism units. Appeasement hasn’t been
a successful strategy for the Western world.
I might have ended with an
outline of the advantages the US enjoys through its special relationship with
Israel, a valuable ally in helping to maintain America’s national security,
protecting its economic interests, and maintaining its military advantage.
Israel is not one of the countries where the American president is burnt in
But I’m afraid I might not have answered any of the above.
Sometimes, it’s difficult to answer rationally and dispassionately. Instead, I
might have ranted. Something about the question would have pushed a button and I
might have thrown caution to the wind. Fairfield County is, after all, the
setting of Gentleman’s Agreement
, Laura Hobson’s best-selling novel that was
subsequently turned into a superb movie starring Gregory Peck. In the story, a
journalist pretending to be Jewish understands how deeply embedded is
anti-Semitism in that county; he’s rejected by a hotel and snubbed in the city
of Darien, and his son is called names in the street.
A FEW additional
words about the movie. Darryl Zanuck decided to produce it after he was mistaken
for a Jew and rejected by a country club. Peck accepted the role despite his
agent’s advice that it might wreck his career. Several of those connected to the
film were placed on the Hollywood blacklist of the House Un-American Activities
Committee. This was a movie of the McCarthy “Commie” witch-hunt era.
might well have felt that the subtext of the politely phrased, supposedly
pragmatic question – with few Jews in the audience – was really about not
needing the pesky Jews and their Jewish state. Why was such a question asked
without embarrassment in front of a liberal, educated Connecticut audience?
Instead of history and politics, I might have launched into the fuzzy area
How could an American even hint that Israel should be
abandoned as appeasement? I might have reminded her that Gentleman’s Agreement
was published in 1947, before we had a Jewish state, and after six million Jews
were massacred following an infamous attempt at appeasement.
I might have
encouraged the questioner to look inward to her sense of right and
Answers the journalist in the movie pretending to be a Jew when
his fiancée asks him if he thinks she’s an anti-Semite: “No, I don’t. But I’ve
come to see lots of nice people who hate it and deplore it and protest their own
innocence, then help it along and wonder why it grows.
People who would
never beat up a Jew. People who think anti-Semitism is far away in some dark
place with low-class morons. That’s the biggest discovery I’ve made. The good
people. The nice people.”
Had I cast aside my politically correct
tone, I might have received encouragement from David Horovitz. The former
editor recently used his invitation to speak at the farewell
ceremony of the outgoing (and much admired) Polish ambassador to Israel as an
opportunity to remind the European ambassadors present that they should be among
the staunchest supporters of the Jewish people’s need for a state, considering
their history. I admired his gumption, his tone and his being upfront about his
extended family’s Holocaust history.
Horovitz may have surprised his
hosts by the challenge in his speech. Challenge we must. If even in Connecticut,
the so-called “Constitution State,” they’re talking about abandoning Israel, the
time for making our audience feel comfortable has long since passed.The
author is a Jerusalem writer who focuses on the wondrous stories of modern
Israel. She serves as the Israel director of public relations for Hadassah, the
Women’s Zionist Organization of America. The views in her columns are her