Daniel Gordis is partly right, but also very wrong

By LARRY GELLMAN
June 29, 2015 20:59

"Those same lovers of Israel will scream 'anti-Semite' ...against anyone who suggests using economic leverage against the Israeli government to persuade it to change its policies."




A man waits for the start of the evening's speeches at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee

A man waits for the start of the evening's speeches at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) policy conference in Washington. (photo credit: REUTERS)

If a sports team is to be successful, it is smart for the coach, players and fans to complain about the bias of referees and protest the dirty play of the other team when it actually occurs. But not if that is their only stategy.

If the goal is to actually win then those same people should spend most of their time and energy focusing on ways to improve their team’s own game and engage in constant, honest self-examination. It is far more productive to work on getting better and playing smarter than to constantly be whining and lashing out about factors that are beyond your control.

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Which brings me to Daniel Gordis’ recent piece (‘A Dose of Nuance--It’s too easy to be an Anti-Semite,’ June 18) in which he urges the players and fans of Israel to redouble their efforts to make anti-Semites pay for their vicious and hateful crimes against the Jews instead of continuing to give them a free pass.

When Gordis says that individuals, groups, companies and nations that engage in anti-Semitic behavior should be called out and face consequences he is absolutely correct.

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Real perpetrators of Jew hatred should pay a price for their statements and actions.

But where Gordis and so many supporters of Israel go wildly astray is when they equate any and all criticism of the policies of the current Israeli government with Jew hatred while at the same time they ignore Jewish values and US and Israeli laws which clearly state that all acts of discrimination against any targeted group are equally reprehensible and illegal.

Gordis calls on Jews to make anti-Semites pay for their sins. But he makes no mention of the equally compelling need for Jewish settlers who have burned and vandalized 43 churches and mosques over the past three years (none of whom have been arrested or charged) to pay for theirs.

Nor does he mention the need to go after Jews who engage in racist attacks against innocent Palestinians. Nor does he address the evil of those criminal settlers and Israeli soldiers who beat and shoot and sometimes kill innocent Palestinian citizens and young children.

Shouldn’t Gordis’ crusade be against bigotry and racism and hatred in all of the flavors in which it is served up? Are Jews the only real victims who need to strike back and demand fair treatment or does our outrage extend to the victims of all bigotry – including those who are targeted by Jews? And shouldn’t Gordis be more careful about painting with such a broad brush when assuming that anyone who expresses concerns about the policies of the Israeli government wants to destroy Israel and is an anti-Semite – even those who are former Israeli security, military and government leaders or the thousands of American Jews who love being Jewish and have a lifetime history of support for Israel?

That is particularly true of American Jews who make those accusations with embarrassing frequency in the name of love for Israel while those who do so are often the ones who are the most harshly critical of the policies and statements of our own President Obama and yet would justifiably object if they were accused of being racist or anti-America for doing so.

It is ironic that at the very time in history when almost 90 percent of the Jews in the world live in either Israel or the US where Jews are safer, more prosperous, more powerful and more widely admired than at any other time in history, Gordis and others are most outspoken in their claims of Jewish victimhood and emphasizing the need for us to fight back against our many oppressors and attackers.

Of course there are Jew haters in the world and on college campuses and in Europe. There always have been and always will be – just as there are people who hate Blacks and Mexicans and gays and Muslims.

But it is also true that we live at a time when acts of racism and bigotry have never been less tolerated by our governments and broader society.

A Jewish friend forwarded me an article last year about two students who had been arrested and expelled from a southern US university for drawing a swastika on the front door of a Jewish student in a their dorm. The point my friend wanted to make was that anti-Semitism is alive and well and thriving even today and that American Jews should be very, very afraid.

But if our grandparents could come back and read that news story, which aspect of the situation would they find the most shocking? That two rednecks drew a swastika on the door of a Jew in an East Carolina University housing unit or that the two perpetrators had been arrested and barred from setting foot on the campus again and that both the university and community were outraged? Rabbi Gordis is correct when he says that those who engage in anti-Semitic and racist acts of bigotry should be called out and made to pay for their actions.

But he overlooks what seems to be the far bigger issue which is that more and more Jewish organizations and their leaders – as well as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s newest best friends in the Republican Party and Evangelical Christian right – are equating political criticism and the exercise of free speech with Jew hatred in ways that are intellectually dishonest and very damaging.

For example, some leaders of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement hate Jews and Israel. But at the same time, thousands of caring American and Israeli Jews refuse to buy products made by Jews in the West Bank because they hate the occupation and the policies relating to settlement growth. Is it fair or useful to lump them all together as Israel haters and anti-Semites? Israeli and American Jews are actually huge supporters of BDS when it is directed against Iran or Russia and don’t consider that to reflect a hatred of those countries or the people who live there. Just of certain policies of the government leaders in those place whom they want to behave differently.

But those same lovers of Israel will scream “anti-Semite” at the top of their lungs against anyone who suggests using economic leverage against the Israeli government to persuade it to change its policies.

Gordis should be encouraging us to boo and complain about the bias of the referees when there is real evidence of a double standard – not just when they call fouls on our team. And he should be encouraging friends of Israel and Jewish leaders to look at ways to get Israel’s coaches, players and fans to improve their own game so the ultimate outcome will be less dependent on luck and circumstances beyond anyone’s control.

The author lives in Tucson and Aspen and is a member of the Finance Committee of J Street. He is a former member of the AIPAC board in Tucson as well as a former chairman of Israel Bonds and Federation campaigns. He works as a managing director of a major international investment firm.


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