christmas tree 88.
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Occasionally the question comes up: why do Jews think they need their own country anyway? After all, the Holocaust ended 60 years ago. Anti-Semitism is a phenomenon that has been relegated almost exclusively to the political fringes. Above all, we American Jews have a safe home in the United States, a nation that has been relatively immune to the anti-Semitism bacillus.
Who needs Israel?
Some of the answers to this query are obvious. Although the Holocaust is history, anti-Semitism remains prevalent well beyond the fringes in whole swaths of the globe. When the president of Iran calls for "wiping Israel off the map," he is talking not only about a state to whose existence he objects but also about killing the six million Jews who live there.
Even in the West, expressions of anti-Semitism are relatively common. I am not talking about attacks on Israel's policies, which are as legitimate as criticism of the policies of any nation or government. I am talking about the attacks and threats against Jews as Jews - including, of course, attacks on Israelis for being Israeli - which are as illegitimate and ugly as any other form of hatred of people for simply being what they are.
Of course, it's a long way from mouthing anti-Semitism to the Holocaust. But given anti-Semitism's ubiquity, it is not surprising that Jews feel that a state and an army is not such a bad idea. Even those post-national types who argue that anthems, flags, and armies are outdated in the 21st century all live in countries that have them. And those people who don't - most notably, the Palestinians - share the Jewish view that even if they can live safely in places other than the national homeland, they would feel infinitely more secure knowing that they have one.
In other words, sometimes living in Diaspora, or in fact as a minority anywhere, can feel mighty uncomfortable.
And that brings me to the "war on Christmas" which has become a permanent fixture on American cable television this time of year.
Let me explain.
The "war on Christmas" is a term invented by the far-Right to describe what they consider an onslaught by non-Christians against their most significant holiday. The title of a best-selling book by Fox News anchor John Gibson pretty much sums up the entire argument: It is called The War on Christmas: How the Liberal Plot to Ban the Sacred Christian Holiday is Worse Than You Thought."
And how is this war being fought? According to John Gibson, it is fought every time someone uses the greeting Happy Holidays rather than Merry Christmas. This is how columnist Joel Stein described it in the in Tuesday's Los Angeles Times: "Gibson and fellow Fox anchor Bill O'Reillyâ€¦have organized a boycott of Costco, Target, Wal-Mart, Kmart and Sears for using the phrase 'Happy Holidays' in their ads instead of 'Merry Christmas.' "
For O'Reilly and others, talking about the "holidays" rather than Christmas represents a victory by the secular left and a defeat for all Christians.
It sounds crazy but both CNN and MSNBC have reported on the "controversy." The champion, of course, is Fox News, which invented the controversy and which from November 28 to December 2 devoted 58 segments to the subject!
And now the war has spread to Washington, DC. On Wednesday, the conservative and once serious Heritage Foundation actually held a symposium on "the liberal plot" to ban Christmas.
Even President Bush is being attacked for abandoning Christmas. Tim Wildmon, President of the American Family Association, called out President Bush and First Lady Laura Bush for sending out "Season's Greetings" cards, asking whether the Bushes' card is "sinister" or just pandering to secularists. "Sometimes," he says, "it's hard to tell whether this is sinisterâ€¦.or whether it just political correctness run amok."
Laura Bush's press secretary, Susan Whitson, has the answer. "Certainly President and Mrs. Bush celebrate Christmas." But their friends include "people of all faiths."
OF COURSE, the "war on Christmas" it is totally manufactured. There is no Jewish, or other non-Christian group, that campaigns to ban the term "Merry Christmas."
I suppose there are individual Jews (or Muslims, or others) who prefer to be wished "happy holidays," but that is simply neither here nor there. As for the secular liberal groups making war on the term, they don't exist either.
The whole issue was invented to divide Americans from one another, at Christmas time no less. As the Christmas warriors probably know, the reason businesses have adopted the term "the holidays" in place of Christmas is that Christmas is one day, December 25th. "The holidays" suggests a period that runs from Thanksgiving through New Year's, more time for shopping and exchanging.
Anti-Christmas animus is a myth.
But that does not mean that the "war on Christmas" brouhaha is not threatening to Jews. Long before there was awareness that Muslims or Hindus lived in the United States, there was an awareness that Jews did. And, in the wake of World War II, Americans did, to their credit, begin acknowledging Jews and their traditions as part of the American fabric. That is why schoolchildren in states where few Jews live sing "I Had a Little Dreidel" along with "The Christmas Song."
Bill O'Reilly knows that and doesn't like it one bit, as evidenced by his response to a Jewish caller last December who said that he found O'Reilly's views on Christmas objectionable. O'Reilly told him to "move to Israel."
It may also be why, when asked who the power was behind the "war on Christmas", he answered, "Now the reason this is happening is because of the ACLU and George Soros, Peter Lewis. Just a reminder: George Soros and Peter Lewis are the far-left, secular progressive billionaires who have funded - they pour money into the ACLU, they pour money into the smear Web sites, you know, they buy up a lot of the media time. And they basically want to change the country from a Christian-based philosophical country to a secular progressive country like they have in Western Europe."
Soros is a Holocaust survivor, in addition to being a billionaire who backs liberal causes. Lewis, also a billionaire, is a major donor to progressive and Jewish causes.
This week O'Reilly really went to town. After showing a clip from John Stewart's late night show which extolled separation of church and state, O'Reilly said. "There you go, Jon Stewartâ€¦.We know what he's doing over there [on Comedy Central]. And it's not just Stewart. You know, 90 percent of quote unquote entertainers are secular progressivesâ€¦ And a Merry Christmas to you John Stewart. As I said in my newspaper column this week, three wise men showed up to honor the baby Jesus way back when. And if corporate executives are not wise enough to emulate that, well, those of us who respect Christmas might look elsewhere."
Presumably, O'Reilly knows that Stewart is Jewish. And that may be why a few days later he brought on Jewish comedian Jackie Mason, who endorsed everything O'Reilly said about the anti-Christmas war and added that he was founding a new organization called "Jews Against the Defamation of Christmas."
Mason, who recently refused to perform in a show because an Arab-American was on the bill and who makes little effort to disguise his racism (he once called Mayor Dinkins of New York a "fancy shvartze with a moustache") said he was horrified that "if you want to say something good, talk about love and brotherhood by recognizing Christ as the saviorâ€¦all this is not allowed."
He also joined O'Reilly in his denunciation of George Soros and others like him as "sick people" whose goal is to "destroy Christmas."
It all sounds like a joke, especially when Jackie Mason, the Stepin Fetchit of Jewish comedians, signs up with Bill O'Reilly to the tune of "Onward Christian Soldiers."
But it is not funny at all. It is, instead, downright scary. The fact that the Christmas warriors are talking in code should not fool anybody. When a political candidate denounces his opponent for receiving campaign contributions from New York and Beverly Hills, we all know who they are talking about. Similarly, denunciations of secular liberals, especially when coupled with references to, say, George Soros, Peter Lewis and John Stewart, are pretty unambiguous.
Is it reason to move to Israel? No, Bill O'Reilly, it is not. But it is a reason every American Jew has to be grateful that James Madison erected the bar separating church and state.
And, at the same time, one more reason to be grateful that the State of Israel exists.