Why do they hate us?

The news that Islamist terrorists sent letter bombs to two Chicago-area synagogues should have stirred worldwide outrage not just hysteria. Amid the ensuing media feeding frenzy, as video seminars detailed how cargo is shipped and who the suspected Yemeni terrorists are, most journalists ignored the terrorists’ potential victims.  Alas, Jews being targeted is not news.   Once again we have to wonder, why do they hate us – and why does the hatred against us often invite indifference?
Yes, I know, “they” hating “us,” is the language of paranoids, xenophobes, the illiberal, the intolerant. We are supposed to be more polite, more sanitized, and more self-critical, wondering what phenomenon arose to foment hatred, and what we did to bring this plague upon ourselves.
I confess, I hate writing these kinds of columns. I detest this topic. I was raised in the post-Auschwitz covenant. Anti-Semitism was supposed to be dead, buried in the ashes of Auschwitz by the world’s retroactive remorse when there was nothing left to do but say “sorry” and feebly promise “Never Again” after the Jews endured the ugliest mass murder in history.
But “Never Again” has become “I am not anti-Semitic, just anti-Zionist,” as history reshuffles the deck once again. There is a “they” and an “us,” actually, two “theys” and two “us-es”.” The first, obvious “they” is the Islamists fueling an anti-Semitic, anti-American, anti-Western nihilist movement addicted to terrorism as a political tool. In a recent Newsweek column Hayri Abaza and Soner Cagaptay clarified the definitional issues which are often purposely obscured. “The left is wrongly defending Islamism – an extremist and at times violent ideology – which it confuses with the common person’s Islam,” they write, “while the right is often wrongly attacking the Muslim faith, which it confuses with Islamism.” Islamists are not reacting to the Ground Zero mosque controversy or settlement expansion. They are fighting a global millennialist Jihad rooted in their perverted reading of their religion, and counting historical time in centuries not minutes. They still mourn Spain’s fall to the Christians, and the Crusaders’ rise – they use the Palestinian issue and fleeting controversies as modern fig leafs, to seduce the naïve, today’s useful idiots.
Surprisingly, it works. Herein emerges the second “they.” Many opinion leaders and elites in the West somehow justify terrorists targeting Jews and Israelis. Israelis’ alleged “crimes” against the Palestinians offer elaborate excuses for multiple abuses; when Jews and Israelis are involved, terrorism is graded on a curve, the world’s outrage dulls. The crimes of 9/11 in New York and 7/7 in England generated more horror than the bus and café bombings in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.  Al Qaeda is considered beyond the diplomatic pale yet more and more Westerners are making nice with Islamist Hezbollah in Lebanon while pressuring Israel to negotiate with Islamist, anti-Semitic Hamas.  When Mahmoud Ahmadinejad visited Columbia University, his desire to wipe out the Jewish state triggered minimal outrage, but his claim that Iran had no homosexuals alienated his audience.
Too many of the “chattering classes” and cultural elites in the West today soft-pedal the Islamist problem. A surprisingly seductive combination of post-colonial, post-imperial white guilt mixed with liberal condescension has dulled the moral senses. A racist cult of white American terrorists would trigger much more outrage. The logical rage against Islamist anti-Semitism is further diluted, festering in Apologia Alley, at the fog-inducing intersection where Western self-hatred and traditional Jew hatred meet.
Again, I hate writing this but the second “they” are the Islamists’ fellow travelers, the carriers of the West’s anti-Semitism gene. They are the ones who single out Israel, making it the Jew among nations, while excusing the far-worse crimes of Iran, Saudi Arabia, the Sudan. They are the ones at UNESCO who can decide the Tomb of the Patriarchs and Rachel’s Tomb are not shared properties, reflecting Jews’ and Muslims’ common cultural heritage, but should be exclusively Palestinian. And they are the ones who will downplay the anti-Semitic intent when a synagogue in Chicago is targeted, or an El Al waiting area in Los Angeles is attacked.  This blindspot regarding Jewish oppression offers an odd echo of the reporting during the 1940s. Then, reporters described Hitler’s victims as civilians not Jews, while ghettoizing the coverage of the few anti-Hitler protests by labeling them Jewish protests, which were more easily ignored.
If the double “they” is the Islamists and their fellow travelers – the two “us-es” are Westerners and Jews. Yes, Westerners have been targeted. But Jews are doubly targeted, as Westerners and Jews. In yet another bizarre twist, while many anti-Semites have long rejected Jews for not being Western enough, part of the Islamist revulsion against the Jew rejects Jews as the ultimate Westerners.
It is easy, in such a world, to turn bitter. In the classic documentary “Shoah,” a kibbutznik who survived the Warsaw Ghetto, and seems perfectly normal, stops, stares at the camera and barks: “if you could lick my heart you would be poisoned.” Our challenge is to let only the haters be poisoned by their own hatred.  If living well is the best revenge for people who grew up in dysfunctional families, the same advice applies to an embattled people living in a dysfunctional world. We must defend ourselves, our people, our homeland, our values, our Western civilization, as intensely as possible. But we cannot forget our capacity to love, enjoy, hope, dream. Let our enemies marinate in their own poisons. We need to move beyond without ignoring them but without being imprisoned or defined by them either. With apologies to Rabbi Hillel, If I do not defend myself, who am I? but if I only defend myself, what am I? and if not now, when.