From Crete with hate

Anti-Israelism has given our foes a pretext to obfuscate their motives.

etz hayyim 311 (photo credit: AP)
etz hayyim 311
(photo credit: AP)

The Etz Hayim Synagogue on Crete was struck byarsonists on January 5 and again - more devastatingly- on January 16.Over the weekend, Greek police arrested four men described as bouncersand waiters for perpetrating the attacks, saying they were motivated bya dislike of Jews.

Attacksagainst Jews and Jewish institutions are up throughout Europe,attributable, say experts, to fury by extremist rightists, leftists andMuslims over last year's war against Hamas in Gaza.

As the Coordination Forum for Countering Anti-Semitism - whichcomprises Israeli government offices, the Jewish Agency and Diasporaorganizations - reported, the uptick in attacks reflects a furtherblurring of boundaries between Israel, Zionism and Judaism.

The BBC's Malcolm Brabant cited Etz Hayim's director, listedelsewhere as Nikolas Stavroulakis, as saying the attackers had not donetheir homework: The synagogue is a multi-faith institution whichincludes Muslim and Christian members and "many of the Jews who worshipthere are opposed to Israel's settler program and frequent incursionsinto Gaza."

Stavroulakis has devoted himself to memorializingJewish life on the island, which dates back to biblical days. Todayabout 10 Jews live there. Yet Stavroulakis's comments reveal a certainnaiveté - as if dissociating from Israeli policies, or embracingnon-Zionist, even anti-Zionist positions, would inoculate a Jewishperson or institution against anti-Semitic battering.

WITH President Shimon Peres scheduled to address the Germanparliament Wednesday for International Holocaust Memorial Day, andPrime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu concurrently in Poland to mark the65th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, this is a good time toconsider the distinctions between those who revile Jews; those whooppose the right of Jews to self-determination by denying Jewishpeoplehood; and those who oppose particular Israeli policies.

Inthe West, vulgar Jew-hatred and Holocaust-denial meet with strongcensure in the public square. No reputable voices would condone attackson synagogues or holding Jews to standards gentiles are not expected tomeet.

On the other hand, urbane anti-Israelism is all-too oftentreated as justifiable - even chic. While some of Israel's foes inacademia, diplomacy and the punditocracy put their cards on the table,others hypocritically hide behind abstract assertions of support forIsrael's right to exist and to self-defense based on preposterouslyimpractical criteria. Thus anti-Israelism flirts with anti-Semitismwhen the Jewish state is held to a yardstick no other country isexpected to meet on the grounds that "after all, you call yourselvesthe 'chosen people.'"

No one questions whether right-wing louts whoburn Jewish houses of worship, beat up people who "look Jewish" ordesecrate Holocaust memorials are anti-Semites. But those who rejectthe right of the Jewish people to self-determination, or who deny thatJews are a people, engage in a more subtle form of contempt. That somepractitioners of anti-Israelism are themselves of Jewish ancestrymatters not a whit. Anti-Israelism is further characterized by calls toboycott the Jewish state (aping the Arab League-instigated embargowhich began decades before the first West Bank settlement was erected)and by the cynical manipulation of symbols and semantics - such as"apartheid," "genocide," and "Nazi" - to delegitimize Israel.

In these endeavors, ostensibly progressives are the strangebedfellows of fanatics and reactionaries - Hamas, Hizbullah, Iran andthe Muslim Brotherhood.

WHAT ABOUT those who simply object to particular Israeli policies?

The late US Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart said famouslythat he could not define "hard-core pornography" but "I know it when Isee it."

Similarly, Israelis have a knack for distinguishing betweengenuine friends who earnestly oppose this or that policy, and otherswho profess closeness yet whose counsel, if heeded, would place thecountry in mortal jeopardy.

Israelis engage in strident debates over settlements, religionand socioeconomic issues. We hardly expect outsiders - whether Jewishor not - to unthinkingly embrace government policies as a sign offidelity. To suggest otherwise is simply disingenuous.

FROM the first pogrom in 38 BCE to the liberation of Auschwitz,haters have as a rule been candid about their motivations. In the 21stcentury, however, anti-Israelism has given our foes a pretext toobfuscate their motives. But we Israelis see them for what they are -morally no better than the hooligans who set the Etz Haim Synagogueablaze.