“Et tu, John Oliver?”
That was what I yelled at the television set the other evening, as I watched “Last Week Tonight With John Oliver” on HBO. I heard the British comic rant about Israel and Gaza — a rant which included references to “war crimes” and “apartheid.”
The barrage of really ugly anti-Israel missives has been almost as unrelenting as the missiles from Gaza themselves.
The only problem: there is no intellectual Iron Dome to combat them.
How did this get so bad?
Let us start with antisemitism.
Antisemitism is to Western civilization as racism is to America; it is always there, under the surface.
Where does antisemitism come into the criticism of Israel (which is not to say that every critique of Israeli policy is antisemitic)?
It is simply this. Antisemitism believes that the Jews are incapable of doing good. Therefore, a Jewish state is ipso facto incapable of doing good.
Watch what happens when antisemitism rubs up against its goody two shoes twin, philosemitism.
If antisemitism is an irrational hatred of Jews, then philosemitism is an irrational love of Jews.
Antisemitism = Jews can’t do good.
Philosemitism = Jews should be incapable of doing bad.
“Jews are the Devil” meets “Jews should be angels.”
So, yes: the Jews can have a state. But, the ordinary laws of statecraft should not apply to a Jewish state. If your enemies attack you, don’t fight back too hard. A lot of Jews die? Meh.
Oh, but wait a minute. Why do they have to have a state, at all?
Consider another John from the UK — the late John Lennon, and his famous song, “Imagine.”
“Imagine there’s no countries….and no religion, too.”
We are the nerds of history. Imagine (!): we proclaimed and defend a sovereign state — only to discover that the cool kids find the whole idea of national borders to be passe.
The idea of local and national loyalties is the Nehru jacket of history.
Oh, and then the “no religion, too” part of the song. As a recent study reveals, religious faith in the United States is on the decline.
So, both nationalism and religion are uncool. You put the two together? A country with a particular religious story at its core?
But, wait. There’s more.
What happened between the last Gaza conflict, and this one?
It is really rather simple. It was the murder of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO — and then, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, and George Floyd, among others.
Consider the title of Angela Davis’ book — Freedom is a Constant Struggle: Ferguson, Palestine, and the Foundations of a Movement.
In a 2015 address in Santa Cruz, in celebration of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., Ms. Davis noted that it was no coincidence that while events were taking place in Ferguson, Israel was attacking Palestinian civilians in Gaza. She connected Israeli police methods, among the most sophisticated and reasonable, to the militarized police of Ferguson.
From the streets of Ferguson and Minneapolis, to the streets of the West Bank and Gaza. Get it? American police? Bad. Israel? Bad.
In fact, there is nothing that compares the horror of the racial situation in this country to the rather complex, nuanced, frustrating, and emotionally exhausting situation in Israel/Palestine.
Why stop there? Why not just compare Zionism to white supremacy, like Yoav Litvin did in Al-Jazeera?
Add to this: the utter libel that “the Israelis are killing brown people, i.e., the Palestinians.”
Don’t even think of acknowledging that a very sizable percentage of Israeli Jews are not white. Conveniently ignore that a growing percentage of American Jews are also not white. Utterly erase the fact that if you were to put an Iraqi Jew next to an Iraqi Muslim you could not easily figure out who prays where.
So, how did Israel and her supporters lose the narrative?
- We went in with a disadvantage — 2500 years of antisemitism.
- Then, we touted nationalism, at a time when the very idea was starting to become passe.
- We had the bad timing to form a state around a particular religious narrative — precisely when religion was beginning its twilight.
- And then, we had to use power. Never mind that it was to defend ourselves against a radical Islamic, fascistic, antisemitic and anti-everything-else-we-care-about enemy. Never mind that they want to see the Jews dead.
So, how do we respond?
Move over, John. Here is my rant.
I am so sorry that we Jews have disappointed you. You somehow subscribed to the idea that we should be nice Jewish boys and girls.
Yeah, well, it didn’t work out that way.
You say you don’t believe in countries or borders? You want a world with no countries? You start. Get rid of yours, if you want.
You don’t like religion? Almost every European country has a flag with a cross in it. How has that worked out? How many Muslim countries are there? Hindu? Buddhist?
The world certainly has room for a state based on the best of what Judaism has to offer.
About that Palestinian state that everyone seems to crave. I am going to surprise you. They should have one.
Just one thing: I want Jewish kids to sleep well at night.
If you can guarantee that, bring it on.
Yes, Israel has some serious internal issues that it needs to address. Those issues haunt every thoughtful Jew and Israeli.
But, none of those internal issues merited the rain of bombs on our country.
Especially because Hamas hates the Jews. Wherever we are.
You want to go sing “Imagine” with Hamas? Be my guest. Let me know when you’re done with the final verse, and I will make sure that someone picks you up in, say, Sderot.
No, this kind of measured rant is not going to win the Jews any popularity contests.
Which is quite OK.
We are quite accustomed to it.