(RNS) — No, I did not mention the late Bishop Desmond Tutu at services this past Shabbat.
True — he was a great anti-apartheid activist in South Africa — the true moral voice of his country.
But, Tutu was also staunchly critical of Israel; a supporter of BDS; a man who gratuitously compared the situation in Israel to apartheid; a man who hectored the Jews about their moral obligations and who even had the unmitigated chutzpah to say — at Yad Va Shem! — that the Jews should forgive the Nazis for the murder of 6 million Jews during the Shoah.
No doubt, some of you are saying to yourselves: “There he goes again. Why does it always have to be about the Jews? Why can’t he just offer an unequivocal eulogy for a great man who was one of the great moral voices of his time?”
Because, for many Jews, our assessment of Bishop Tutu is like one of those Facebook definitions of a relationship: “It’s complicated.”
Why should Jews be the only people who must ignore or back-burner the legacies of those who have hurt them? From what other people or marginalized group would we make a similar demand?
Because, as David Baddiel says in his book Jews Don’t Count:
It’s rare that someone just comes out with it: Anti-Semitism is a second-class racism … A sacred circle is drawn around those whom the progressive modern left are prepared to go into battle for, and it seems as if the Jews aren’t in it.
The Jews aren’t in that sacred circle. There is a victim table for the cool kids, and we aren’t invited.
Moreover, in the case of Bishop Tutu, there is that sense that it is tasteless to mention that an otherwise beloved and even saintly character harbored antisemitic tropes.
But if Jews are the only ones who are denied the right to their hurts, then there might be a term for that.
Let us go one step further — closer to home. Let’s talk about Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York.
In the past, I have gone to great lengths to separate her from the other members of The Squad, whose anti-Israelism is front and center.
I have criticized those who, for their own political purposes, have created a false narrative that the Squad is the true face of the Democratic Party, when there is little evidence to support that.
But AOC makes it increasingly difficult to defend her. She ditched a memorial commemorating the 25th anniversary of Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin’s assassination. She demurred on the approval of funding for Iron Dome.
This past week, one of her staffers called Israel “a racist European ethno-state” in a social media post.
AOC could have done the responsible thing. She could have agreed Israel is an ethno-state — a nation-state, in which one particular nation, culture and language is the default position. As France is the French ethno-state or nation-state; or the Czech Republic is the Czech ethno-state or nation-state. As Palestine will be the Palestinian ethno-state or nation-state.
Look around the world, and you will see a preponderance of such states, often built upon the ruins of empires or larger pseudo-states, like the former Yugoslavia.
There is nothing wrong with nation-states. The only tricky thing about them is: How do they treat those who don’t quite fit into their national narrative?
But AOC also had the responsibility to publicly correct her staffer.
She could have said: No, Israel is not European. Look at a map, please.
While she was at it, she might also have pointed out that the vast majority of Israelis are not of European descent.
I am not even asking Ocasio-Cortez to fire the staffer. A short trip to the woodshed would have sufficed. A correction and clarification from her office would have been even better.
But, as of this writing: nothing. Crickets.
Because you can insult Israel and the Jewish people all you want, and if you have a perceived righteous record on other things, you get a free pass.
In the warmest of hearts, there is a cold spot for the Jews.
My New Year’s resolution for 2022?
Not to take any of this lying down.
I will act as any other member of an aggrieved group will act — and that is to call out the hatred.
Will you join me?
Happy New Year!