“Upon three things the world endures,” says the Talmud. “Upon justice, upon truth, and upon peace.” Maybe that’s why my world has often felt as if it’s on the brink of collapse.
Where is justice? Is justice in American foreign policy, which has consistently pressured Israel to make concessions while overlooking Arab violations of Oslo and Wye? Is justice in the UN condemnation of Israel, tacitly endorsed by the United States, after former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak risked his political career by offering once unthinkable concessions? Or is justice in the return of the Jewish patriarch Joseph’s tomb, revered by Jews for three thousand years and now desecrated by the same Palestinians who promise to protect Jewish holy sites given over to their control?
Where is truth? Is truth in the American press, which has continually accused Israel of provoking Arab violence, even as Arab parents send out their children to throw stones at Israeli soldiers and martyr themselves on international television? Is truth in the vilification of former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, after he received false assurances from Palestinian security — before his visit to the Temple Mount — that there would be no violence, and despite the full day that passed before the “eruption” of “spontaneous” Arab violence? Or is truth in the squalor of Palestinian refugee camps in nations throughout the Arab world, whose governments have brokered violence for half a century rather than welcoming their own dislocated people as citizens?
Where is peace? Is peace in the concrete blocks hurled down by Arabs onto the heads of Jewish worshipers at the Western Wall, or is it in the beating and stabbing of American yeshiva students pulled from their taxi by an Arab mob? Is peace in the insistence that Judaism’s holiest site on earth should be placed entirely under Palestinian authority? Or is peace in the river of hate pouring out of Palestinian press releases and into the minds of Palestinian school children?
There is yet no justice. There may not be peace any time soon. But allow me to offer this grain of truth:
I was there, in Israel, during the first intifada, when bomb squads regularly cordoned off metropolitan boulevards upon the discovery of unattended handbags or backpacks, where Jews were murdered in their own apartment buildings by Arab knives and on their own street corners by Arab suicide bombers. I was there during the Gulf War, stuffing my one-year-old daughter into a plastic tent to protect her from threatened Iraqi gas attacks, shuddering beside my wife in the middle of the night as American Patriot missiles exploded in the skies over Jerusalem and Saddam Hussein’s Scud missiles devastated the streets of Tel Aviv. I was on buses that were pelted by Arab stones and whose windows were shattered by Arab cinder blocks.
And now I am here, watching in disbelief as journalists around the world paint Israelis as war criminals and Arabs as freedom fighters. And, even more astonishing, is the perpetuation of this macabre fantasy by Jews in the media, by the New York Times and National Public Radio and others. To paraphrase one American student writing from Israel: often Jews have been victims of blood libels, but never before have Jews believed those libels themselves.
American Jews have believed for decades that America would become their haven from the terrors of thirty centuries of anti-Semitism. But those hopes vaporize before the unreasoned biases of the “objective” media, whose slanted reporting discredits both them and the First Amendment they invoke whenever their integrity is called into question.
American Jews must be both Americans and Jews. We must speak out in defense of what’s right and what’s fair for all peoples, but we must also speak out to defend ourselves. We owe it to the hundreds of thousands of Jews murdered by Inquisitors in Spain and Cossacks in Poland, to the millions massacred by the Romans in 2nd century Israel and the Nazis in 20th century Europe. We owe it to the Jews who suffered in uncountable numbers under the Babylonians and the Persians and the Greeks and the Syrians, under Almohads and Crusaders and Bolsheviks and in the Reformation, from thousands of years before any modern nation existed until our own generation. We owe it to all of them.
The rest of the world owes it to them, too.
Originally published in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 2000