Barbara Sofer

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The Human Spirit: My Cousin's Question

February 10, 2012
Barbara Sofer , THE JERUSALEM POST

 

"Why isn’t the etiology ever examined of why the Arabs were friends of the US prior to when we became staunch allies of Israel?"

My cousin A. lives in Fairfield County, a part of Connecticut that touches New York and is sometimes referred to as the Gold Coast.

She has been attending a series of public lectures about the changing situation in the Middle East “after the Arab Spring.” It draws a large, mostly non-Jewish audience.

The latest lecture, which she enjoyed, brought the Israeli point of view into the discussion.

She wasn’t sure of the speaker’s ethnic background, but thought he did a good job answering the questions.

Then she posed a question to me.

“A member of the audience,” she told me by e-mail, “asked the following: ‘Why isn’t the etiology ever examined of why the Arabs were friends of the US prior to when we became staunch allies of Israel? In other words, we only have problems because of the hatred between the Jews and Arabs. If we “get rid of Israel,” we’re good!’” Wrote my cousin, “The speaker said he totally disagreed with her premise and gave reasons.

I was a little upset with the question but would rather respond [to it without] emotion. How would you have answered?” I’ve been thinking about this for a while, cognizant of how hard coming up with the right answer often is with an audience waiting in anticipation. Often the perfect answer appears in the middle of the night after the audience has long since dispersed.

My senses tell me I should first empathize with the speaker. It is indeed unpleasant to have so many people hate you. As an Israeli and a Jew, I know that feeling well. It makes you think that there might be something terribly wrong with you that causes the furious burning of your flag and the calls for your death and destruction. (Ironically many residents of those same countries who call for America’s destruction would apply for green cards by the millions if they were easily available.) Like the speaker, I might have aimed first at the fallacy of the premise. America’s friendship with Israel isn’t the true cause of anti-Americanism.

Many scholarly treatises and books have been written on the origins of anti-Americanism in Muslim countries. They document just how forthcoming the US State Department has been to repressive Muslim regimes.

They show that whether America is expressing goodwill by supporting the rebels fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan, or standing up for Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, anti-Americanism just doesn’t abate.

Anti-Americanism is irrational, like anti-Semitism, and it demonizes American social, economic and political institutions, as well as American traditions and values. In the Middle East, it’s often related to a distaste for American women that predates feminism, for their lack of modesty. The demonization of America is less related to specific political views than to creating a convenient scapegoat for frustrated societies that have not overcome low achievements despite massive aid.

I could also suggest that a strategy of jettisoning Israel would be counterproductive to Americans.

European countries’ shifting to anti-Israel positions has not endeared them to the Muslim world. If it had, they could take down their security cameras and disband their anti-terrorism units. Appeasement hasn’t been a successful strategy for the Western world.

I might have ended with an outline of the advantages the US enjoys through its special relationship with Israel, a valuable ally in helping to maintain America’s national security, protecting its economic interests, and maintaining its military advantage. Israel is not one of the countries where the American president is burnt in effigy.

But I’m afraid I might not have answered any of the above. Sometimes, it’s difficult to answer rationally and dispassionately. Instead, I might have ranted. Something about the question would have pushed a button and I might have thrown caution to the wind. Fairfield County is, after all, the setting of Gentleman’s Agreement, Laura Hobson’s best-selling novel that was subsequently turned into a superb movie starring Gregory Peck. In the story, a journalist pretending to be Jewish understands how deeply embedded is anti-Semitism in that county; he’s rejected by a hotel and snubbed in the city of Darien, and his son is called names in the street.

A FEW additional words about the movie. Darryl Zanuck decided to produce it after he was mistaken for a Jew and rejected by a country club. Peck accepted the role despite his agent’s advice that it might wreck his career. Several of those connected to the film were placed on the Hollywood blacklist of the House Un-American Activities Committee. This was a movie of the McCarthy “Commie” witch-hunt era.

I might well have felt that the subtext of the politely phrased, supposedly pragmatic question – with few Jews in the audience – was really about not needing the pesky Jews and their Jewish state. Why was such a question asked without embarrassment in front of a liberal, educated Connecticut audience? Instead of history and politics, I might have launched into the fuzzy area called morality.

How could an American even hint that Israel should be abandoned as appeasement? I might have reminded her thatGentleman’s Agreement was published in 1947, before we had a Jewish state, and after six million Jews were massacred following an infamous attempt at appeasement.

I might have encouraged the questioner to look inward to her sense of right and wrong.

Answers the journalist in the movie pretending to be a Jew when his fiancée asks him if he thinks she’s an anti-Semite: “No, I don’t. But I’ve come to see lots of nice people who hate it and deplore it and protest their own innocence, then help it along and wonder why it grows.

People who would never beat up a Jew. People who think anti-Semitism is far away in some dark place with low-class morons. That’s the biggest discovery I’ve made. The good people. The nice people.”

Had I cast aside my politically correct tone, I might have received encouragement from David Horovitz. The formerJerusalem Post editor recently used his invitation to speak at the farewell ceremony of the outgoing (and much admired) Polish ambassador to Israel as an opportunity to remind the European ambassadors present that they should be among the staunchest supporters of the Jewish people’s need for a state, considering their history. I admired his gumption, his tone and his being upfront about his extended family’s Holocaust history.

Horovitz may have surprised his hosts by the challenge in his speech. Challenge we must. If even in Connecticut, the so-called “Constitution State,” they’re talking about abandoning Israel, the time for making our audience feel comfortable has long since passed.

 

 

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