Editorial - September 2004
Rosh Hashanah 5765
• Self-Discipline – Respect - Hope
• Antisemitism in 3-D
• The Moment of Truth
• State and Nation
• Protection and Defense
• Gaza first ?
• Gideon Sa'ar
Medicine and Halacha
• Sex - Morality - Law
• Witness of his times
• Pinchas Tibor Rosenbaum
• Hungarian guilt
• Jewish Education in Hungary
Ethic and Judaism
• Whose mind is it ?
Natan Sharansky. Photo by Bethsabée Süssmann
We are living in a paradoxical epoch, where events, museums and memorials for the six million Jews murdered in Europe are multiplying, and where at the same time vicious attacks against Israel appear daily in the international press. These serve as pretexts for antisemitic acts, as much in Europe as in New Zealand. Faced with this complex situation, we sought enlightenment from an expert in the field and met with Mr. NATAN SHARANSKY, Minister for Jerusalem Affairs and for Relations with the Diaspora and a member of the inner security cabinet of the Israeli government.
Can you briefly summarize for us the situation of the Jewish community around the world as antisemitism is enjoying spectacular growth?
We are in the midst of the war against terrorism and it is evident to all that this is not some tribal conflict between Arabs and Jews, but a fight for freedom and democracy against terror. We, the Jews of Israel, ought to be able to expect a minimum of sympathy and understanding. In addition to this war that we are fighting together with the other democratic countries, we are facing another type of conflict, the new wave of antisemitism, unprecedented since the end of the Second World War. So we have a double challenge: on the one hand, we are in the front line in the worldwide struggle against terrorism while we are still fighting for our own existence and survival, and on the other hand, we have to respond to attacks designed to deprive Jews of their liberties and democratic rights. For the last four or so years we have witnessed a major, systematic distortion of an ethical issue of the first order: human rights. This is the result of the acceptance by the entire world – and I musts say regrettably also by Israel – of a twisting of the rules that determine the values of human rights. These are bandied not just as a pretext to support dictatorial regimes, but also to justify acts of terrorism. This state of affairs did not occur overnight, but dates from the start of the Oslo Process. Thus, when the illusion of a peace agreement was strongest, the emerging Palestinian Authority, aided and abetted by Egypt, launched an antisemitic campaign worldwide. This poison has been accepted by every country that believes that by acting this way, the Arab world would be better disposed towards what was called the “peace process”. Everyone wanted to believe that this new antisemitism spread by the Arabs was only a stepping-stone on the road to peace. What actually happened was that what should just have been an “episode” turned into a relentless campaign of antisemitism, unprecedented over the last sixty years. The main elements of this “new antisemitism” are only new in the abundance of material distributed and published, because Egypt, Syria, Saudi Arabia and the Palestinian Authority have taken up and amplified the themes of classic antisemitism. To illustrate what I am saying, let me give an example from the Al Manar television station, which distributed as a serial a fifteen-hour film produced in Syria, whose theme was the notorious mantra of ritual crime, cutting the throats of Christian children in order to manufacture matzot (unleavened bread). One of the scenes shows how two Jews with sidelocks lure a young person into a cellar, slit his throat, then collect his blood and present it triumphantly to a Jewish mother, who thanks the Almighty that she can now make matzot that are truly kosher. You should be aware that this film was not just seen by millions of viewers in the Arab world, but also by several million in Europe. This is just one example among many. Having shown a six-minute excerpt to the political leaders of Germany, Spain and Great Britain, I succeeded in having satellite access to this TV station blocked. France was reticent. However, thanks to the intervention of CRIF, the French Jewish Community’s umbrella organization, the Prime Minister and four ministers finally saw the excerpt from the film. That led to them initiating a process in Parliament and in the Senate to set up special legislation authorizing closing off satellite access to foreign television stations. This law has been in force since 30 July 2004, and Al Manar is no longer available in France or Europe. For me this was a victory – a tiny one in an enormous war. You should know that this type of antisemitic propaganda is similar to the films that used to be shown in schools in Nazi Germany. However, such films are much more powerful, as they are in color and daily reach millions of households. It must be understood that this sort of propaganda is falling on very fertile soil in Europe, since the most virulent and extreme criticism of Israel creates an atmosphere conducive to the absorption of the most vicious antisemitic theories. When we attempt to explain the ins and outs of this “new” type of antisemitism, we always get the same answer, “Do not try to stop legitimate criticism of Israel”. This is all the more ridiculous since there are few countries on earth where self-criticism is more deeply anchored in everyday life than in Israel. To combat this new wave of antisemitism, we must understand that it contains three dimensions; it is in fact 3-D. The first “D” is for the Demonization of Israel, the second for Double standards, and the third for Delegitimization. Israel today faces the same tools that antisemites have used across the ages to justify their attacks on Jews. The demonization of Israel occurs virtually daily in the so-called liberal press. Thus, for example, the Jewish State is compared to Nazi Germany, Ariel Sharon to Hitler, and the refugee camps to Auschwitz. This last point illustrates to just what degree the deliberate progress of demonization is cunningly studied. This involves showing that the Jews and Israel are the representatives of Satan and of evil on earth, and as such must be fiercely combated. The second “D”, double standards, is the legal (or more precisely illegal) tool most used by antisemites: over the centuries, many countries in fact had different laws for Jews and Christians. Nowadays it would be unthinkable to introduce that type of legislation in democratic countries, but it is certainly possible to have a double standard at the international level in respect of Israel. A few small examples from among thousands will illustrate what is happening. At the United Nations’ Commission on Human Rights, Israel has been denounced more often than all the dictatorial regimes put together. Israel is also the only nation in the world to have been castigated by 150 countries concerning the application of the Geneva Convention for the treatment of prisoners of war. Yet you only have to see how these are treated in Israel and how they are just a few miles away, in Syria… It is thus clear that applying double standards is nothing but an antisemitic tactic. The last “D”, delegitimization, also follows a time-hallowed antisemitic tradition. Jewish history, fate and nation have been delegitimized across the centuries. In Europe today, particularly in France and Great Britain, and on American university campuses, an argument is gaining strength that the very existence of the State of Israel is simply illegal. The idea being touted is that Israel is the last creation of colonialism to have survived. The critics say that all the colonies were abandoned and the colonists went back to their countries. Why should the Jews from Europe, from various Arab countries and from the USA not simply return to their countries of origin? Why and by what right do the Jews remain in the Middle East, where they impose their country upon the nations of the region? I think that in reference to this particular issue of deligitimization, that we are only at the beginning of a process that is growing fast and that must be killed stillborn.
What do you suggest be done to combat such active promotion of antisemitism around the world?
Just like for a film in 3-D, you need to wear the right glasses to see it in all its dimensions. In this case, we need to measure the degree of danger in each element. I think that each time we hear of “legitimate criticism of Israel”, each of us must analyze this “criticism” in the light of the three “D’s” that I have just mentioned. This will let us gauge the scale of the antisemitism, particularly in Europe, where this approach has the active support of the so-called “liberal” press, which daily distorts the basic principles of human rights that it claims to defend. In this connection, I would like to quote my master, Andrei Sakharov. “Human rights only have their place and can only be defended in a society that is truly free”. Today we are in a war that pits free society against dictatorships, and it is simply unacceptable that, in their opposition to the free world, the dictators should enjoy international backing under the pretext of promoting and implementing celebrated human rights. Yet that is exactly what is happening and what makes our fight so difficult.
As far as knowing what to do, I think that first and foremost we should do some introspection and ask ourselves if we truly believe in the justice of our cause. We must be convinced that our truth is right, that we must struggle so that it triumphs and be aware that what is good for us is good for the rest of the free world. That was in fact our secret in the Soviet Union, because we knew that truth was on our side and the solidarity of the Jewish people was strong and unwavering. At the time the Soviets had understood that and especially that antisemitism was giving them a bad name. This is still valid today, many people realize the harm that antisemitism causes them and also understand that supporting totalitarian regimes is in the end harmful to themselves. However, the connection between classic antisemitism and the new form I talked about is not always identified straight away. Jews themselves should certainly recognize it. To illustrate this, let me tell you that I recently visited 21 of the main American university campuses. At some the situation is very difficult, since over the last twenty years Arab countries have made a major effort to set up and nurture “Centers for Middle Eastern Studies”. As a result there is hardly a professor who teaches the history of the Near East without being filled with anti-Zionist and pro-Palestinian propaganda. There too the banner of human rights is used in the most demagogic way possible to stigmatize Israel. Yet I have noticed that on those campuses where there is a strong core of Jewish activists who are not afraid of denouncing what is happening, who are not afraid of acknowledging their identity, who know historical truth and the facts on the ground, and who know how to respond to the most vicious and convoluted attacks, the climate quickly changes. For example, one of the most discussed subjects at American universities is women’s rights. So it is easy to show that in the areas controlled by the Palestinian Authority these are violated on a daily basis, not secretly or illegally, but with the blessing and support of the local authorities. The only way for a woman to escape this suffering and be certain not to be murdered is to move to Israel. Another popular cause célèbre is that of homosexuals. For a gay to live his identity freely in Ramallah, there is only one thing to do: seek asylum in Jerusalem. It is therefore urgent that Jews not be afraid, that they not be discouraged, and above all that they not be scared that in affirming their support for Israel and the Jewish cause, that they risk causing damage to their academic advancement and to their professional careers. These are not just isolated cases. I have met many students and young Jews who have started working and who have clearly told me, “If we announce our support for Israel, we risk serious harm in our work”. I told them, “You are in a very dangerous situation. American Jewry cannot become the “Jews of Silence”. Yet today, out of fear, 70% of young Jews on campus prefer to keep silent. We, the Jews of the Soviet Union, were the Jews of Silence, but we managed to snap this lead weight that was paralyzing us”. This is all the more disquieting because the American Jewish community is the most affluent and most powerful in the world, well established in the land of freedom. Thus we are faced with an enormous challenge, which is to know how to strengthen our youth. If Israel has its part to play in order that we win this challenge, Jewish communities around the world will certainly share this responsibility with us. In particular in the USA, the communities are very rich, powerful and have a lot of influence, yet they use none of these advantages to defend our common cause: Israel and the fight against antisemitism. Here too, a striking example will easily illustrate what I am saying. Recently I came to a very large American campus. During a meeting with the students, they asked me if I could help them get a meeting with the President of their university so that they could inform him of a number of antisemitic incidents that had taken place. It was a year (!) since they had requested a meeting, without success. That evening I met the community leaders and told them, “The Jews of this town have invested more money in this university than anyone else and especially than the Arabs, who today are freely disseminating their poison. All you need to do is lift up the phone to speak to the president. How is it that the students had to wait until I arrived in order to meet him? You are always complaining that Israel does not do what it should in information and propaganda, the famous Hasbarah, but you do not even do the simplest things. This must change, and quickly”.
Do you believe that Israel shares responsibility in this negative development?
Unfortunately, we have contributed significantly to perpetuating this moral confusion, where human rights are used to fight freedom and where it is no longer possible to tell the good from the bad. Our contribution to this upheaval started in 1993, when we installed a corrupt dictator in some parts of the territories and decided that, for the sake of our own security, the Arab population in these areas had to submit to a bloody dictatorship. The slogan of the time was, “Without Human Rights organizations, without a High Court of Justice and without a free press, Arafat will fight the Hamas better than us, with our backing”. Not only did we willingly close our eyes to his depredations, but we also helped, armed and financed him, all in the name of an entirely illusory peace. Like all dictators, Arafat needs an enemy, and we were the ideal target. So he used every cent, not just to fight us with terror, but also to promote hatred against us. By acting in this way, by installing and supporting him, we both contributed to the moral confusion to which I have referred and strengthened the illusion that by supporting corrupt dictators you can improve the situation in the world.
Recently Prime Minister Ariel Sharon made a remarkable declaration, warning the Jews of France of the dangers awaiting them and inviting them to come to Israel immediately, or as quickly as possible. In which country do you think Jews are most in danger today?
Firstly, I do not believe that Aliyah, immigration to Israel, should be motivated by fear of antisemites or by their actions. I want Jews to come here out of conviction and for all the good reasons one can imagine. All the statistics point to the future of the Jewish people being solely in Israel. In the entire world, communities are declining, except in France, where there had been the influx of Jews from North Africa, and in Germany, where Jews from Eastern Europe have settled. It has also been demonstrated that the survival of each Jew is intimately tied up with Israel.
Many of us ask ourselves the question, when is the right time to leave?
Those who do not wish to see the increasing number of warnings will never see them, and in the end will be taken by surprise when it is too late. We have known this type of situation throughout our history, in particular prior to the Shoah.
A conversation with a minister in the Israeli government would never be complete if I did not ask him his views on the current situation in the Middle East. Do you think the American presence in the region has in fact caused a fundamental change?
One must definitely not underestimate the importance of this strategic change of the first order, the toppling of Saddam Hussein’s regime. For the first time in our history, we no longer have a front on our eastern border. There are many countries that do not like us, however, even though we are faced with many extremely serious challenges, for the time being we have been freed from any threat from a country to the east of Israel’s longest frontier. Today the biggest dangers facing us are Egypt, which is undergoing huge rearmament, and within the Palestinian Authority.
Unfortunately, together with the good news about our eastern border, we are living in a very dangerous age. A new illusion is gaining ground around the world and among our leadership, which advocates that the only way of achieving peace in this region and to strengthen it in the world is to mollify dictatorial regimes by making unilateral concessions. Yet it is known that appeasement and the stabilization of terrorist regimes result in more suffering for the people they control as well as for surrounding countries and other nations, when it dose not lead to armed conflict. In our region, by accepting the idea of unilateral concessions, we are accepting Arafat’s ideas, which are, “No Jews in the territory I control”. In other words, Israel, a free and democratic country, accepts that a dictatorial regime can insist that certain of its regions become totally Judenrein. No Israeli politician, and first and foremost me, could subscribe to the idea that Arabs be expelled from their homes so that areas of Israel be emptied of their Arab population. For me, the idea that Arafat’s dictatorship can act freely in our own backyard, and that to serve his cause Jews must be forced to abandon their homes, is intolerable and I will do everything to combat it.