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Jews must tell the truth about Israel and Judaism
December 7th, 2001
Chicago (JUF News) — Since the start of the intifada last year, college students increasingly report souring Muslim-Jewish relations on campus, with acrimony reigning over discourse and the peculiar feeling that they must struggle just to get their point across.
Indeed, with Israel’s image abroad taking a beating, the Jewish community as a whole finds itself striving to portray its side in the conflict.
In truth, and at the risk of sounding self-congratulatory, Jews hold the moral high ground in both major situations facing us: the crisis in Israel and the Sept. 11 attacks and their aftermath.
Focus on the Islamists, as Muslim novelist Salman Rushdie aptly calls Muslim-inspired terrorists, has revealed a world view divided into Muslims and infidels. The theology for militant Islam goes something like this: Muslims get their rewards in Heaven at the expense of infidels; the more infidels they destroy, the more just their reward.
Hence, the joyous adulation for the Sept. 11 terrorists among many in the Muslim world. Of course, the irony is that at the same time spontaneous celebrations of the murders were taking place, a concurrent theory laid the blame for the attacks on Israel and the Jews.
Interesting that Jews weren’t always considered infidels. At the time of Mohammed (seventh century C.E.), the Muslim prophet tried for years to convert Jewish tribes in the Arabian peninsula.
To show their kinship with Judaism, early Muslims prayed toward Jerusalem, not Mecca, and they fasted on Yom Kippur. Only when the Jewish tribes rejected Mohammed’s call did Muslims begin to fast during the month of Ramadan, which had previously been a pagan holiday.
This slice of history demonstrates a key difference between Judaism and other religions. Ours is a faith that does not seek to convert or, worse, eliminate non-adherents. If anything, Judaism discourages conversion and preaches there is merit to gentiles who establish a just society.
Jews don’t need outside validation nor do they need majority status. And at a time when religious fervor lays claim to untold carnage, that aspect of Judaism, once considered a curiosity of a small religion, ought now be one of its hallmarks.
So too should be Israel’s nature as an open society. Persecuted for centuries, Jews developed what Rabbi Irving Greenberg calls “the ethics of powerlessness,” a value system of high ideals, compassion for victims and abhorrence of violence.
Of course, the equation changes a bit with the establishment of Jewish sovereignty in Israel. No society is perfect, and Israel is no exception.
But no society is more open than Israel. Unlike its neighbors, Israel (and Jews) allows for rigorous debate about its policies and its future. The very existence of such safeguarded freedoms is another sign of the country’s principle of morality.
I’ve long believed that was the fatal flaw in the Oslo process, which was essentially a clash between an open society and a corrupt government. One uses violence as a last resort to defend itself; the other as a primary weapon to achieve its aims.
Despite what the Palestinians and their supporters would have us believe, shooting at Israeli motorists driving to work is not equal to a raid on a village to apprehend a terrorist. No wonder Oslo didn’t amount to anything: there was no underlying common conviction.
It’s time for Jews to assert these truths with poise and confidence. That a truth is self-congratulatory makes it no less of a truth, but failure to promulgate it makes for much more than misplaced humility. It allows the calumnies sprouting from various quarters of the world to slowly go from hyperbole to opinion to fact.
Brigitte Dayan is managing editor of the JUF News in Chicago.