Spending a week delivering lectures in Germany, Holland, and Switzerland gave me a renewed perspective on European Jewish life and attitudes toward Jews. Many of my lectures were based around my new book Kosher Lust, which led to the frequent question, “Is it true that Jews have sex through a sheet with a hole in the middle?”
I responded that the Jewish laws allowing a couple to have sex through a sheet with a hole in the middle is actually a lenient Rabbinic position, mostly practiced by reform Jews. The truly orthodox have sex in two different bedrooms through a hole in the wall, while the ultra-Orthodox are in the habit of donning full body armor just prior to sex. (Incidentally, in Jewish law any and all clothing is prohibited during sex since love-making is about becoming bone of one bone, flesh of one flesh. Even condoms are prohibited as a contraceptive for the artificial barrier they impose between husband and wife, the pill or diaphragm being preferred).
There seems to be no lie of which the Jews can be accused that rest of the world – especially Europe – will not absorb. First, we were charged killing god. Then, that we poisoned the wells of Europe during the Black Death. Next, we tortured the crackers of the Eucharist to cause further suffering to Jesus, whose flesh was incarnate in the wafer. After that, we killed Christian children and, like vampires, drained their blood into our matzos. Of course, plotting and scheming to take over the world is an on-going conspiracy which, hair brained as it may seem, is still believed by countless people the world over, including a young student at the University of Istanbul who told me in March that she read it in her textbooks.
Fast forward to the year 2014 and many in Europe believe that tiny Israel is the cause of most of the strife in the Middle East and that it’s six million Jewish citizens are responsible for the strife of the four hundred million Arabs that surround it.
The Czech Republic is considered friendly to Israel, given their history of being the object of appeasement to Hitler’s insatiable appetite. But that did not stop a government official telling me, respectfully, that Israel’s stealing Palestinian land had alienated most of Europe. When I reminded him that Israel had actually conquered the West Bank in a defensive war launched by Jordan, had offered to create a Palestinian state there more times than one could count, and the Palestinians had responded with a terror wave that killed thousands of Israelis, he told me that none of that mattered. He had negative feelings toward Israel.
Perhaps we should not be surprised that the world has sought to demonize the Jews with lies. After all, even under constant pressure, we Jews have categorically refused to become Christian or Muslim and it is in the nature of the majority to seek to portray a minority who refuses to become like them as strange, sinister, and untrustworthy.
But whatever the motive, the basic strategy of Israel and the Jewish community must change.
We could easily blame European anti-Semitism for anti-Israel hostility. But however true, it’s too convenient and it absolves us Jews of the responsibility of communicating our message. I am a public speaker and the job of a communicator is to communicate. Say I am speaking at 4am at the tikkun leil Shavuot study marathon. The audience has not slept the entire night and are hardly receptive to a speech at that early hour. But how does that absolve me from giving the best possible lecture I can?
Until now, it has mostly been our policy to overlook ludicrous lies against the Jews in the belief that responding to them was dignifying them. Israel especially has lost the public relations battle because so many Israelis believed that the justice of their cause was so self-evident that it required no defence. Well, wake up and smell the hatred. The policy has failed miserably. If history has taught us anything about the Jews it’s that the world will even believe that we have horns under our Yarmulkes unless the falsehood is aggressively challenged.
Hardly a week goes by where serious new allegations aren’t hurled against Israel, the latest being the Pope himself praying in front of Palestinian graffiti equating Bethlehem with the Warsaw Ghetto, which made a fundamentally good man an unwitting party to Holocaust trivialization. To us Jews this is a grotesque, revolting lie that should require no rejoinder. But we are fooling ourselves if we think that most of the world doesn’t already believe that Israel’s anti-terror wall is a giant Alcatraz.
In April my organization This World: The Values Network started a debate series on campus, inviting Israel’s leading critics to defend their allegations against Israel in open debate. The first forum, at Columbia, featured Peter Beinart who calls for a boycott against all products from the West Bank – including Soda Stream – because of “the Israeli occupation”. I asked him in front of the students why he uses an IPhone given that it is manufactured in China which has been occupying Tibet for more than half a century.
He had no response.
A woman came over to me and said that she believed that arguments like these, defending Israel, should be a standard feature of Jewish day school education. I could not agree more. Every Jewish young adult should be equipped, as part of their basic education, to respond to lies about the Jewish people. The world Jewish community should adopt the policy that each and every lie should be convincingly rebutted at a grass roots level rather than dismissed as beneath contempt.
Jews may not use a sheet with a hole in the middle for sex. But they do need a wall without any holes to stop terrorists from blowing up more Jewish children. And unless we can persuade the rest of the world of the justice of our cause, they will continue to put barriers in the path of our barriers.