Balak, Bilaam, Pinchas & the Antisemitic Olympics

Is this the New America

What would a fresh congress representative from the Bronx, Michigan or Minnesota  have to do with Israel, you’d ask. But based on the amount of mention of Jews and Israel in the news, one would imagine that we’re talking about a superpower threat, rather than a tiny country seven thousand miles away, smaller than New Jersey. Politicians across the country articulate anti-Zionist soundbites, often disguising their antisemitic tone, in what appears like a national sport. The answer is simple: Free publicity!

Presumably, in this 21st century, age-old prejudices would have been laid to rest. But with white supremacists threatening to kill Jews following yet again another murderous attack on a synagogue—this craziness goes on and on, making us wonder how it can keep happening, but it does. It will continue until people are held responsible for spreading hate.

Using hate speech against Jews is not new. In last week’s parsha, Balak, the king of Moab and Midian, asks Bilaam to curse the Jewish nation, hoping to destroy it. It’s the seminal paradigm of antisemitic narrative, which continues today and as the world watches from the sidelines, the best of humanists tell themselves: Jews must have done something to deserve it.

Have we?

In a 2003 interview, following the publication of his book The Dream of Scipio, British novelist Iain Pears said: ”Antisemitism is like alcoholism. You can go for 25 years without a drink, but if things go bad and you find yourself with a vodka in your hand, you can’t get rid of it. It’s a social-emotional inheritance.” Yet, the truth is a lot more sinister. While at its source, antisemitism is based on blind hatred, its fire is stoked by opportunism and spread by ignorance. The mass impact of antisemitism is driven by cynical politicians who seek attention and know that alleging heinous accusations against Jews, however outrageous, will attain free publicity without political repercussions. Such is the derisive nature of our fractional politics.

When University of Pennsylvania Law School professor Amy Wax, made racist remarks that: “I don’t think I’ve ever seen a black student graduate in the top quarter of the class …,” the media attacked her mercilessly. And when Nobel Laureate, James Watson, claimed differences in intelligence between black and white people, he was stripped of his titles. But when fresh congresswoman Ilhan Omar (D-MN) voices old conspiracy theory that it’s: “…all about the Benjamins,” suggesting that Jewish financiers buy off American politicians, public condemnation is debated and her apologists tried to make light of her remarks. As the saying goes: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” It was the same when Representative Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) shared posts from an account that equates Jews to vermin and Hitler, or when AOC (Cortez) compares detained immigrants at our southern border to Jews in concentration camps. While these people’s accomplishments are insignificant, their pernicious antisemitic fiction has boosted their reputations and their names have become well known only a few short months after they have taken office. It was human rights attorney Brooke Goldstein, founder and Executive Director of The Lawfare Project, who explained on national TV how the Muslim congresswoman, Ilhan Omar, “has built a career on attacking American Jews.” Similarly, who’d heard of Linda Sarsour before she attacked Jews and Israel?

Ironically, same time when President Trump is accused of racist remarks across all media outlets, U.S. Rep. Omar introduces yet another anti-Zionist/Semitic resolution in support of the anti-Israel BDS movement, without any condemnation.

Blatant antisemitism at a major conference at the University of North Carolina, co-sponsored by Duke University, got no national admonition. It’s an age-old crusade, whereby slamming Jewish life or Jewish honor is a free-for-all. Some anemic condemnations by a few honorable men, yet life goes on without much trouble for the hate-mongers.

Recently, the DNC was infiltrated by a malignant trend wherein antisemitism is disguised as anti-Israel sentiment. From long-time Senator, Bernie Sanders, to newly-elected Congresswoman, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, their attacks get prominent coverage and the public fails to distinguish between truth and cheap demagoguery PR. Many presidential candidates keep competing on the platform of who will be the most anti-Israel, as if it were an Olympics race.

Admittedly, while some journalists have integrity, mass-media, as a whole, is ignorant. There is no fact checking to educate listeners about outrageous claims and imaginary accusations. It’s no wonder how hateful remarks made by far-right political activist Gavin McInnes, including his rants suggesting the Holocaust is a brainwashing conspiracy, take hold  via media outlets across the country. Then, within a few minutes, his arguments get rehashed by a school principal in Florida. With the gaps between indifference, bias and blind hatred, becoming negligible, it takes only a tiny spark to ignite a person’s fragile mind to unleash their aggression and direct them to massacre yet another group of innocent worshipers at a synagogue.

The conclusion to Balak’s story is in the following parsha which describes Pinchas’s act of vengeance, killing Zimri who had violated the law in public. Taking the law into his hands, he redeems the people by attacking the ignoble prince. It is a questionable act for our 21st century morality, but it may hold the key to understanding our current dilemma. Attacking Jews on one hand, while holding Israel to a higher standard when it tries to defend itself, represent questionable principles and sinister morality.

What can we do?

When Jewish novelist and professor of literature, Dara Horn, suggests that we don’t need  the Simon Wiesenthal Center and we, as Jews, don’t bear the responsibility to educate the public, she’s only half correct. While the prosecution of our offenders gives them free publicity without forfeiting their good names or reputations, education is still a responsibility we must embrace. We need to make sure the phrase “Never Again” is not an empty slogan, relegated to the Holocaust era alone, but a potent claim for our collective memory and a call for action. When universities, such as Berkeley, Columbia and NYU give free rein to hatred and intolerance, we must demand consequences for hate speech against Jews, as well as LGBTQ persons, African-Americans and any other minorities.

We must petition to hold the media responsible for allowing poisonous antisemitism on the public airwaves. And we  must unite around this issue. In watching perverse leaders, who push children to be shot in front of the cameras, and fake bloody visuals, people have a hard time distinguishing between truth and  set-up. But electronic and print media must control their content and present the truth rather than cower into moral equivalence.

People who engage in public expressions of hate against Jews, must pay a price. We must demonstrate to the public that Jews are not characters from a game of Grand Theft Auto who can be shot at will. We must debate this matter urgently and address all possible avenues to curtail the attacks on us. If the Vatican could issue its Nostra Aetate in 1965, which revolutionized the Catholic Church’s relations with Jews by saying Christ’s death could not be attributed to Jews, then other ignorant/prejudiced groups can be rehabilitated.

The Antisemitic Olympic games are over. It’s time we state the obvious – Jews are ordinary people. The world is stacked against Israel and it has to stop.

About the Author
Soli now lives in the US, but he was born in Romania and later lived in Israeli boarding school Hadasim, as part of the Aliyat Hanoar. He served in the Israeli Air Force, and graduated with a degree in architecture from the Technion. After settling in Jaffa, he moved to the US and had several businesses. He has been married for 40 years, and is the father of 4 and grandfather of 5.
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