It’s Not Us. It’s Them!

Arab violence and venomous Jew hatred did not start with the alleged “occupation” or “settlement activity.”

The below is adapted from a speech I was asked to give at my shul for our Shabbat Project dinner this past Friday.

My rabbi asked me to speak to our congregation about the news from Israel, about the so-called “knife intifada;” and my charge (so to speak) was to not only be informative, but to also be positive and “inspiring.”  Well, with all of the news of stabbings and attempted stabbings in Eretz Yisrael it is hard to feel either particularly positive or inspiring (note, to thank my rabbi for this easy assignment).

The first positive that I was drawn to, however, was the news from Israel that doesn’t make headlines (or even news) outside of Israel. This past Tuesday for example, some 25,000 runners took to the streets of Tel-Aviv, accessorized with neon lights, for the 2015 Coca Cola Zero Night Run in Tel Aviv; deejays played throughout the course, and the run ended with a party in Park HaYarkon.

On Thursday, October 22, 2015, Open House Jerusalem opened; welcoming visitors into over 117 sites ancient and new. Most people in the West can’t imagine engaging in such activities when crazed Jihadists are running around trying to stab you (remember how the D.C. area was shut down during the time of the “DC Sniper”); but Israelis do it, they live on and even thrive in the face of adversity.

Also on October 22, the Hebrew University announced the results of a new study that will revolutionize how depression is treated, which is certainly good news given how depressing most of the news is these days, but it also demonstrates another reason why we have good reason to be optimistic and feel positive — Jewish “seychel.” Our enemies may have weekly “days of rage,” but we have days of study, days of math, days of science, days of Torah, and days of unity, like we just had this entire Shabbat, and that is much more productive and powerful.

So while I was thinking about my “easy” assignment from my rabbi, to provide the congregation with some positive and “inspiring” perspectives notwithstanding the seemingly non-stop news of barbaric stabbings, which has been on every congregants’ mind for the last three weeks, I started thinking about my reaction to John Kerry’s statement on October 13th at the Harvard School of Government — where he blamed Arab terrorists running around Israel trying to stab Jews on the terrorists’ “frustration” with Israel building settlements or on the lack of progress with the so-called “peace process.” After I finished steaming over the absurdity of Kerry’s comments, I had a thought about a simple fact that we Jews and all Zionists have to unapologetically make clear — first and foremost, to ourselves and then, to the world … It’s Not Us. It’s Them!

That’s right. It’s Not Us. It’s them. This is part of my “positive” message.

Other than our continued existence AS JEWS, nothing WE DO causes people to hate or want to kill Jews. Despite John Kerry’s repeated efforts to blame Palestinians trying to kill Jews wherever they can find them on the Palestinians’ supposed “frustration” with settlements or with the “peace process,” the reality is that Arabs in the Middle East have been persecuting, trying to kill and killing Jews simply for the “crime” of being Jewish for almost 1400 years. It’s not us, it’s them.

Because Modern or Political Zionism was mainly developed by Ashkenazi Jews reacting to horrific persecution and murder of defenseless Jews in Europe, culminating in the Holocaust, many people in the world, including sadly many Jews, have bought into the myth that in Arab countries we Jews were well-treated until we started to have the chutzpah to demand the right of self-determination in in our indigenous homeland, Eretz Yisrael.

But the truth is that while European persecution of Jews was certainly much worse overall than Arab and Ottoman persecution of Jews during most of the Diaspora before 1948, the notion of Jews being well treated in the Arab world before there was a Modern Zionism to upset Arabs is a complete myth. It is beyond bogus.

First off, with rare exceptions during brief periods of time, Jews were always second class citizens living under Arab rule, so called “Dhimmi.”

As “Dhimmis” living in most Arab and Ottoman dictatorships Jews had to pay a special tax, called a “Jizya;” we were excluded from public office, and we were forbidden to bear arms. We were not allowed to ride horses or camels, and our synagogues as a matter of law had to be smaller than any mosque. We were also not allowed to pray or mourn in loud voices, as that might offend the ruling class (similar to how the Palestinian Arabs are so easily “offended” by the notion of Jews praying at the Temple Mount, the holiest site in Judaism). As “Dhimmi” living under Arab or Ottoman dictatorships, we were required to always show public deference toward any Muslim, including always yielding to a Muslim the center of the road. Dhimmi were not allowed to give evidence in court against a Muslim, and a Jew’s oath was not acceptable in an Islamic court, which was generally the only court available to seek redress against a non-Jew that hurt you or stole from you. To defend himself, a Dhimmi would have to literally pay for Muslim witnesses (at great expense). This left Jews with little legal recourse when they were harmed by a non-Jew under Arab or Ottoman rule.

As Dhimmis living under Arab or Ottoman rule we were often forced to wear distinctive clothing. In the year 850 A.D., Baghdad’s Caliph al-Mutawakkil issued a decree ordering that all Jews have to wear garments to distinguish them from Muslims; he ordered all synagogues destroyed, ordered that demonic effigies had to be nailed to the doors of all Jewish homes, and he prohibited Jews from being involved in any government matters. Caliph al-Mutawakkil actually designated a yellow badge that he required all Jews to wear in public, setting a precedent that would be followed centuries later in the Venice Ghetto in the year 1516 and later in Nazi Germany.

But the more than 1000 years of persecution of Jews under Arab and Ottoman rule was certainly not limited to only “Nuremberg type” laws of codified discrimination. As early as 627 A.D., there were Islamist inspired pogroms and massacres of Jews simply because we had the temerity to remain Jewish.

And while much of the world is familiar with the pogroms and massacres that were pervasive in Russia and Eastern Europe, pogroms and massacres were sadly always part of Jewish reality in the Diaspora, whether we were ruled by a Czar, Caliph or Sultan.

Some illustrative examples:

On December 30, 1066 a mob inspired by the same radical Islamist ideology that today sadly inspires way too many Arabs throughout the Middle East and gives ISIS most of its recruits, engaged in a day long pogrom that led to the massacre of most of the Jewish population of Grenada, Spain. More than 1,500 Jewish families (approximately 4,000 people), were murdered in one day. A massacre that would make ISIS jealous.

It’s not us. It’s them.

On June 15, 1834, in the city of Safed, which was then briefly under Egyptian control (before it ceded back to Ottoman control in 1840) a month long pogrom of the indigenous Jewish population of that city started; a pogrom which left almost 500 Jews, many of them children, dead and countless Jews raped and wounded. Numerous Jewish homes and synagogues were also destroyed and thousands of the Jews that had lived in Safed for generations were forced to flee the city.

It’s not us. It’s them.

In 1465, there was a revolt in Morocco that led to a riot in Fez, Morocco. Almost the entire Jewish population of Fez was murdered during this riot. Thousands of Jews were killed in a matter of days. In 1864, around 500 Jews were killed in Marrakech and Fez, Morocco, in another xenophobic inspired riot. In 1869, 18 Jews were killed in Tunis and an Arab mob looted numerous Jewish homes and stores, and burned synagogues on Djerba Island off of the coast of Tunisia. In 1875, 20 Jews were killed by an Islamist mob in Demnat, Morocco. And in 1897, numerous synagogues were ransacked and dozens of Jews were murdered in the area of Libya formerly known as Tripolitania.

It’s not us. It’s them.

In February 1840, in what is known as “The Damascus Affair,” the Jews of Damascus were falsely accused of having ritually murdered a Christian monk and his Muslim servant and of having used their blood to bake Passover bread. Synagogues were ransacked and destroyed. A Jewish barber was tortured until he “confessed” to this crime; and two other Jews who were arrested died while being tortured.

It’s not us. It’s them.

On May 1, 1921 Arabs incited to violence by radical Islamist rhetoric from the Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini (who, as Prime Minister Netanyahu, recently pointed out, later became a guest and ally of Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany) attacked Jewish residents in Jaffa and five Jewish rural communities. 47 Jews were killed and 146 were wounded in these May 1, 1921 attacks.

It’s not us. It’s them.

In 1929, anti-Jewish pogroms – incited again by extremist Islamist rhetoric by the Mufti of Jerusalem (rhetoric that is very similar to the lies we hear today about Jews supposedly trying to destroy Al-Aqsa) – spread throughout British Mandatory Palestine. From August 23 to August 29, Jews were under attack throughout the Holy Land. The most violent attacks were against old established Jewish communities in Hebron, Safed, Jerusalem and Jaffa. During these attacks, 133 Jews were killed and 339 wounded.

It’s not us. It’s them.

On June 1, 1941 in Baghdad, Iraq a 3 day pogrom, known as the “Farhud” took place during the Jewish holiday of Shavuot. Arab rioters attacked numerous Jewish homes, businesses and synagogues. By the time this pogrom was over, more than 180 Jews were killed and over 2000 were injured with incredible damage done to hundreds of Jewish homes and businesses.

It’s not us. It’s them.

Barely a year later, in anticipation of Nazi Germany defeating the British in North Africa, on July 7, 1942, the “Voice of Free Arabism” played a program titled, “Kill the Jews Before They Kill You.” Just like the recent violence incited against the Jews in Israel by Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian Authority, this broadcast began with a lie: “A large number of Jews residing in Egypt and a number of Poles, Greeks, Armenians, and Free French have been issued with revolvers and ammunition” to fight “against the Egyptians at the last moment, when Britain is forced to evacuate Egypt.” The broadcast continued:

“In the face of this barbaric procedure by the British we think it best, if the life of the Egyptian nation is to be saved, that the Egyptians rise as one man to kill the Jews before they have a chance of betraying the Egyptian people. It is the duty of the Egyptians to annihilate the Jews and to destroy their property.You must kill the Jews, before they open fire on you. Kill the Jews, who have appropriated your wealth and who are plotting against your security. Arabs of Syria, Iraq, and Palestine, what are you waiting for? The Jews are planning to violate your women, to kill your children and to destroy you. According to the Muslim religion, the defense of your life is a duty which can only be fulfilled by annihilating the Jews. This is your best opportunity to get rid of this dirty race, which has usurped your rights and brought misfortune and destruction on your countries. Kill the Jews, burn their property, destroy their stores, annihilate these base supporters of British imperialism. Your sole hope of salvation lies in annihilating the Jews before they annihilate you.”

It’s not us. It’s them.

Thus, when people like John Kerry or the various talking heads at CNN or the BBC try to blame or even excuse Arab violence against Jews on current actions or inaction by Israel, they are either ignorant of this history or they are trying to deliberately mislead. The good news is that whether or not we all know this history, most (though sadly far from all) Jews know that Modern Zionism and Israel did not create violence against Jews. And most Jews (though again, sadly not all) understand that it is largely because of millennia of irrational Jew-hatred and violence against Jews that we are Zionists and why we love and need Israel. It is this knowledge that protects us. It this understanding that protects us from thinking and acting like perpetual victims. It protects us from listening to those that want us to blame ourselves for being the victims of irrational hatred, blood libels, and bigotry.

Today, once again the Jewish nation is under siege. A siege very much like the repeated Islamist and blood libel inspired riots and murders of Jews that were incited in Grenada in 1066, in Morocco in 1465, in Safed in 1834 and by the Mufti of Jerusalem and his followers in the 1920’s and 1930’s.

What’s truly incredible – something to be profoundly proud of – is that despite more than millennia of intolerance (and worse) from the Arab world; Am Yisrael refuses to compromise its moral code.  We refuse to hate and we refuse to despair.   Thankfully, unlike when we were hit with waves of hate, blood libels and pogroms before 1948, we Jews are no longer dependent on others for our safety. We can fight to defend ourselves. In Israel, we are of course defending ourselves physically.  And we should continue to do so, without apologies. We are also, however, defending ourselves spiritually. It is remarkable. At almost every place in Israel where one of these horrific stabbings has occurred, Israelis have returned to that location to sing and dance. Not to celebrate death, like our enemies do, but to celebrate life. And to celebrate Israel! To sing “Am Yisrael Chai” and “Hatikvah.”

Dark times, such as our people are experiencing in Israel right now, can be debilitating, but our spiritual tradition commands us to bring light into darkness (like Israelis running the streets of Tel-Aviv wearing bright neon lights). Just as the Shabbat candles that we light every Friday night bring light into the home and take us from the mundane to the holy, our tradition and our history requires us to remain positive and to be hopeful, to have Tikvah (hope).  From October 22-24 we participated in a “Unity Shabbat” with Jews all over the world. Over 550 Jewish communities all over the world, including in Israel, participated. As the presence of the State of Israel and the IDF have physically strengthened and protected the Jewish people, our unity and our celebrating the Sabbath together strengthens us spiritually and helps us work through dark times. Staying true to our history and our traditions has always been part of the strength of the Jewish people. And remembering that anti-Semites don’t need excuses to hate us, they just do and it is not our job to give them more excuses strengthens us too. It is them, not us. And as long as we remember that, and stay strong, we will be OK. We will get through the dark times and continue to bring light into the darkness.

Chazak Chazak Venit-Chazek! (Be strong, be strong, and be strengthened!)

About the Author
Micha Danzig is a practicing attorney in San Diego and board member of T.E.A.M. (Training & Education About the Middle East). He is also active with Stand With Us and a former soldier in the IDF.