A famous joke concerning whataboutery goes like this: When the Russians inaugurated their Moscow metro in 1935, they invited all the foreign correspondents. They were impressed by the high ceilings and spacious halls, the amount of marble, the candelabra and so on. The American correspondent told the Soviet official who accompanied them: “It really is impressive. But, if you don’t mind me saying so, your trains are not as frequent as the ones we have in New York and not as fast.” The Soviet official, hurt by the criticism, retorted: “And what about you, who lynch people?”
That is exactly the attitude of some of our fellow Jews when they read about some Charedim breaking lockdown rules. For them, even the mere mention of their law-breaking means people are “stoking antisemitism”, as Jewish News has been accused by some Orthodox groups in Stamford Hill. They now want the newspaper, along with The Jewish Chronicle, to be boycotted, and have urged Jewish shops, even those in other areas, to stop stocking them.
“Why don’t you talk about the English breaking those rules? Or about Muslims?” critics of the paper have asked. The truth is that newspapers as a whole do write about them all the time, but some people only see and hear what they want to. A good friend who writes about the Holocaust in Romania, where around 300,000 Jews perished during the Second World War, is constantly asked: “What about the Red Holocaust? The Romanians who were killed by the Communist regime?” One does not exclude the other, of course, but it is not possible to mention all crimes in a single article for the sake of “balance”.
I know there are some people who cannot even contemplate the idea that their fellow citizens or co-religionists might do anything wrong. For them, Israel, for example, is always justified in the Israel-Palestine conflict; only Palestinians are to blame. And if you dare to point out anything to the contrary, you are immediately labelled a “self-hating Jew”, “unaware of the situation on the ground”, or even an antisemite. Before anyone berates me for not mentioning the British here, there are, indeed, many Britons for whom the UK is never wrong, only the EU or “the others”. And the same goes for individuals in almost every nation.
I have always been fascinated by the reaction of those who deny the obvious, or pretend it is different or, like currently, try to divert attention from the issue. Why do they feel personally castigated? Why do some East Europeans feel accused if someone says that some collaborated in the killing of Jews in their country under Nazi occupation? They are not being accused themselves and in no way are they responsible for what happened before they were even born. But if one writes that many are among the Righteous among the Nations at Yad Vashem, they feel pride. If it is a tribal thing, it’s very selective.
As long as this ill-advised “my people, right or wrong” attitude persists, there will not be any advancement of the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians, nor will there be better understanding and relations between people belonging to different ethnic groups, better health outcomes amid the Covid-19 crisis and nor will there be a better life in general.
I know it is not easy; it is a long journey, but even a long journey starts with a little step.