I have never chosen to look at Israel’s raison d’etre as a refuge for persecuted Jews. For me, Israel has always been a source of admiration for the Jewish people, a Jewish homeland whose citizens share their expertise and humanitarian instincts with the world.
I love that Israel has been called the “start-up nation” because of an entrepreneurial spirit that has led to scientific, technological and medical breakthroughs that have enriched us all.
With this paradigm guiding my perspective, I have been puzzled by the rise in anti-Zionism and antisemitism. I’ve been shocked by how many people are exhibiting a hate for Israel and Jews that is so large, yet so misinformed.
Recently, a journalist reported that the State of Israel came into existence through an aggressive takeover by the Jews. He didn’t know that a majority vote in the United Nations created the State of Israel. He didn’t know that the UN also voted for a Palestinian state to be created alongside the Jewish state and that the Arabs rejected the UN plan.
“Ignoring this vital context is dangerous,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer told his colleagues in a recent heartfelt address to Congress, because it distorts people’s understanding of the events that led to the existence of a Jewish state in the Middle East.
Sen. Schumer remarked on how odd it is for people to characterize Jews as oppressors when “many thousands of years of Jewish history are defined by [our] oppression” by others. He traced this oppression through the centuries, citing specific examples dating back to the 13th century B.C.E, when Jews were slaves in Egypt.
“The Jewish people,” Sen. Schumer emphasized, “has been humiliated, ostracized, expelled, enslaved and massacred for millennia.”
Yet, I have lived my life, secure in thinking that the answer to antisemitism is highlighting the countless contributions of Jews to the world. It’s sobering to accept that, rather than admiring Jews for our achievements, many people are unhappy about our successes. Why? I don’t really know.
If you had asked me a few months ago if I personally had ever come face to face with antisemitism, I would have said no. But, given the current state of things, when I reflect on the experiences of my life, I realize that I probably have encountered antisemitism. I just didn’t recognize it.
There was the non-Jewish friend in my racquetball league who asked, “Why are the Jews so loud at parent teacher meetings?” and “Why, if they want to be included in American society, are the Jews so cliquey?”
At the time, I saw her questions as examples of simple curiosity. I remember explaining that she mistook passion for loudness. “These parents really care about school issues,” I said. Her second question was more difficult to answer, but I told her we Jews had friends of all religions. After all, she and I were friends.
Another example: When I was a freshman at Syracuse University, there was a student who told me that she had never met a Jew before. She thought it was true that we had horns and was rather surprised to see that we didn’t. And there was another student who asked, “How can you be Jewish? You are so nice, quiet and unmaterialistic.”
Again, I saw the comment as a peer’s curiosity, precipitated by meeting someone who did not fit a stereotype.
Were these people just ill-informed or were they antisemitic?
And what about today and the Jew-hatred that continues to escalate? Is it understandable? The situation in Gaza is heartbreaking. No one wants to see little children and their parents wounded or killed by bombs. But Hamas, the group of terrorists that wants to eliminate Israel from this earth, have given Israel no choice but to fight for its survival. How is it that so many people don’t understand that? What do they expect Israel to do?
How is it that the world so easily forgets Israel’s many acts of global humanitarianism, including, most recently, rushing to send medical delegations to other countries such as Morocco to help victims of an earthquake; victims of wars, like the current war in Ukraine; and victims of other traumas? An aggressor doesn’t do that.
Israel, as a nation — very much a melting pot of pioneers — is not a destroyer by nature. It is a builder!
As I watch anti-Zionism and antisemitism poison the air, I wonder, “How does a rational person discount all the good that Israelis and American Jews have done and continue to do for humanity?”