Tangled Up In Jews

Anti-Israel diatribes spring from Iran’s leaders like fleas from a dog, but a recent Iranian Parliament statement stood apart, containing as it did a remarkable admission.

The statement was in reaction to a comment by Esfandiar Rahim Mashai, the Iranian vice president for tourism, who contended that Iran is “a friend for all people in the world, even Israelis and Americans.”

Calling for Mr. Mashai’s dismissal because of that “unforgiveable mistake,” the parliamentarians went on to declare that “We do not recognize a country called Israel and so we cannot recognize a nation called Israel.”

The internal logic of the declaration aside, it would seem to depart from the common trope among “progressives” that Iran’s leaders, and others like them, hate only contemporary Zionism, not Jews.

The statement laid bare something more. Not only is a “country called Israel” illegitimate in the signatories’ eyes; so is “a nation called Israel.” Perhaps that means Israeli citizens – disturbing enough. Or perhaps it means the “Israel” of antiquity, who carry the name that G-d bestowed on their forefather Jacob.

The Agudath Israel movement is not part of either the secular or religious Zionist camps, and indeed was founded in 1912 in large part to distinguish itself from both the part of the Jewish world that saw a Jewish state as a high political ideal and the part that invested the quest for a contemporary Jewish state with spiritual significance. And while Agudath Israel today is deeply committed to Israel’s security, and its adherents in Israel fully participate in the country’s democratic system, we “Agudists” remain theologically distinct.

Still and all, we recognize that much, if not most, of the negative sentiment aimed at Israel is tightly tangled up with hatred for Jews.

The point was made back in 1975, after the infamous “Zionism is Racism” United Nations resolution. The late and greatly missed Rabbi Moshe Sherer, the then-president of Agudath Israel of America, wrote that “Though the resolution was supposedly aimed only at secular ‘Zionism’… the slander is an attack on the entire Jewish people.”

Even if the hatred was aimed only at certain Jews, he continued, “we [Agudath Israel adherents] would feel precisely the same responsibility to come to the defense of our brethren. While we may have our own quarrel with secular Zionism, when Jews are libeled, their affiliation does not matter; our love for our brothers and sisters draws us to their side.” But what is more, he pointedly stressed, “the U. N. resolution is aimed at all Jews, for it assails the historical Jewish right to Eretz Yisrael. The Torah bestowed that right, and any attack on it is an attack on Judaism and the Jewish people.”

One can certainly be critical of Israel and not be an anti-Semite. But equally true is that there is a symbiotic relationship in some circles between criticism of Israel and hatred of Jews. Whether the chicken of anti-Zionism or the egg of anti-Semitism came first is of only academic interest. The final fricassee is animus for both. Which is why visibly Jewish European Jews, loyal citizens of their respective countries, are attacked by Arab hooligans, and Jewish cemeteries vandalized with anti-Israel graffiti.

I had a correspondent (actually, still do, if one considers his forwarding me articles and my consigning them to my trash file to constitute correspondence) who is a professor at the University of Alberta. He first wrote me a year or so ago with a pleasant note about an article I had written about Jewish ethics. When I thanked him, though, he quickly turned the topic to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. His take – essentially that whatever Israel does is evil, whatever Palestinians do is noble – was so bizarre that I had to tell him it sounded like the sort of libels against Jews with which history is rife.

He took great umbrage, insisting that his criticism was only of Israel, not Jews. Gently ending our conversation, I responded that I would take him at his word but remained at an utter loss to understand what could possibly lie behind so skewed a perspective as his.

So he put me on his e-mail list for receipt of articles from websites dedicated to applauding premeditated murder and condemning self-defense (at least when the self-defender is Israel). I click the messages away, unopened, to e-mail Hades. A recent one’s subject box, though, caught my eye. It read something like “This is kosher?”

The attachment was the first among the scores that had arrived over the year whose subject was not one or another of Israel’s “crimes.” It was a news report about workers’ claims of mistreatment at a kosher meatpacking concern in Iowa. Now what on earth, I thought, does that have to do with Israel?

The answer was “nothing,” of course. Like the Iranian parliament, the good professor had simply revealed the broader scope of his ample ill will.

© 2008 AM ECHAD RESOURCES

[Rabbi Shafran is director of public affairs for Agudath Israel of America.]

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8 comments to Tangled Up In Jews

  • Ori

    The statement laid bare something more. Not only is a “country called Israel” illegitimate in the signatories’ eyes; so is “a nation called Israel.” Perhaps that means Israeli citizens – disturbing enough. Or perhaps it means the “Israel” of antiquity, who carry the name that G-d bestowed on their forefather Jacob.

    Most people reading this blog know that “Israel” had been used in the past to mean the Jewish people as a whole, and is sometimes still used in that context – for example, in the Shma prayer. But why would Iranian parliamentarians know this? If you can read the Arab script and look in Wikipedia, you can see that in their language Jews are called “Yahudian” and the state of Israel is called “Israil”.

    I’m not saying the Iranian government is not clearly evil – it is. But in this particular case there’s no reason to read more into their statement than is actually there.

  • YM

    As mentioned in a recent book (Anti-Jewish Phenomenon, by
    Rabbi Benzion Allswang, Ph.D, published by Feldheim),
    anti-semitism is a three-step process:
    1) Attacks on Jewish nationhood (Israel is Illegitimate)
    2) Attacks on the Jewish religion (Convert or Die)
    3) Attacks on the Jewish body (Death to the Jews)
    Anyone who says that Israel doesn’t have the right to exist (with the exception of the Neturi Karta and others of their ilk) is anti-semetic

  • Baruch Pelta

    “The Agudath Israel movement is not part of either the secular or religious Zionist camps, and indeed was founded in 1912 in large part to distinguish itself from both the part of the Jewish world that saw a Jewish state as a high political ideal and the part that invested the quest for a contemporary Jewish state with spiritual significance.”

    Hm? I thought the Agudah was much more pluralistic back then. Hence, a certain already Zionistic R’ Meir bar-Ilan was able to attend the(1st Knessiah Gedolah) and pledge his hopes — and if I’m recalling correctly, his allegiance — to the organization.

  • dovid

    “I click the messages away, unopened, to e-mail Hades.”

    Rabbi Shafran, would you call me naive if I suggested that next time you get an unsolicited e-mail from this character, you return it with a one-word comment: UNSUBSCRIBE? Maybe, maybe he gets the drift. With best wishes.

  • dovid

    “…we cannot recognize a nation called Israel.”

    Will Naturei Karta finally take heed to what we already knew that anti-Semites of the Hitlerite bent don’t distinguish between “good” Jews like Naturei Karta and “bad” Jews like the rest of us?

  • David

    Wow, poor Mr. Mashai must not have been copied on the memo… actually, he must have missed every memo issued by any Iranian government agency since 1979! Still, it was a nice thought!

  • Jacob Haller

    “He first wrote me a year or so ago with a pleasant note about an article I had written about Jewish ethics. When I thanked him, though, he quickly turned the topic to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

    This is typical nowadays. Self-styled intellectual authorities first (attempt to) soften us with their admiration of things Jewish. But apparently, this admiration is limited solely to the abstract. Following the soft soap is what they sanctimoniously claim to be in our “best interests” – washing us down with acid.

  • Gershon Seif

    Nice title, for those reading between the lines. Bob Dylan, I mean Robert Zimmerman, is oich a Yid!