Monday, January 12, 2009

Old hatreds surface in some 'anti-war' protests

In Chicago, four synagogues and a Jewish school were vandalized, suffering broken windows and graffiti screaming anti-Israel/pro-Palestine sentiments. A Jewish pre-school was defaced twice in one week in Camarillo, California. Protesters in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, ordered Jews "back to the oven." A synagogue in London, England, was set afire, as was one in Brussels, Belgium. In St. Denis and Strasbourg, France, Jewish places of worship were attacked with fire bombs -- just days after a burning car was rammed into a synagogue in Toulouse. All of this, and more, to protest the actions of a government thousands of miles away, that shares nothing more than a common faith with most of the worshippers, students and regular folks targeted by these attacks.

It's not that the actions of the Israeli military are beyond reproach -- there isn't a government on the planet that should escape criticism. That's especially true when weapons are pulled from the racks and people are dying. To engage in war -- justified or otherwise -- is to invite scrutiny and criticism. That scrutiny and criticism may well serve to moderate the tendencies of all governments to threaten life, liberty and property.

But even Israelis are divided over their government's actions in Israel. Many support the military's actions in Gaza, others oppose them, and still others thought they were justified at first but the situation has gone too far. Members of Jewish congregations in Europe, the Americas and elsewhere don't, by and large, hold Israeli citizenship, most have probably never been to Israel, and they hold a range of political opinions more representative of the issues and ideologies in their actual home countries than those in a tiny land in the Middle East.

In fact, of all the religious adherents in the world, it's only Jews who are consistently asked to answer for the actions of a foreign government whose officials just happen to share their faith. Roman Catholics aren't called on the carpet over Irish or Italian government policies, Episcopalians aren't formally requested by local officials to denounce Britain's missteps (something that Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez demanded of his nation's Jews with regard to Israeli policy). And Hindus aren't penalized when India's government does something bloody-minded.

Perhaps the closest parallel, ironically, is the plight of some Muslims who were victimized by bigots in the United States and elsewhere in the wake of the 9/11 attacks carried out by fundamentalist terrorists.

Judaism isn't even a centralized religion with ties of authority to Israel. There's no kosher pope in Jerusalem exhorting the faithful to hold to a non-existent party line.

What is it that makes so many people around the world insist that adherents of this one religion accept collective responsibility for the actions of co-religionists who live in a far-away country under very different circumstances?

Whatever the causes -- and better-equipped thinkers than myself have delved into the mysteries of anti-semitism -- much of the world's population, even in well-educated, liberal democracies supposedly beyond this sort of thing, needs little excuse to react violently to the sight of a star of David. Harsh policies by the government of the world's only mostly Jewish country are more than enough to strip away civilized restraints from at least a few thugs in France, the UK, Belgium, Germany, the United States and elsewhere around the world, raining violence on local people who just happen to be Jewish.

So far, the anti-semitism has only rarely strayed into official action; it's mostly involved freelance bigotry. Local officials responsible for responding to attacks in Europe and the U.S. have promised prosecution and penalties for the guilty. That's refreshing, given the history in some nations (Who knows? Maybe vilifying Scientologists acts like methadone to counteract an addiction to traditional hatreds.)

But enough incidents in enough places have jaded old-timers even in the U.S. heartland muttering to themselves, "here we go again."



Blogger BobG said...

Anti-semitism has always been around; during the last few years it has just been that people have been looking the other way and pretending it wasn't there, since most of the attention has been focused on gays, hispanics, and blacks.

January 13, 2009 11:46 AM  
Blogger Eightsouthman said...

I have a clue why Jews are targeted. Countless thousands of them are US citizens and Israeli's also. They do something none of the rest of us can do and that's join a foreign army and still be US citizens. It's the reason people kept spitting out something very hateful sounding I couldn't understand when I was last in Mexico. I finally asked my Mexican hosts and they said: "They're saying Thousand Needles". My next question is fairly obvious. What does Thousand Needles mean? They told me it was a derogatory term they used instead of Norte Americanos. The meaning has to do with the U.S. being in a thousand places militarily it's not wanted. I understand that and I understand how just seeing me reminded them of the disapproval they felt about the U.S. What they couldn't know is I disapprove even more than they possibly could but am powerless to do anything about it.

January 14, 2009 10:27 AM  

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