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Posted in: Anti-Semitism, Jihad & Terrorism

Published on Nov 16, 2000 by Phyllis Chesler

Written for

Can Jews remember to love other Jews as well as our enemies?


As a founder and Board member of the International Committee for Women of the Wall, I have been suing the state of Israel on behalf of Jewish women's religious and human rights for more than a decade. I know that Israel has not lived up to my ethical and feminist expectations. Still, it breaks my heart to read what pro-peace, progressive, and feminist Jews have to say, both in the Diaspora and in Israel. They condemn the "Israeli aggression and occupation," express compassion for the plight of the Palestinians, who are endangered by their own leaders, but have few kind or comforting words for Israeli Jews, who are also at the mercy of our leaders, and of a world that still hates Jews.

Daily, I receive email from Jerusalem civilians, whose movements are restricted, who have been forced to cancel housewarmings, relocate B'nai Mitzva and weddings, travel in terror to pay shiva calls under armed guard. "The situation is scary and getting scarier" one woman writes. "I am in a state of national despair" says another. "But if I publish what I'm thinking, I will be accused of being right-wing, of deserting the cause of peace." My friends are frightened, and feel isolated. The hotels are empty, the tourists safely elsewhere. Some say it feels "like 1948," others, "like 1929." Although Israel is now a major military power, every Israeli is either related to, or works with someone who is related to, one of the 28 Israeli Jews who, as of September 28th, have been kidnapped, blown up, stabbed, shot, lynched, or badly beaten.

I have been fighting anti-Semitism, sometimes disguised as anti-Zionism, since 1971, when I first encountered it on the American Left and among radical feminists. I also worked at the United Nations and saw, first-hand, how Israel was demonized and scapegoated by tyrants, and by those whose nations had offered no asylum to Jews during the Holocaust.

I am troubled by the international condemnation of Israel, the increased world-wide incidents of anti-Semitism, the desecration of Jewish holy sites, Torah scrolls, and siddurim in Europe, and in North America, and in Israel, and by one-sided anti-Israel media coverage, but I am more troubled by the hardening of sophisticated, assimilated, Diaspora Jewish hearts towards Israel's Jews.

As Jews, we cannot escape Jewish history. Thus, as Jews, can't we find it in our hearts to feel and express compassion for other Jews, as well as compassion for the strangers in our midst, the enemies at our gate? Dare I ask: as Jews, aren't we obligated to care about other Jews first, not last? It is psychologically suicidal for Jews to damn the Israelis for having been totally unprepared for and unable to contain armed riots, or for trying to exercise (imperfect) restraint under attack--and, at the same time, to "understand" and forgive the Palestinian and Arab leadership their every excess, including that of kidnapping, torturing, lynching, and murdering Jews, terrifying innocent civilians, burning Israeli synagogues and Jewish holy sites, destroying siddurim and Torah scrolls, restricting Jewish travel, causing what I suspect will be the largest epidemic of Post-Traumatic Stress syndrome among Israelis since the Gulf War, and condemning the Palestinian people to death, in a Holy Jihad, and to certain, agonizing, poverty.

Those Jews who share the PLO's view of reality, are still Jews, and will not be spared our collective Jewish fate simply because we are so progressive, i.e. are such "good Germans." The mobs of 2000 Palestinian men and boys who throw rocks and Molotov cocktails, shoot bullets, detonate explosives, and advance on Jews, do not distinguish between pro-PLO Jews and anti-PLO Jews. The leaders of Hamas, Hezbollah, and the Palestinian Authority, hate us whether we, as Jews, argue the Palestinian cause among our own people, or don't. These leaders do not seem to want peace, only a permanent war with the Jews.

Since September 28th, at least 238 people have been killed in Israel and the territories. Among them were 201 Palestinians, 13 Israeli Arabs, and 24 Israeli Jews. The world mourns Arab and Moslem deaths--only if the dead are mainly men, and have died at Jewish hands. But not otherwise.

For example, many Jewish and non-Jewish feminists have exposed the tragic fate of Moslem women at the hands of Moslem fundamentalist men in North Africa--who kidnap female children as sex- and domestic- slaves, gang-rape, impregnate, and then kill them; the violent Islamic gender apartheid in Afghanistan and Iran; the clitoridectomies, arranged marriages, and male "honor-killings" of sister or a daughter who has been raped--in Ramallah, Nablus, Nazareth, Gaza, as well as all over the Islamic Middle East and Central Asia.

In the name of Islam, fundamentalist men kill thousands of Moslem women each year. Last year, in Pakistan alone, more than 1000 such killings were recorded. In 1998, a seventeen year old Jordanian girl became pregnant after being raped by her father's friend. Her father and brother did not shoot the rapist--they shot her eight times and left her for dead. After receiving medical care, she was sent to jail for her own protection. Supported by Queens Nur and Rania, demonstrations against "honor killings" have taken place in Jordan. With twenty countries abstaining, (among them, China, Russia, Jordan, and Pakistan), the United Nations has just passed a watered-down condemnation of such killings. However, the world does not shudder in revulsion, nor does any nation insist that the Security Council send UN troops to keep the women safe.

I am certainly in favor of ongoing progressive, feminist dialogue among Jewish and Arab Israelis and our Palestinian counterparts to "talk peace." I applaud the efforts of Nabila Espanioly of Nazareth, Hannah Safran of Haifa's Isha L'Isha in this regard. I am in favor of anyone meeting anywhere for as long as it takes to "talk peace." However, as women, as feminists, as mothers, we do not control the armed forces, nor do we represent synagogue or mosque. We have in common only our own marginality within our tribes.

Just as Women of the Wall pride ourselves on being a multi-denominational prayer group, I am suggesting that Jews of all political persuasions now come together in this time of Jewish crisis. Yes: the Israeli government is imperfect--but it is composed of human beings. As Jews, we should not have one standard for Jewish imperfection, another, much lower standard for Moslem and Christian imperfection.

My Jewish feminist sisters and brothers: Moslem, Arab, and Palestinian leaders, if not the people, truly hate us. They have persuaded their own long suffering people into believing that their poverty and second-class citizenship is due entirely to Israel, and to the United States, not to their own despotic and corrupt rulers. The leaders of Hamas and Hezbollah and Chairman Arafat, hate us whether we, as Jews, argue the Palestinian cause among our own people, and they hate us when we don't. These leaders do not seem to want peace, only a war unto death with the Jews.

Therefore, as we criticize the Jewish state, and espouse peace, can Jews remember to love other Jews as well as our enemies?


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