In spite of the The Israel Project’s new study that claims 94% of Americans agree with the statement that “Palestinian leaders must disarm the terrorists” and a large majority believe the U.S. should back Israel, I still managed to find somebody last weekend who opposes those notions. You’d think I’d have been able to keep my sh*t together considering the locale was 4 year-old’s birthday party, but I’m so embarrassed to admit I totally lost it.
While our children squealed with joy in the Hello Kitty! jumpy house, I attempted to remain civil while talking to a man who maintained that Israel “invaded” Palestine in 1948, kicked out the “Palestinians” and has engaged in an “ethnic cleansing” campaign ever since. He argued that suicide bombing is the “only option” for these oppressed refugees and since Israel was created illegally, it should be given back to its “rightful” inhabitants.
I know, I should have walked away and gotten a second piece of ice cream cake. But this is the kind of ignorance that exists � thrives � in a “liberal” place like Marin County, California and I’ve just flippin’ had it.
I tried to explain to him that in the recognized historical timeline of the world, the land that was to become Israel was handed over to the British Empire after the breakdown of the Ottoman Empire after WW1 and that thousands of parcels of land had been purchased by Jews over the decades� not stolen � from their Arab owners (with money � not guns.) I asked him if he’d ever heard of the League of Nations, or perhaps the U.N., who declared Israel the Jewish state quite legally, thank you very much. And whether he knew every surrounding Arabic country invaded the new state the minute it became autonomous, telling the Arabic people who lived there to leave for a bit, then come back as soon as all the Jews were dead. Unfortunately for them, the Jews kicked ass, and those people never got to come home.
I implored him to understand that I have great compassion for the Palestinian people who have suffered through generations in horrible conditions, the mothers who have watched their children die, the culture of absolute hatred borne out of economic desperation, but I lay the responsibility at the feet of their leaders, who have refused myriad peace agreements, the opportunity for a state and to acknowledge Israel at all.
He spat back about bulldozers and Rachel Corrie; I countered with two intifadas and countless civilian bombings. He said “wall,” I said “withdrawal.” Voices were raised and things got ugly, though far enough away from the children to be witnessed. I may have called him an “ignorant a-hole” before my husband dragged me over to the bubble machine to calm down. Suffice it the Yenta family will probably not be invited to Sadie’s 5th birthday.
Anyone who reads this blog regularly knows I’m not a particularly political or religious Jew. When I’m hanging out with diehard Zionists, my views of Israel tend towards critical. But when someone starts comparing Israel � the only democracy in the Middle East � to the Third Reich and has apparently jumped on the cause of the Palestinians because he supports the “underdog” in any instance, I clearly lose all rational conversation skills.
I used to think anti-Semitism in this country was a vestigial paranoia of my grandparents’. But read the State Department’s report on world anti-Semitism; it’s chilling. (According to Rafael Medoff of the Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies, the report has a major anti-Semitic bent, even though it does make the link that anti-Zionism is the new anti-Semitism. And while legislation passed requiring the State Department to create an office to monitor anti-Semitism a year and a half ago � its first envoy, Gregg Rickman, was appointed this month � department officials fought it all the way.)
In all honesty, I can’t stand talking about Israel; I don’t know enough, I don’t even know how I feel most of the time. But I couldn’t have sat there and said nothing while this guy ranted; it felt like an obligation to set him straight.
Of course, I did nothing of the kind � the only thing I accomplished was to make an enemy and enhance my reputation for bad behavior at parties.
I admit I need more education, in facts and logic about the Middle East as well as in non-confrontational discussion tactics. The fact is, I get very frightened when I encounter people like this man, who for the past five years has been a friendly face at the playground. I fear for my kids, who will surely have to confront anti-Semitism in the form of anti-Israel sentiments no matter where we live. I hope they’re better at talking about it than I am.
No doubt this post will get me into some kind of trouble with my readers. But let me tell you about a dream I had last night:
I was sitting in the street with a bunch of kids spinning a driedel. One of the kids was explaining to me the Christian origin of the driedel, how “nes, gadol, haya, shem” represented four facets of Jesus. I felt such a horror inside, and I was tempted to start yelling at them. But I didn’t. Instead, I began telling them the true story of the driedel, the story that came before the one they knew, about the Jews about how they used this top to educate themselves in secret when it was too dangerous to do it out in the open. And though I expected them to mock me, they sat and listened, and I could see them take in the information without it destroying what they already believed.
When I woke up, I thought about having a mind and heart so big that I could take in everything, even paradoxes and unpleasant and opposing views.
I know I did the right thing as a Jews by defending Israel in the face of lies, so why do I feel so badly?