Thursday, November 19, 2009

For the Past 2,000 Years...

For the past 2,000 years or so, my people have been hounded, persecuted, murdered, tortured, expelled from their homes, beaten, burnt at the stake, gassed and cremated in ovens.

I hardly have to explain that I am talking about the Jews, the people who brought humanity and civilization to the world, who developed a code of ethics and behavior to which most of the modern “civilized” world at least pays lip service; and that gave the Christian world its Savior...

For the past 2,000 years, we have had to endure excruciating trial by fire, be barred from lands in which we had lived for many generations, and be the butt of jokes, derision, hatred, false accusations and calumny.

And yet, we the Jews, forced as we were into trades and professions which the ruling classes didn’t – or couldn’t – handle, became tailors and shoemakers, bankers, doctors, lawyers, because these were the only trades and occupations open to us. Were we good with money? Yes, some of us...because we had to be to survive. We devised strategies to keep us and our families together and alive. We knew how to stash our gold and diamonds and precious possessions, so that if we had to run from a pogrom or an enraged mob in the middle of the night, we only had to grab a pouch containing said valuables and get the hell out of our burning hovels.

We traipsed around Europe for two millennia, moving from place to place to find somewhere we could call home; somewhere we could rest in relative safety; we may have found it in various countries from time to time – we found it in England, when Cromwell allowed the Jews back after they were exiled in the centuries preceding his rule. We found it in Spain in the so-called Golden Age, in which Jews and Moslems are said to have lived in peace and harmony...although there are some that would dispute it was a Golden as it has been made out to be.

We found it in Germany, in the 19th century for a while, where we Jews blossomed, giving rise to philosophers and musicians and cultural leaders, and we assimilated, becoming more German than the Germans: much good it did us.

And then we started finding it in the great emigration movements to the New World: America, Canada, South Africa, Australia – finding that modicum of “shalva”, of being allowed to live and learn, grow and develop without officialdom breathing down our necks, without us being hounded because we were Jews.

That’s not to say that there was a complete absence of anti-Semitism, a complete lack of ignorant hatred or envy or jealousy. Oh, it was there all right: it was always there just below the surface– it was always: “The Jews have got all the money”- well, damn it, I don’t have even a small amount of ALL THE MONEY – and I know quite a few co-religionists who also don’t have any share of ALL THE MONEY...; the Jews are so smart, they’re so clever, why are they the doctors and the lawyers and the bankers? (I for one, am not any of these, and I don't think I'm that "clever" either...)

Well, my friends, as explained above, we were FORCED into those professions because everything else was reserved for everybody else. And there are other logical reasons why the Jews are so "clever" – and yes we ARE! But there’s nothing magic or arcane about it. It’s called genetics and it’s not very difficult to understand. You see, the Jews have always, but always, revered learning; it was the Jews who were the only literate communities in the Middle Ages, when most of the population hardly even had names they could understand. Why do you think the Dukes and Barons and Kings of the day wanted Jews to handle their finances and run their estates for them? Because Jews could read and write...everybody else was pig-ignorant, kept that way by the Church intent on holding on to its own power base.

Even more to the point, from the Middle Ages onward – and probably quite a while before that as well – the eldest Christian son became a knight or at very least a foot-soldier; and more than likely he was killed on the battle field, so there were few progeny there; the second son, usually went into the Church, so because he was supposed to be celibate, there was no progeny (to speak of) there either...but the JEWS!!!! Ha – their sons became Rabbis, and teachers – even if they still had to earn their living as tailors and shoemakers, or moneylenders. Their daughters – homemakers, nurturers par excellence – helped them follow the Biblical injunction: "Go forth and multiply", and they did! And so the brains and the love of learning and the innovation and “cleverness” and family cohesiveness was passed on from generation to generation...through all the fire and brimstone, hatred and death, stoning, beheading and strangulation; persecution and damnation we’ve had to endure.

Until today: In the middle of the 20th century, after the most calamitous, atrocious, terrible, horrendous, brutal, vicious and wicked crime ever perpetrated against man-kind, we found our home. OUR home – Israel; the country for which we had been praying for more than 2000 years; the Golden city we turned towards in hope and grief and penitence every single day of those two millennia since the sacking of Jerusalem by the Romans...

And just when we began bidding you in the “Enlightened West” and the “Exotic East” a putative farewell, with the hope of settling quietly and peacefully and industriously in our OWN country – you have the AUDACITY, after all these thousands of years of everything described above, to tell us that we are not allowed to defend ourselves in it!

You have the GALL to say we are acting like barbarians – believe-you-me, we KNOW how barbarians act, we’re experts at barbarian behavior, we’re pretty dammed experienced in it...and you, the so called egalitarian Western world, afraid of offending the forces of evil, afraid of your own shadows lurking in the darkness and fearful that you may be accused of racism and hatred, instead turn your invective against US, the Jews, for wanting nothing more than to live in our own tiny piece of real estate, unmolested, untroubled and unafraid.

If we have to achieve that by being “unfair” to others who would seek bring explosives and weapons into our territory with which to murder us, by searching them, stopping them from entering certain areas, subjecting them to checkpoints and suspicion, well that’s just tough. If the innocent have to suffer along with the guilty, well, blame the guilty, not us. If terrorists use ambulances in which to hide their weapons and bombs, then don’t be surprised if we start searching ambulances.

So now you can justifiably point fingers at us and say, “See, the Jews are no better than the Nazis – see how they treat people, see how they herd them into restricted areas, see how they kill them and murder them...”

Yes, don’t know what you are talking about. You haven’t a clue. You mouth off with platitudes, and falsehoods and half-truths, and pollute the airwaves and the TV channels and the Internet with invective and ignorance. You accuse our soldiers, our young men and women, most of them barely out of school, of deliberately targeting civilians; demanding of them standards which no army in the world can achieve – and yet these young men and women maintain a purity of arms and an ethos in battle which no other army in the world can hope to live up to. Our young soldiers have to exercise moral judgments at a level far beyond their years and life-experience; and they do it, often in a split second. Do they always make the right decisions? No. Do they err on being sometimes too lenient or sometimes too aggressive? Yes, absolutely. Are there those among them who are vicious and racist and only out to “get an Arab, any Arab...” I’m dammed sure there are, and they should be rooted out and punished – and they are.

Are we a perfect society? No – far from it: Do we make mistakes, ya betcha, but we are a society, we are a country, struggling against vastly disproportionate forces (...aah, there’s the “D” word – disproportionate!) trying to stay alive and viable with a tad of sanity in this cesspool of the Middle East. I don’t think we are better or worse than any other modern, democratic, advanced country. We have our dunces and we have our professors (perhaps more than a normal quota): we have our tradesmen and we have our high-tech geniuses (perhaps again, more than the normal quota) and we have our gangsters and we have our lawmakers...some good, some not so good. We have the highest rate of NASDAQ companies, and we have a disproportionate number of Nobel prize winners (Jews and Israelis together); we spend more per capita on scientific development than almost any other country in the world: and we have the highest earnings per capita of ANY country in the Middle East – check it out: you see, we are intent on remaining the brainiest, the smartest, the cleverest, the richest...We take in refugees fleeing from despotic regimes while our neighbors are killing them at the border: we absorb thousands of immigrants every year; and we cope with all this with a population smaller than that of New York City.

So, what's my point? Simply that Israel is a modern, democratic, vibrant, innovative, albeit imperfect country. Simply that after all these thousands of years of being the football of the world, kicked from pillar to post, we have found our home and we intend keeping it. Does this sound like rightwing rhetoric to you? Call it what you will. But you would probably be surprised to find out that I am NOT a right-winger; I didn’t vote for Bibi, I have been an ardent supporter of the left-wing parties since my arrival here 22-years ago and I still support their policies (with a few differences of opinion, but that’s my democratic right, not so?).

I would love to see us freeze – in fact, give up, evacuate – the illegal settlements. I would be very happy to see a vibrant Palestinian state established and thriving alongside – and in cooperation with – Israel. But ALONGSIDE Israel, not INSTEAD of Israel...aye, there’s the rub. Because the rest of the world would be quite content to see Israel dismantled in place of a “democratic (sic) one state for its all people” entity. Here’s a news flash, we are already one state for all its people; anybody who is an Israeli citizen – and many who aren’t – enjoy all the benefits of National Insurance, outstanding health care, the protection of our security forces and the police (often imperfectly, but hey, shit happens), freedom of speech, of worship, of association...point out any other country in this region – and in many other regions – that can boast the same.

We don’t need you to love us and we don’t need to love you: but we will respect your right to sovereignty and self-protection and we expect the same in return. We don’t want you to give us special treatment; just the treatment you would accord any other self-governing, disciplined, well-behaved state. We don’t crave your indulgence – just accept what we are, call us if we do wrong or make mistakes (we will, just like you), as good friends are supposed to, but don’t vilify us and don’t demonize us.

We are not demons: we are just human beings, trying – sometimes failing, but more often than not, succeeding  – to make some significant contributions to the human race.