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This week we recall the tragedy of al-Farhud. The pogrom against the Jewish population of Baghdad, Iraq, on June 1 and 2, 1941. The riots followed the collapse of the pro-Nazi government of Rashid Ali. Over 180 Jews were killed and 1,000 raped and injured. Nine hundred Jewish homes were destroyed.

Al-Farhud was just one more example of the way Jews suffered under their hosts. In the Arab Buraq Uprising of 1929 and in the Arab riots from 1936 to 1939, defenseless women, children, and rabbinical students were massacred. Long before a Jewish state. And the anti-Semitic murder, rape, and looting that followed across the Arab world in 1948 only underlined the degree of popular hatred. Were all Arabs and Muslims Jew-haters? Of course not, then or now. But the virus was there and remains, poisoning cultures and religions and reiterating the need for Jewish self-determination. The “Jewish Question” attracts irrationally disproportionate attention and odium today, as much as it did a hundred years ago. But facts, history, can be forgotten, distorted, and twisted. Can we do anything about it?

In Israel’s struggle for independence there were indeed “Jewish terrorists”. Except that they were roundly condemned by all the main Jewish authorities and representatives, not idolized or rewarded. Terrorism rarely succeeds by itself. That was not what drove the British out of Israel. Rather, as with India, Cyprus, and Kenya after the Second World War, Britain lost the means and the morale to maintain its political control militarily. Israel was not an imperialist invasion, but a Jewish liberation movement.

The ongoing conflict is being perpetuated by a refusal to accept reality or to engage in civilized debate. It is not just in the Middle East. It is everywhere. Our world is the world of form, not content. Calm, rational argument and discussion is disregarded in favor of ideological posturing, slogans, and abuse. No longer are universities, or even most of the media, places where one finds unbiased analysis or calm debate. Wherever you turn opposing sides are at each other’s throats.

Democracy, it seems, is only acceptable when you agree with the results. So no debate is possible, because whenever one hears a point of view one does not like, it is dismissed, shouted down, or childish terms of abuse are used to disparage one’s opponent. What hope then is there for civilized debate? Intellectually, we now live in the world of George Orwell’s 1984 doublespeak. Politicians, activists spout nonsensical, contradictory ideas and use the bully pulpit to try to impose politically correct (and incorrect) views on others. Or win elections in America by insulting opponents. We are not dealing with logic.

And this affects the approach to Israel. If Israel is more right-wing today, it is because in a democratic country people are allowed to vote as they feel. Most Israelis vote for security precisely because they do not wish to go into exile again or return to subservience. Those who experienced life under Islam remember what they went through. Whether you or I approve is irrelevant. It is their democratic choice. And the more Israel is attacked, whether physically or politically, the less it will be inclined to concede.

The doomsayers all argue that Israel cannot survive. It can and will. New generations of deeply committed young men and women are being born and bred to love their land and to want to fight to be allowed to live there in peace. This is not a numbers game. It is one of who has most to lose. I hate violence with a passion. But I believe we have the right to fight for what we believe in. I do however distinguish between offensive violence and defensive. Israel is fighting an existential battle for its security and has the right to take measures to protect itself regardless of whether the outside world agrees or how they choose to define reasonable measures.

What happens when debate is just not possible? It was assumed that Israel could be vindicated by providing relevant information, that anti-Israel activists were misrepresenting reality by lying or omitting relevant facts, or that there were other countries that deserved to be targeted while Israel alone was picked out for criticism and attack. But as no one is interested in being fair. Israel tended to dismiss the value of spending resources on propaganda or Public Relations, because it felt that physical survival was more important than trying to win over fickle public opinion. Besides, they believed, nothing they could do or say would make any difference.

But there is change in the air. The Algemeiner has an article on the attempts to combat misinformation and dishonesty–Pushing Back Against BDS Movement.

In an article entitled Combating Anti-Israelism and Boycotts, written by a non-Jewish academic for the Gatestone Institute, Malcolm Lowe argues that Israel supporters were wrong to try to react to ideological campaigns with rational or historical arguments. Because the opposing minds were too closed, too dogmatic to listen. Opponents of Israel were disrupting concerts and exhibitions and turning universities into places where Jews feel under assault. Fighting back by arguing or countering false claims was getting nowhere. Fortunately resources are now being marshaled to fight back more effectively.

As a result of legal tactics, France, despite its complicated relationship to Israel, deserves credit for introducing anti-boycott legislation already in 2003, under which various assaults on Israel and Israeli products have been prosecuted successfully. Even without laws specifically banning boycotts, existing laws in many countries provide opportunities to punish anti-Israel activists. Attempts to arrest Israelis abroad have died out. It is possible to give a dose of the same medicine back.

In Sweden the boycotters were boycotted. Publicizing comprehensive lists of people who have signed on to the boycott enables retaliation. Canary Mission compiles biographies of activists, teachers, and students to facilitate counter-boycotts. When performers call for a cultural boycott of Israel, a list of far more famous performers who have appeared in Israel can be produced. Counter-publicity makes people and institutions hesitate to become anti-Israel for fear of attracting unwelcome attention.

Similarly, churches, like the Presbyterian Church (USA), the United Church of Christ, and the British Methodists, whose leadership has endorsed boycotts of Israel can be derided as ineffectual and self-defeating. Agitation brings Palestinians no benefits and leaves Israelis unaffected. As a result of misdirecting energy towards a debatable moral campaign, more significant ethical and humanitarian causes such as emigration, Syria, and central Africa are being ignored. Meanwhile vast sums uphold a Palestinian kleptocracy that perpetuates violence and prefers spending on arms rather than jobs and housing for its own people. These are examples of Lowe’s counter-tactics.

I understand those movements who highlight things that go wrong in Israel. I have less respect for Israeli self-hatred directed at other Israelis. I admire those moderate Israeli advocates who use the law to ensure that the other side of the story is known too, as does Shurat Hadin. We may be few, but we need to be active in asserting that Israel wants peace—to carry placards, to demonstrate, to be a firm but polite counter-presence in the face of street violence, racist language, mob tactics, and aggression. The risks of violence are great. But the risks of silence are greater.

However we should also remember the Farhud and honor its victims. I stand by my belief that any occupation is unhealthy and oppressive, no matter how benevolent. Even if some Israelis and the Palestinians refuse terms for peace, we must continue to try our best to look for leadership that will. But in the end, as the Bible says, God is not in the bluster or the violence. God is in the “small quiet voice”. And we too have an obligation to remember our victims.

1 thought on “Al-Farhud

  1. Rabbi Ovadiah of Bartenura
    (in a letter to his father in year 1488 August 15 CE):

    “Jews in Muslim lands make themselves appear poor.
    They go about like an impoverished, despised people,
    with their heads bowed before Muslims.”

    SOURCE: Pathway to Jerusalem: the Travel Letters of Rabbi Ovadiah of Bartenura (page 40) written between 1488 CE and 1490 CE during his journey to the Holy Land, translated by Yaakov Dovid Shulman, year 1992 CE, 93 pages, CIS Publishers, Lakewood, New Jersey, ISBN 1-56062-130-3

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