Sunday 29 March 2009

Jewish Anti-Semites

All Jews have anti-Semitic genes in them. We have all experienced moments when we experience a feeling of dislike towards our own people. This usually surfaces as a result of an episode where we witness other Jews behaving badly, and in a manner that is "typically Jewish". Sometimes the behaviour is disrespectful, sometimes it is insensitive and at other times it is just plain embarrassing or rude. There can be no doubting the fact that Jews do have certain behaviour patterns which are typical to us, and which are not particularly endearing to others. Anthropologists, sociologists and psychologists have gone to great lengths explaining the origins of many of these behaviours. The fact that it may be justified by certain events in Jewish history doesn't really help much in today's world. The truth is that we need to move with the times and amend our behaviour accordingly. The frequent instances of poor behaviour by our fellow Jews is a source of great embarrassment to many of us.

There are times when this embarrassment is more about the sensitivity of the person feeling the shame, than the behaviour itself. During and following the harrowing events of the holocaust, many Jews were keen to fit into their new adopted countries as unobtrusively as possible. Mostly, this was done in order not to bring undue attention to themselves. Along with this approach comes an acute sensitivity and associated shame towards people who have chosen not to become as integrated, and still prepared to display Jewish behaviour patterns in public.

All Jews in the Diaspora (as well as most Jews in Israel) have had the opportunity to feel disgusted by the behaviour of Israeli Jews. Whether you have been on the receiving end of aggressive actions or whether somebody has tried to be dishonest with you in business dealings, all of us have felt a level of dislike towards Israelis for this type of behaviour. We even go as far as to label all Israelis for the poor behaviour of some. Even though many people have gone to great lengths to try to differentiate between Israeli culture and Jewish culture, the truth is that it is all the same thing. Most negative behaviours by Israelis are labelled as Jewish behaviour patterns. The same is true when it comes to holding views about the actions of the government of Israel. There are certainly times that we do not agree with the government's actions or statements, which we each have the right to do. These behaviours go further, however, than only representing the people of Israel. They end up representing Jews the world over.

Holding some of these feelings of dislike privately, or discussing them in internal circles, may be one thing. Some may even regard it as a form of therapy. Going out into the wide world and being critical in public is, in my opinion, something quite different. I feel that it this can be extremely damaging to the general good of Jews in Israel and Jews around the world. How much more is this the case when the negative views and criticisms are being voiced by Jews in positions of trust and in senior positions in the local country or community.

There are examples of such high profile Jews who criticise Israel in almost every country with any size of Jewish population. Two examples which have been in the news recently are those of Ronnie Kasrils, until recently South African Minister for Intelligence Services; and British Member of Parliament and a former Labour government minister, Sir Gerald Kaufman. Both politicians are well known for taking a very public stand in their respective countries against the Israeli government with regard to its policy in dealing with the Palestinian problem despite claiming to be proud of their Jewish heritage. Kasrils has published a number of articles in which he is highly critical of Israeli governments and Israeli military actions. Kaufman has called for economic and military sanctions against Israel, and has described Israel as a "pariah".

Whilst I have no qualm against any Jew for holding a view that may not be supportive of the Israeli government and its actions, I do have a problem with Jews who choose to make these negative views known in very public way. Not only does it damage the Israeli government, it damages the standing of Jews in their own countries. Many times, the reason for such public criticism is to try to demonstrate to the locals the extent to which the person is committed to his adopted country. By criticising Israel or Jews in public, his allegiance to his adopted country is demonstrated to be stronger than his allegiance to the Jewish cause. This often helps to strengthen his standing in the senior circles in which he moves in his home country.

An excellent example this occurred during the recent Operation Cast Lead in Gaza. Sir Gerald Kaufman took it upon himself to make some distinctly critical and negative comments about Israel's actions to the House of Commons. Whilst it is not clear whether his statements reinforced Sir Gerald's left-wing Labour credentials, they were distinctly unhelpful to Israel and to British Jews in general.

If Israel is to survive in a world that is increasingly hostile towards her, she needs all the help and support that she can get. Clearly, there are countries whose support she enjoys as a result of a relationship of convenience. It seems logical, however, that Israel would enjoy the public support of the Jewish community around the world. After all, it could be argued that their ability to continue to live safely as Jews in their home countries is dependent upon the continued existence of Israel. Is it too much to ask for their support in return?

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