Erev Rosh Hashanah. First day Tishrei (first month of the Jewish year), maybe it is a coincidence. The paper of record happens to carry a lot of Jewish-related news, none of it cheerful. Israeli army officials reported the IDF located the murderers of three teenagers – the crime that started the chain of events leading to last summer’s Gaza war – and killed them in a brief gun battle. Not the sort of thing you want to cheer on Erev Rosh Hashanah, a day that among other thing celebrates the beginning of God’s plan.
Are Jews the witnesses of this plan, the guinea pigs? Maybe both. You have to wonder. It is okay to wonder. Job did. He refused to complain, but he wondered, or how would we have his story? What are humans for? To obey the law and walk a righteous path through life? Or to murder one another?
The Times piece reported that the perps are instant heroes in Hamas-land, a zone of terror and bitterness where getting a good education is when you become a suicide bomber or a killer of 16-year old kids. That is considered an accomplishment. That is what your parents invest money for, to get you to do things like that. The story had these guys in the late 20s, early 30s. A lot of adolescents, young men, go through a juvenile delinquent phase and come out okay, but not these. Thirty years old, hardened killers. Shot it out with the IDF, lost. A great education.
The kids they killed, what do you think they would have been? IDF soldiers, yes: Israelis learn early they must defend their land, their lives, their families, and their society. Reluctant soldiers, most of them, with the strictest rules of engagement, just like our soldiers. In addition, doctors. Or concert musicians. Or agronomists. Highly specialized individuals, excellent in professions requiring years of study in institutions requiring a great deal of money to maintain.
There are cultures in other words that invest in life. There are others that invest in death. I do not know if one should laugh or cry at the need to state such a banality, but here we are, the beginning of the Jewish year 5775, and we need reminding, evidently.
The other story has been around for at least ten or fifteen years, so it is about par for the New York Times to get around to it. I know I should not say mean or sarcastic things, but if I say them now I can atone during the coming Days of Awe. The term is teshuvah, repent. Okay, Times, I am sorry. The fact is, reporters have been noticing the rising tide of hatred and bigotry in Europe at least since the 1980s, so frankly you have to ask yourself. What really this may mean is that it is not a rising tide at all. It is simply that for a time, for a few decades after World War II, there was a kind of collective repression of the beast of anti-Jewish hatred in Europe – enforced by anti-hate speech laws — reflecting a certain high degree of inhibition due to what had happened in the 1940s.
Observe that these years also expressed a huge lie. Or at least a very large dose of hypocrisy. The war against the Jews in Europe was, still is, presented as a “fascist” aim. Fascism was often an anti-Semitic movement, relying as it did on racist and racialist wellsprings, but the aim of exterminating Jews and Judaism physically and metaphysically is rooted in the totalitarian left. Clear thinking, honest leftists understood this very early: August Bebel, the great 19th century German social democratic leader referred to anti-Semitism as the socialism of idiots. He also spoke out against the horrors of German colonization in South West Africa (now Namibia).
Among well-meaning left-leaning “men of good will,” as used to be said, it was simply inconceivable that a generous movement like socialism should be tainted by anti-Semitism. The various families of the left in Europe included Jews, often in leadership positions. (Bebel was not Jewish.) The left stood for fraternity, universal solidarity, equality, all of which were understood to be antithetical to all forms of bigotry and racism. The right, by contrast, stood for privilege and inequality, took pride in particularism, ethnic, class, what-all.
But the question always was this: Are particularistic, or parochial, interests as dangerous as the left made them out to be? The biggest threats to the Jews – among others – turned out, as we know, to be the Nazis and the Stalinists. These were, in some respects, conservative regimes, in the European sense. They were top-down, authoritarian, based on cliques, clans, ethnic groups, suspicious of outsiders. But they possessed a characteristic that was not typical of European conservatism, and this was their belief in the state. They both described themselves as socialist and, although democratic socialists had every right to denounce this as fraudulent heist of the term used by Bebel and others before World War I, it was by no means inappropriate.
All this is well known. But once again, we see the European left allowing itself to be drawn into anti-Semitic patterns. Notwithstanding the Times’ belated discovery of the phenomenon, Eurosocialists began to switch their support from Israel to its enemies after the Six-Day War, 1967. (The Communists had done so much earlier.) To be fair, it is true it is only since the 1990s that mainstream currents in Eurosocialism have sought to make anti-Zionism by any other name, which is anti-Semitism by any other name, a normative position in their parties. They have not succeeded, but they have softened up conventional opinion sufficiently to render such a position acceptable and even respectable.
A French socialist by the name of Pascal Boniface made an argument some 15 or 20 years ago that sounded both specious and hateful, based on the eventual electoral weight of Muslim immigrants. We should not snicker, seeing how some of our pols come up with positions on the immigration issue.
At least this represents a calculated cynicism that a functioning liberal democracy can live with, because it has ways of correcting it. What may be happening now, however, represents something more scary, a kind of fatalistic defeatism. In the midst of war against radical Islam, important segments of the Euroleft are supporting their own enemies. The president of France, François Hollande, and his prime minister, Manuel Valls, are resisting this trend, much the way the great Hugh Gaitskell fought to save the British Labour Party from its “neutralist” tendencies during the Cold War. Will they succeed, and will like-minded comrades in Italy and Spain, Britain and Germany?
Will they accept the grim necessity of the Israeli soldiers who hunt and destroy the murderers of their neighbors’ children? Or will they find ways of justifying the existence of organizations like Hamas and tolerate populations in their midst that provide it with support? As the month of Tishrei reminds Jews, the choice is between a life-affirming culture and one of despair and the cult of death. We cannot choose for them, but we ourselves can choose life.
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