A BASIS FOR BIAS
That was the response of Cardinal John J. O'Connor last April. He was commenting on the movement of some yeshiva students into the newly-purchased St. John's Hospice building in Jerusalem. "Obsceneî, he called it.
The word has somber meaning. It reflects an attitude from the Middle Ages which still hangs over all Israel like a noxious cloud. This attitude defines the Jew to those who seek such definitions. Our behavior is offensive, abominable and even demonic.
They are "...devils from Hell, enemies of the human race," says a medieval playwright. If they could kill us all, they would gladly do so..." said Luther.
We see an editorial cartoon where the star of David is outlined by the 'bodies of dead Arabs. we see a cartoon of an Israeli general splattered with the blood of victims. The Prime Minister appears as a grotesque caricature. Children with rocks incessantly charge across TV screens to defy soldiers bearing arms. The U.N. issues another condemnation. The cry "Zionism is Racism" pulsates in the background. And over and over the newspaper story starts off "Israeli's Kill.. .Israeli's kill" until the two works seem inseparable, like "Synagogue of Satan" in the Fifth Century.
We try to protest. We maintain a civil tone and speak with reason. Why castigate Israel so? Look at the rest of the world. Look at the organized slaughter in Tiananmin Square, at the recurrent massacres of thousands in Cambodia. Why no concern about 40,000 Syrian troops in Lebanon? What of the plight of Lebanese Christians: Why such little effort to stop the terrorism of the Kashimiri separatists, the Peoples War Group of New Delhi, the Liberation Tigers in Sri Lanka, The Hezbollah? Why is there no outrage about political policies which starve to death 150 children daily in Sudan? Why no cries for investigation when Lebanese killed eleven children in a school bus with a fired grenade? The whole world practically festers. Why focus an inordinate amount of attention on one tiny sliver of land?
We know the answer. Few are concerned with the true ills of mankind. They are, instead, eternally interested, even fascinated by the symbolic ill of all mankind. Jews have an indelible place in the human psyche.
We are the guilty party. Today, every allegation that can be pinned on Israel is a badge that proves our guilt. We cannot avoid it. Those with whom we argue made up their minds long ago, perhaps ages ago.
Barcelona, 1263: Nachmanides debates the validity of Judaism with Pablo Christiani. The disputation is chaired by King James I of Aragon and a number of ecclesiastics. The palace teems with courtiers, bishops, knights, priests and monks. Nachmanides speaks with great wit and learning. He skillfully raises sensitive issues and cuts to the center of all matters. He is winning. The court is aghast.
The ecclesiastics sense a dilemma and interrupt the debate, which is never concluded. The king has the last word. He says he has never heard so brilliant a defense of "a wrongful case." It Is always a wrongful case.
Our problem is not our words or actions but our very identity. How painful It is to acknowledge this fact'. We are not a people that enjoys the affection of our times. One need only recall the major event of November 13, 1974. The day belonged to Yasser Arafat. His Covenant declares "The establishment of Israel is fundamentally null and void". "Armed struggle is the only way to liberate Palestine." His publication, Palestine Revolution, stated that the aim was not to impose one's will on the enemy, but "to extirpate him." In short, he preached the destruction of Israel and the murder of its Jews.
On that day, Arafat strode to the podium of the U.N. carrying a pistol on his hip. With sustained thunderous applause, the representatives of the world stood and welcomed him. What a chilling spectacle it was--like potential sites of metastatic disease paying homage to a primary cancer!
"Really I doubt whether a Jew can be human for he will neither yield to human reasoning, nor find satisfaction in authoritative utterances... said Peter the Venerable of Cluny centuries ago. Hence, Israel is fair game. It is portrayed as misguided and corrupt. Its actions are seized by the news media, stripped of true context, molded and warped by biased hands, and extruded as fact. That in itself, shocks us. But we feel vibrations from something even more insidious. The residue from all this perversion of truth also grows into tact. Like a fungus, it seeks appropriate openings. It sticks to our shoes and stains our clothing. it erodes the ground on which we stand. It nourishes the mentality that sketched "Aaron, son of the devil" on the Forest Roll of Essex in 1277, that created the Judensau, " the "foetor judaicus, " the myths of poison wells and host desecration, the horns and tail of a subhuman creature guilty of sorcery, blasphemy and murder.
Historians tell us that the medieval image of the Jew was a "theological necessity," a receptacle for the guilt of the masses. Today, Israel has inherited the same role within the mass of nations. Thus, the imagery persists. Israel is the perfidious Jew and we are Israel.
National Public Radio, October 17, 1990: Alan Tomlinson reviews the Temple Mount Battle occurring on October 8:
"(The Arabs)" he says, "were all shot by Israelis who say they were defending themselves."
He interviews an Arab spokesperson:
"Moslems were being shot in the back... "
"Doctors removed fourteen bullets from one of the dead."
"They were shot in the brain, in the chest, in the abdomen, and in the extremities."
This is not an objective review of a tragic event. It is a replay of a calculated execution. (Martyrology)
Yes, we can accept criticism of Jews and Israel. But there is a difference between criticism and vilification--a difference in both intent and consequence. Vilification in the news media is the presentation of only one side of a story, of half-truth, of an agenda rather than an event. It is potent "sound-bite", stimulating the viscera instead of the intellect. It penetrates well and is often unforgettable.
"Whether what I am relating is true or not is no concern of mine, wrote a twelfth century chronicler, "it is told thus, and thus must it be accepted."
Modern Jews are perplexed. We see Israel, and the very word, "Israel," Stigmatized. We-shift about and look for solutions, accommodations, compromises. We search the mirror for blemishes. We appeal to logic and speak of a double-standard. But nothing really works. For our adversary dwells in the shadows. It is an incubus, the truly demonic mind-set of the middle-ages which has survived long enough to become an almost genetic reality. There is, it seems, an inherent attraction in all tales and fables about the misdeeds of Jews. No one is more cognizant of this than the news media.
So the obsession continues. We will soon enter the Twenty-First century. How sad that hundreds of years after the Reformation so many people still carry such foul baggage. We must strive to help them discard it. We must. That is a major challenge. The consequences of inaction are too threatening. Martin Luther speaks,.." you and we may all be free of this insufferable devilish burden-the Jews."