By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
This shows how the current crisis distorts opinion, winding it tightly around opposite poles. My grandfather would not have been shy about criticizing someone like Israeli Prime Minister Sharon before. The political movement he comes from was, for decades, often more suspicious of the Israeli right wing than the Arab world. (Ben Gurion, for example, refused to utter the name of Menachem Begin, the right-wing leader who later served as prime minister, on the floor of the Knesset.) For the Left, social progress was equally important as national revival. The right wing, it believed, knew only narrow-minded militarism, and compromised the idea of Zionism by resorting to violence.
“Tell me this,” I ask him. “Is this what you wanted back when you were milking cows and dreaming of Palestine on the training farms in New Jersey? A thirty-year military occupation? Controlling the destinies of millions of unwilling people?” I remind him about Chaim Weizmann, who told the Paris Peace Conference in 1919 that the Zionists did not want to colonize Palestine “like Prussian Junkers.” “And look what‘s happened,” I say. “The Israelis have become conquerors. Did you ever think you’d be throwing your hand in with a guy like Sharon, who offers no way out but more bloodshed? Is this really what you wanted?” After some silence, he answers, with a little hesitation: “No. This is not what we wanted.”
When my grandfather was working as a machinist in Rochester in the 1930s, he went to the foreman for help, and a German nearby on the shop floor, upset by Abe and his frequent questions, muttered under his breath, “‘Was will der faule Jude?’” -- “What does this lazy Jew want?”
“That‘s what we have to remember,” he says, referring to the long history of anti-Semitism. “Let me say I agree with you on principle. The current situation can’t continue. Something has to happen. And the settlements are a big part of the problem. I opposed the settlement policy from the start, I‘ll have you know! However,” he adds, “your viewpoint is entirely analytical. It sounds good. But I have to be more emotional. I’ll admit that up front. There will always be someone to hate us. And we have to stick up for ourselves. You weren‘t there. You don’t know how it was.”
My grandfather, like many Jews, tends to see the future as another potential chapter of Jewish victimization. His view is shaped by direct, unpleasant experience: taunts in the streets, reports of pogroms in the old country, the German in his machine shop, the Holocaust. And he‘s right -- I wasn’t there; I don‘t know how it was. But I think it is precisely this kind of emotion we need to overcome when looking at the political fate of Israel and Palestine. It is a difficult argument to make, especially since the Holocaust figured so centrally in the birth of Israel, and the two events together are the central components of cultural identity for many Jews.
Still, I make it: Understanding the Holocaust means more than shaking your head in the Museum of Tolerance or watching Schindler’s List. The meaning is larger than Jewish suffering. As I told my grandfather, I‘ve engaged the Holocaust intimately, as a student, a Jew, and a proponent of human rights. I chronicled the commemorative culture of the Holocaust in Europe for months, seeing memorials, interviewing survivors, and writing extensively along the way. I stood in Prague’s Pinkas Synogogue on Yom Hashoah, where the Rabbi read, from the walls, the names of all 77,297 murdered Czech Jews, and got weak in the knees when he intoned the terrible names of the places where they were destroyed -- Ve-Terezin . . . Ve-Mejdanek . . . Ve-Osvetim. That last one is the Czech term for Auschwitz, a word that represents not just the nadir of Jewish history, but has also become synonymous with the human capacity for monstrous injustice. It is in the memory of Auschwitz that much of modern human rights law was created. And for Jews today, Auschwitz should not be a call to the ramparts, but rather a call to fight oppression and injustice around the world, even in their own back yard.
To this my grandfather is quiet. I know it‘s asking a lot, I say, to reconcile the two main Jewish imperatives: taking up the cause of social justice and not underestimating one’s enemies. “If you can set aside passion,” I suggest, “Jewish experience demands being critical, of both Palestinians and Israelis. Isn‘t that the idea behind so many biblical stories -- to learn from how we were treated?”
Remember the story, I ask, where God chastised the angels who laughed when the Egyptians drowned in the Red Sea? Those are my people, too, He said. “Israel,” I add, “is like a kid who learned karate to fight off bullies and then winds up victimizing his classmates. I like the idea of Jews defending themselves, and I’m proud of you for that,” I say. “But I don‘t want the Jews to be occupiers. Both sides need to put the gloves down, and why not lead the way?”