Congresswoman Iram Ali has touched a match to the kerosene that surrounds Jews and the issue of anti-Semitism. While she is the first female Muslim elected to Congress, the storm she has triggered is not the issue Jews should be concerned with.
After all, but for her status, there’s nothing new about it. And one could argue those of even greater status were worse anti-Semites. Of a long list let’s just pick Henry Ford and be done with it. Aside from his personal fulminations, his writings in and those others who wrote for his Dearborn Independent were Jew haters. His salespeople were instructed to put the latest edition of the paper on the front seat of every new car delivered at purchase.
We know there is a Nazi-like hate a foot in certain part of the Muslim worlds, both Sunni and Shiite. Though there are many Muslims who could care less. It was created in the crucible of the Koran, a line from which is the title of this essay. Where did this come from? My supposition sees its origin as more political than religious. Martin Luther was a friend and admirer of the Jews until they rejected his offer to convert with the promise of leadership positions in his new church. Then he, after he tacked the 95 Thesis to the church door wrote, “The Jews and Their Lies” which centuries later was reborn as the infamous Nuremberg Laws in Nazi Germany. Allah too wooed the Jews giving their holy people the status of prophets. His failed attempts to have Muslim Jews lighted his own match to Jew hatred.
I must pause here to make clear that there is a fine but distinguishable line between being anti-Israel and anti-Semitic. There are many Jews who are irritated to anger at the Netanyahu government and its policies. There are many who were angry at the pre-integration-like treatment of Muslims in Israel prior to Netanyahu. Many an Arab village looks like segregation-era black communities compared to their Israeli neighbors’ villages. Yet one can love Israel because of her warts because in many ways she is more Democratic, by design, that is the US non-democratic in certain ways by design.
When one calls for the annihilation of Israel either directly by war or more slyly by turning the state into a bi-national one where the poison pill becomes demographics, we are at and across the line. If the Jews go, or if the Jewish character of the state is no longer there to protect its Jewish citizens (Arafat once said that, “Our women’s’ wombs are our most effective weapon in eliminating Israel.”) then we have to say we are seeing anti-Semitism.
It is likely that Congresswoman Ali is an anti-Semite, not just anti-Israel. Her previous writings and statements affirm that. I don’t care if she doesn’t like Jews; I do care if she has the power to so hurt the Jewish state that she can hurt Jewish people. But she is not the issue. She is emblematic of an issue that the American Jewish Community has been sticking its head in the sand about for decades.
The face of the Congress has been changing and this year it was impossible to miss. The pre-Holocaust African-Americans who were joined by Jews during the Civil Rights era are almost all gone from Congress, mostly by death and retirement. They are being replaced by a new class of Representatives whose districts have pressing needs. It may well be that they are not anti-Israel, but it may well be that they are willing to trade a vote against a pro-Israel matter to get more low-income housing, better infrastructure, sweeping changes in voting laws that directly impact their districts in a way Israel does not.
The reaction to Ali’s statement has been electric. The Republicans, pardon my cynicism, jumped her because she’s a rising star in the Democrat party. The Democrats jumped her, pardon my cynicism because they don’t need this kind of issue at this time in political history. The president called for her resignation or interestingly enough her removal from the Foreign Affairs Committee. The latter might well fill the punishment barrel but it would change nothing because of Congressional friends, alliances, and political needs.
Then comes to me a tweet from a rabbi almost no one has heard, Yoel Gantz, representing a congregation about the size that could hold services on the Sabbath in two or three moderate-sized living rooms. He is Orthodox and represents the Chabad/Lubavitch movement. That places him well to the right of even many of the other Orthodox Jews. I expected him to come at Ali with a flame-thrower. but I wasn’t thinking. An operating philosophy of Chabad is this: “Do one more thing Jewish every day.” Another is, “First you do, then you know.” Chabad wants Jews to be more Jewish and feels the rest will follow. So what did he say,” He said basically, Calm down. Jews have survived a lot worse than Congressman Ali.” He asked that people think of something they did that was Jewish and that made them feel good. He counseled, “Do it again. Then find another and do that.”
My interpretation is that of “Pogo’s.” “We have seen the enemy and he is us.” In an argument I had with a doggedly conversionistic Evangelical whose mission in life was to convert Jews, I was saying there are so many Christians and non-believers to concentrate on, leave us alone!” His response to me? If you people did a better job educating your own about being Jewish, you wouldn’t have to worry about us!”
Hmmmmmmmmmmmmm. You know something, he and the rabbi may have something there–at least from my perspective.
Bill Gralnick writes here most every Sunday. The full range of his essays can be found atatleastfrommyperspectiveblog.wordpress.com
More about Bill can be found on his website: http://www.atleastfrommyperspective.net
His weekly mantra? “Read! It’s good for both of us.”