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September 3, 2012 1:04 pm

Turn this Vile Claim on its Head

avatar by Chas Newkey-Burden

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Holocaust survivor Rose Schindler shows the prisoner number tatoo on her arm to U.S. Navy Mass Communication Specialist Eddie D. Harrison Jr. in 2011. Photo: wiki commons.

This article was originally published by the Jewish Chronicle.

As one who advocates formally and informally for Israel, I have heard the full gamut of misconceptions and slanders that are aired by those opposed to the Jewish state. Over time, my skin has thickened; people can throw whatever baloney they want my way.

Except… there is still one anti-Israel argument that makes my jaw drop. And it is one that is made with unfortunate frequency. It is the “they-of-all-people” argument: the suggestion that the Jews, having faced extraordinary persecution, should know better than anyone not to be oppressors.

Put aside for a moment that the “oppression” which proponents of this argument are accusing Israel of committing is usually imaginary. When directed by gentiles towards Jews, the “they-of-all-people” argument is in its very essence so fundamentally ill-judged and unjust, and voiced with such a breathtaking lack of self-awareness, that my spirit flags when I hear it.

Where to begin in response? The heroic Howard Jacobson made a fine start when he proposed that “they of all people” is the natural successor of Holocaust denial. He wrote that the argument leaves the Jewish people doubly damned: to the Holocaust itself and to elevated moral scrutiny as a result of it.

I agree, and I would go further. I contend that, as a result of the Holocaust and what preceded it, it is we gentiles who should know better. The Holocaust followed centuries of slander, persecution, violence and murder committed by gentiles against Jews. So it is not you who have an increased responsibility to behave morally, but us.

For instance, something that we gentiles should know better than to do is lazily accuse Jewish people, or the Jewish state itself, of any misdemeanour. We have seen what centuries of slander against the Jewish people led to during the 1930s and ’40s. We see the hatred, heartbreak and bloodshed that such anti-Jewish libels continue to provoke, particularly in the Middle East.

Yet much of the world still continues to delight in damning Israel with indecent haste. From Al Dura (the false claim that Israeli forces murdered a boy in Gaza) to Jenin, from the Goldstone Report to the Gaza flotilla; time and again the world has found Israel guilty of a particular crime before all the evidence was available. When the full picture emerged and exonerated Israel it was too late to undo the damage. We gentiles, of all people, should know better.

It is also us, of all people, who should know better than to expect Israel to deal with the Iranian nuclear threat alone.

The world’s ceremonies and gestures of regret over what happened in the Holocaust would carry an increased weight of sincerity were they to be matched with robust support for Israel as the countdown to a nuclear-armed Iran, whose leader denies the Holocaust while promising to commit a second one by wiping out the Jewish state, continues.

World leaders should be sincerely standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Israel’s government as it decides what to do, not dawdling on the sidelines, waiting to wag their collective, condescending finger yet again.

Let us strip the “they-of-all-people” argument down to its very basics: gentiles telling Jews that we killed six million of your people and that as a result it is you, not us, who have lessons to learn; that it is you, not us, who need to clean up your act. It is an argument of atrocious, spiteful insanity. Do not accept it; turn it back on those who offer it. For it is us, not you, who should know better.

Follow me on Twitter. Visit Chas’ blog OyVaGoy here.

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  • Benyamin

    It’s always refreshing to hear from a Gentile who can see things from a Jewish perspective. Thank you. And for anyone who espouses the “They of all people” argument or otherwise believes that Israel is unilaterally responsible for the Palestinians’ plight: Do you honestly believe that all that the Palestinians need in order to be happy & prosperous is for Israel to “clean up its act”? Even if you care only for the Palestinians and have no sympathy or respect for Israelis, surely you can recognize that teaching your children to aspire to become martyrs for the cause of destroying another country is no way to create a healthy, sustainable future for your society. In their quest for independence, the founding fathers of the United States were guided not by a consuming desire to destroy their “enemy” (Great Britain), but by a consuming desire to build a great society. If you truly are a friend of the Palestinians, you’ll want them to do the same (for their own sake, not Israel’s). You should tell them to stop allowing themselves to be pawns of people who want to destroy Israel and start focusing on the great things they want to create for themselves and future generations. As Martin Luther King, Jr. preached and Malcolm X eventually realized, hatred isn’t a path to a better tomorrow. And if the Palestinians choose to let go of their hatred of and desire to destroy Israel, they might even find their former “enemy” to be a valuable ally in their quest for a better tomorrow.

  • J

    I appreciate your article and its expression of close friendship to the Jewish people.

    I would add two things:
    1) We Jews did learn what it means to be oppressed, many times over in our history, and we are enjoined to remember “what it was like” and act with compassion toward others. And, we do.
    2) We Jews do have three lessons to learn from the holocaust at least:
    When anti-Semites promise to annihilate you, count on it that they’re serious
    When non-Jewish nations pontificate about their morality and how the Jews can “rely on them” for help in their hour of need, don’t count on them at all.
    3) Even in the deepest, darkest periods when it seems everybody is out to destroy the Jews, or at least let it happen passively, there are always truly moral individuals who will stand up against the darkness and help the Jews, and their courage must always be remembered and honored. But, they will be in the distinct minority.

  • Dan

    What a GREAT, fresh take on the matter.

  • Excellent, brilliant, wonderful and amazingly insightful article. Did I mention is its just plain honest and true? Thank you!