I recently commented to a colleague that, though I’ve worked professionally fighting anti-Semitism and advocating on behalf of Israel for many years – and there weren’t many distortions, lies, or agitprop that I haven’t seen – I still haven’t lost the ability to, at times, still become outraged by the relentless venom that’s constantly directed at the Jewish state. Mya Guarnieri’s CiF piece, “Israeli rabbis’ racist decree strikes at the soul of Judaism,” represents such a case.
Let’s begin with the title, “Israeli rabbi’s racist decree strikes at the soul of Judaism,” and examine what it is meant to evoke. As we learn by reading the essay, her commentary pertains to 50 or so rabbis (including Safed Chief Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu) who signed a religious decree forbidding Jews from selling homes or land to non-Jews. So, from a totally non-binding decree, which (though clearly discriminatory) has no weight whatsoever in the context of Israeli civil law, we are provided a hyperbolic headline which would suggest that what’s at stake is nothing short of the “soul of Judaism.” As if Judaism itself is on trial.
Guarnieri’s opening notes that the rabbis who signed the decree “urged Jews to first warn and then “ostracize” fellow Jews who disobey the edict.” In this passage one can’t help but note a contrast in penalties between Israeli and Palestinian societies handed out to those whose behavior contradicts social mores. Jews, who violate this decree, will be issued a stern warning and face the possibility of limited social opprobrium. In contrast, for instance, Palestinians who are “caught” selling land to Jews risk the death penalty. Indeed, According to the 1973 legislation, the sale of property to Jews or Israelis constitutes a crime against state security and well-being, punishable by death and the confiscation of the culprit’s possessions.
Guarnieri continues by framing the issue as representing “…just the latest wave in a rising tide of religious fascism.”
So, by the second paragraph we’re told that what’s at stake isn’t merely the social ramifications of an edict signed by few dozen bigoted rabbis, but, rather, Israel’s descent into a violent, religiously based, authoritarianism – a breathtaking rhetorical leap that, one would assume, Ms. Guarnieri has ample evidence to support.
Yet her subsequent supporting passages merely noted the following: Fifteen or so rabbis recently urged Jewish landlords to refrain from renting to Arab college students; a letter was signed by a few Tel Aviv rabbis asking Jews not to rent to illegal immigrants; a campaign was launched in an orthodox neighborhood in Tel Aviv to clamp down on illegal immigrants.
So, Guarneri’s evidence of Israel’s descent into religious totalitarianism amounts to the xenophobic opinions of less than a hundred rabbis, and a campaign by some against renting to or hiring illegal immigrants. No violence, mind you, no legislation codifying these bigoted views, merely anecdotal evidence that some Israelis – not unlike Americans or Europeans – are less than comfortable with the social and economic effects of illegal immigration.
Next, Guarnieri descends further into the abyss of anti-Zionism when she opens a passage by asking, for the sake of fairness, that we “set aside the fact that the Palestinians had roots here long before the state of Israel existed.” Ok, this being a blog, I try not to bore folks with the complexities of Jewish and Israeli history, but it is important to refute the claims of those, like Guarnieri, who peddle in such historical fiction about “Palestinians” being the indigenous people in the land.
- Even the Palestinians themselves have acknowledged their association with the region came long after the Jews. In testimony before the Anglo-American Committee in 1946, for example, they claimed a connection to Palestine dated back no further than the conquest of Muhammad’s followers in the 7th century.
- No serious historian questions the more than 3,000-year-old Jewish connection to the Land of Israel, or the modern Jewish people’s relation to the ancient Hebrews.
- Jewish independence in the ancient Land of Israel began around 1000 BCE, and lasted for more than 400 years before being dispersed from the land through invasion by foreign foes.
Guarnieri then leads into her next passage by nobly promising to temporarily suspend her “many objections to Zionism” (not Israel, the nation-state, but the very concept of a Jewish state) as a prelude to additional exhortations that the modern Jewish state is failing to live up to Zionist ideals. In Exodus, rabbi Guarnieri sagely reminds us,
“we are commanded not to expel others but to remember our exile in Egypt and to care for the strangers among us.”
And, further, Guarnieri quotes Herzl’s, from his book Der Judenstat:
“…we should accord … honourable protection and equality to men of other creeds and different nationalities because we have learnt toleration in Europe”.
This last passage is especially interesting, as Der Judenstat was published in 1896 – over 40 years before one out of every three European Jews were murdered in “tolerant” Europe by Nazi Germany.
Moving closer to her thesis, Guarnieri characterizes Tuesday’s proclamation as an act of “state-sanctioned racism,” and, later, claims that “the state has done nothing to put them in check,” – an allegation that’s completely at odds with official reaction to the petition. Far from being “state-sanctioned”, condemnations by high-level government officials were quite emphatic – a fact that Guarnieri, if she bothered to check, would have seen was quite obvious:
- Avishay Braverman, the minister for minority affairs, last week lodged a formal complaint with the justice ministry, saying Eliyahu’s “continual incitement against the Arabs in the Galilee harms the fabric of relations between Jews and Arabs and does not serve the interests of the state”.
- Prime Minister Netanyahu emphasized that “Such things cannot be said, not about Jews and not about Arabs. They cannot be said in any democratic country, and especially not in a Jewish and democratic one. The state of Israel rejects these sayings.”
- Education Minister Gideon Saar also related to the rabbis’ letter, saying that “the Torah commands one to have good relations with Gentiles.”
- Israeli President Shimon Peres harshly condemned the rabbis’ petition, stating, “the state of Israel is composed of Jewish citizens and non-Jewish citizens, and we all have the same rights…this fundamental right is engraved in our Declaration of Independence, as well as in legislation forged in the Knesset.”
But, Guarnieri saves her worst for last, adding a rhetorical flourish dripping with hyperbole and self-righteousness – one which is as melodramatic and it is intellectually unserious, when she warns:
“The decree was an open declaration of war. It’s a strike against the soul of Judaism.”
Here, we see Guarnieri at the nadir of her essay – in which all of her rhetorical excess is on full display – writing in a manner suggesting that she belongs in the category which Anthony Julius aptly terms “scourges”: Jews who believe that their higher morality impels them to engage in public whipping of Israel to drive it on the right path and, thus, lose all perspective in their obsession with Israel’s “crimes.” Jews, per Julius’s definition, not only feel the need to criticize fellow Jews, but:
“…find virtue in opposing his own community…takes the other point of view…writes counter-histories of his own people. It is not enough…to disagree, or even refute; he must expose the worst bad faith, the most ignoble motives, the grossest crimes. He must discredit.”
Guarnieri doesn’t see her mission as merely commenting on the bigoted comments of a few citizens in a liberal democracy of over seven million citizens. No, the monumental task Guarnieri sets out to conquer in a mere 636 words is that of a (secular) messiah – saving the soul, the moral essence, the core ideals of not just the Jewish state, but, indeed, of Judaism itself! Guarnieri’s secular messianic politics represent an utterly breathtaking hubris, and one which continues to define much of the commentary on Israel by the Jewish hard left.
In her staggering myopia, Guarnieri seems utterly unconcerned with the moral inversion she’s engaged in. While the official Israeli condemnation to Eliyahu’s remarks were as immediate as they were emphatic, Palestinian leaders continue to glorify anti-Jewish violence, and condone and promote anti-Semitic narratives (often in state controlled media). Is there even a remote possibility she is not aware of this? If she wants to engage in an examination of reactionary politics, Ms. Guarnieri might want to peek out and direct her righteous gaze east of the Jordan River, North of the Golan, and West of Sderot.
Writers like Guarnieri, as with so many other of her hard-left fellow travelers at the Guardian, with all their erudition and sophistication, fail to escape from a political paradigm that is as obtuse is it is narcissistic, to understand that though Israel – as with the United States and West – of course has many faults, such imperfections pale in comparison to her virtues.
Far from cascading down the hill into fascism, Israel’s democracy is robust and durable, her press free and feisty; The Jewish state enjoys a vibrant civil society, possesses legal protections for minorities on par, or exceeding, that of many Western democracies, and can boast of a strong and remarkably resilient economy. And, her citizens (especially its minorities) continue to reap the rewards of an audaciously independent judiciary.
In other words, the modern Jewish state (by and standard, yet alone in contrast with its neighbors in the Middle East) is about as far removed from fascism as possible.
Many, from free and prosperous societies (typically in their youth), see the world as Mya Guarnieri does – hostage, in a perverse manner, by their own ideals – blinded (by the very sun which nurtured them) from the most fundamental truth about the political world: that there is an enormous moral difference between free, open democratic societies and closed totalitarian ones – and that the machinations of the latter aren’t located in Washington, D.C., Jerusalem, or London, but in Damascus, Tehran, Khartoum and Gaza City.
With age and experience, thankfully, many admirably disabuse themselves of such facile notions of the world, and come to understand the dark dangers, and delusions, of the moral and cultural relativism which fosters their Western masochism.
We can only hope that Mya Guarnieri one day does as well.