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Jews Must Pass Over their Search for World Approval

April 5th 2012

Tom Lehrer
Tom Lehrer

Oh, the Protestants hate the Catholics,

And the Catholics hate the Protestants,

And the Hindus hate the Moslems,

And everybody hates the Jews.

More apt lyrics have yet to be found on the matter than these which comedian, mathematician and lecturer Tom Lehrer wrote in his satirical "National Brotherhood Week" in 1965.

That was before the Six Day War of 1967 and the Yom Kippur War of 1973, before Israel was attacked from all sides by its peace-seeking neighbors, and before Israel seized the land near its borders to protect its population and keep her enemies even further away from its larger cities.

Even though Lehrer was being sardonic, his “joke” is only funny because it rings with some truth. Comedy is often inspired by the truths that we have a harder time coping with on a serious level.  Lehrer knew something back then that so many fail to recognize today, and it is that intentional disregard for the facts that help some Jews cope with their guilt for being who they are; it helps the cause of those who would see Israel fall.

One particular self proclaimed Jewish Zionist has been hard at work lately, hawking a book called “The Crisis of Zionism” and publishing articles in both the New York Times, on how the whole Middle East conflict could end if Israel would relent and cede the land it took from the Palestinians, and then writing in the Wall Street Journal about the need for improved Jewish awareness through schooling and the case for public vouchers for Jewish education.

The two opinions would seem inconsistent with one another. Seemingly, as one learns more about Judaism and its history of persecution, the more one might see that Israel has been under attack since the Arabs rejected a two-state solution in 1948 and pushed the Middle East into a perpetual state of war that cannot possibly end with any scenario yet raised by smarter people than any of us, or the author of the aforementioned pieces, Peter Beinart.

Yet, these conflicting viewpoints are not something Beinart just conjured up out of the colder air of Massachusetts’ academia and the pretentiousness it often breeds. So many connected Jews seem to have the same ideology that stems from a deep-seated sense of shame for being Jewish, which necessitates a compulsion to apologize for Jewish achievements.

In a conversation with someone closer to me than Beinart (and to be fair, I once ran the public relations account for The New Republic when Beinart was its editor) I found a source of angst that seemingly runs deep within the American Jewish condition. My discussion partner had edited one of the largest Jewish papers in the country, had written for one of the more right wing papers when Rabbi Mayer Kahane was there, has been deeply involved in Jewish education and is active in communal affairs. He is well versed and quite knowledgeable on these matters, and I finally understood his left leaning disposition.

The conversation we had was filled with our initially disparate takes on the situation in the Middle East. We found that our thoughts were not so different from one another on matters of harmony among the different streams and sects of the religion. Point by point, as we talked, we almost met one another – right down to the point that neither of us believed truthfully that there is a real peace partner among the Palestinians or Arabs, even if Israel were to hand over the land it held after the 1967 War. So, what was it that drove him to say that Israel would be better off if it just handed over the West Bank and the Golan Heights? It was another set of incongruous philosophies that would cause more problems than it might solve.

When pressed, the answer was found in an exasperated notion that sounded like this: “Israel should just give them their state unilaterally, and the world will see that the Palestinians cannot accept it. Then Israel can just do what it needs to do to once the world sees it.”

And there it was. Compromise Israel to the point of unparalleled danger, and then come down violently hard on their enemies when the open wounds are so sore that the “world” feels it and sees it as Zionists who already know the ending to that story do. Does Israel, or do the Jews collectively need the world to approve and accept them so that their actions would be considered kosher? Did Syrian’s president Bashar al-Assad seek world approval before he killed ten thousand of his own people, and does the seeming world disapproval of his actions cause any of Israel’s opponents to see the conflict any differently?

Did the violent and murderous riots in Afghanistan over reports of incinerated copies of Koran that were being used to pass coded messages from terror cells to others demonstrate the double standard of radical Islam, and does that show the “world” the precarious situation Israel finds itself in surrounded by people who think that way?

The questions are rhetorical; the answer is not. No!

The thought process is one of an apologist, wanting to be loved, hence seeking elusive approval. It is something, however, that even a Sixties era academic like Tom Lehrer understood all too well. The paradigm of Jewish wealth and success of the 20th Century is unprecedented, and it has caused so many Jews discomfort. The need for world approval, to be liked, may stem from the fear of living for centuries as strangers in strange lands and expecting persecution to come. Yet, that is the very syndrome the hope and reality of Israel treats.

There are no easy answers, and I, too, believe that Israel and Jews must hold themselves to a standard better than that their oppressors would maintain. Still, the approval being sought by so many apologists may never come. Just as Passover recalls Jewish oppression that goes back to the very beginnings, and the ultimate redemption that came without world approval, Israel and Jews must live in the here and now and make decisions for its future, ones that they can live with.

Juda Engelmayer is an executive at the NY PR Firm, 5W Public Relations

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