Behind the Mask

POLITICS

IT HASN'T BEEN EASY being Jewish during the past few months. Since Israel's invasion of Lebanon, Jews throughout the world have turned to the evening news and scanned the daily paper with mixed emotions of horror and hope. Passionate and heated arguments have developed within the Jewish community between those appalled at the ongoing destruction and those who view the dispersion of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), however tragic the consequences, as necessary for Israel's preservation and safety.

The ramifications of the invasion however, extend beyond mere mental anxiety for Jewish observers. For as recent terrorist attacks on Jewish civilians in Paris and Rome indicate anti-Israel sentiments--made more widespread and acceptable by recent events--can easily degenerate into violet and irrational anti-Semitism. Even at bastions of enlightenment such as Ivy League universities the Mideast political turmoil has led some critics of Israel to express their views by vandalizing sukkans. Fortunately the vast majority of observers have condemned such wanton destruction as a base and vicious way of making a political statement.

But while diligence in defending Jews against political terrorism is admirable, it often distracts attention from the more upsetting motives that may well lie behind such "anti-Israel" fervor. We cannot forget that criticism of Israel itself frequently stems from prejudice against Jews in general and should remember this distasteful really when considering and formulating opinions about the Mideast.

Many might balk at the claim that political condemnation of Israel signals the presence of anti-Semitism. Of course, the relationship is by no means categorical--many Jews and Judeophiles themselves, for example, have vehemently attacked Tel Aviv's foreign policy in recent months. And the idea that anti-Semitism could warp people's views on political issues seem distant to most. It's easy to forget that only 40 years ago, one of the most civilized nations on the globe carried out the systematic slaughter of six million people out of pure anti-Semitism. The frequent and sometimes offhand mention of the Holocaust obscures how real, timely, and savage hatred for Jews can be. Hitler's genocide has become just another landmark event, and when someone mentions it, instead of gasping "The Horror!" we chronicle it with the Norman Conquest, the Reformation, and other distant historical happenings.

AFTER WORLD WAR II, the sickening realization of what had taken place in concentration camps turned world opinion against the rawest form of anti-Semitism. Like the Southern bigots who were forced to don the robes and hoods of KKK to carry out their lynchings and burnings with impunity,. Jew-haters after the Holocaust could not practice their bigotry without assuming some sort of disguise.

That brand of anti-Zionism which labelled the philosophy behind the Diasporan Jews desire to create a homeland "racist" was one such disguise. Although many groups--including some Jews--opposed the Jewish state for other reasons, anti-Zionism served for many as a new, more defensible appellation for the same old, inexcusable prejudice. Jewish journalist Jacobo Timmerman's Argentine captors and torturers claimed to have no objection to Judaism--only to Zionism--as they subjected him to an electroshock machine and screamed frenetically, "Clipped Prick!" Must recently opposition to Israel's statehood has become an unconvincing disguise, and many anti-Semites have switched to a new strategy--quite the rage in light of the Lebanon invasion--of sweepingly condemning Israel's political behavior.

An effort earlier this month to expel Israel from the United Nations because it is "not a peace-loving nation" should give pause for thought. Surely, Israel's international behavior even if unjust in Lebanon, does not rate as the most bellicose in the world. Perhaps dozens of countries "love peace" much less than Israel, yet the Arabs singled out the Jewish state. Had the expulsion issue come to a vote, judging from past patterns of U. N. voting on Israel-related issues the Arab League might well have received considerable worldwide support,. The voting records of France, Italy and other European nations on Israel-related issues--coupled with innumerable small incidents in these countries over the years--hint that they might have been receptive to the proposal had the U.S. not stepped in.

Historic persecution of the Jewish people does not excuse Israel from treating her neighbors in a just and civilized fashion. But we must remember that anti-Semitism is not merely a topic for the history books--it remains a powerful and destructive force, often lurking beneath apparent objective political critcism of Israel. We must be especially thoughtful in forming our opinions of Israel to ensure we do not rely on--or adopt--a perspective skewed by prejudice and hatred. On the scale of right and wrong, such sensitivity to Israel's unique situation is the only way to keep the balance true.