What a wonderful world — if only Israel would go the hell away

by Jonathan Gurwitz, My San Antonio

As the so-called humanitarian flotilla approached Gaza late last month, Israeli military authorities attempted to warn the ships away from impending confrontation. “This is the Israeli navy,” they cautioned in radio transmissions. “You are approaching an area which is under a naval blockade.”

“Shut up. Go back to Auschwitz,” was the reply.

There may have been a good number of benevolent souls on those ships. But the heirs of Albert Schweitzer these were not.

Days before the flotilla incident, Rabbi David Nesenoff asked Helen Thomas, dean of the White House press corps, if she had any comments about Israel. “Tell them to get the hell out of Palestine.” Where should the Israelis — presumably the 5.7 million Jewish Israelis, not the country's 1.2 million Muslim citizens — go? “Poland. Germany. ... And America and everywhere else.”

For those of us who hope that Israelis and Palestinians will one day live as neighbors in peace and security, the clips of the radio exchange and the Thomas interview were enlightening — and depressing. Surely it's possible to recognize the humanity of one group and support its national aspirations without demanding the expulsion or extermination of the other, isn't it?

Perhaps not. For years, critics of Israel have wailed that any criticism of the Jewish state, no matter how muted, is met with charges of anti-Semitism. It's an argument that is ridiculous on its face, one that — like the false accusation of bigotry — is meant to discredit and squelch debate.

The most vibrant arguments about Israel take place within the Zionist community. The most vociferous critiques of Israeli policy occur within Israel itself. Take a look at the opinion pages of the online edition of the Jerusalem Post in recent days: “We need an international inquiry”; “Wanted: Israeli strategic long-term thinking.”

“Like a robot lacking in judgment, stuck on a predetermined path — that's how the government is behaving,” began an editorial in the daily Haaretz. As a thought experiment, imagine a journalist in Gaza writing similar words about Hamas without being thrown off the top of a building, or a journalist in Tehran criticizing the mullocracy without getting hanged.

Yet if it's false that any criticism of Israel is impermissible and is always met with charges of anti-Semitism, it is true that some of the obsession over the small parcel of land Jews have called home for 3,000 years, the effort to delegitimize Israel alone among the nations, the elevation of Palestinian human rights above Tibetan and Chechan and all other human rights, the accusations of apartheid that somehow overlook entire Saudi cities that are forbidden to non-believers, the preoccupation with Israeli misdeeds while ignoring actual genocides elsewhere is ... well, hard to explain.

Maybe the people with these compulsions have completely benign intentions. Maybe they really do care about the welfare of Palestinians, despite the fact that Hamas represents a fundamentalist threat to the Palestinian Authority. Maybe they truly mean it when they say that their criticism of Israel is a sincere expression of caring, even if they have an odd way of showing it.

Or perhaps just below the surface, on a radio frequency they think no one will ever hear or in an interview they presume no one will ever see, something else is at work.

Perhaps they just wish the Jews would go the hell away ... somewhere, anywhere other than where they are. Perhaps their greatest lament about the Holocaust is that the Nazis didn't do a better job. And perhaps their hope is that if they can confound decent people long enough with their professions of humanitarianism, Hamas or Hezbollah or a nuclear-armed Iran will finally be able to finish what Hitler did not.

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