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Martin Varsavsky

Martin Varsavsky

Posted January 19, 2009 | 07:38 AM (EST)

Jews Should Learn from African Americans and Move On


KHAN YOUNIS, GAZA STRIP - NOVEMBER 23: Palesti...
Image by Getty Images via Daylife
As Israel ends its Gaza invasion and I, as a Jew, question the morals and effectiveness of this military campaign, as I objected that of the invasion of Lebanon in 2006, I still hear the old appeasement song. I hear it again, again, and again from my Jewish friends. I am wrong in questioning these military campaign because the enemy is Hitler. Hitler, Hitler Hitler. Hezbollah is Hitler, Hamas is Hitler, Iran is Hitler, the Palestinians are Hitler, the Arabs are Hitler. They are all for the systematic extermination of the Jewish people. And when voices are heard in Europe, USA and other regions; when commentators disapprove of the methods used by the Israeli government when dealing with Hezbollah and Hamas, my Jewish relatives are quick to dismiss those as opinions of antisemites. In their mind people who disagree with the foreign policy of Israel are simply waiting for the enemies of the Jewish people to complete the work they left undone by the Nazis. For them the Palestinians are not a people with valid claims to a country that I hope they get as soon as possible. For some of them the Palestinians are a neo Nazi group that was created to make sure that Hitler's final solution gets finally....implemented.

Now let's compare the situation of the Jews to that of the African Americans for a moment. African Americans deserve to be mentioned in the Jewish debate because they were, as recently as 1960 in USA discriminated against in the most virulent forms. The country that now has an African American President did not allow African Americans to sit in an empty bus seat because it was reserved for whites. And in the previous centuries African Americans were sold as cattle, enslaved for life, frequently raped and killed without charges. As such the history of African Americans is comparable in horror to that of Jewish history. And in some ways it is worse because the "regime" that abused and terrorized them is in a way, still in power.

Yet somehow, the vast majority of African Americans do not believe that slavery or mass prejudice could ever happen to them again. I don't see too many Black people worried that tomorrow somebody will enslave them again. But unfortunately, many Jews still believe that another dictator intent on wiping the Jewish people, could arise at any moment in the world and frequently confuse people who see Israel as their enemy as people who want to exterminate all Jews around the world. And while it is true that there are some rabid racists in the world who wish all Black people dead and all Jewish people dead they are a minority to be considered but not to worry about them on a daily basis.

But some Jewish commentators believe that big time antisemitism is still alive in the United States. As we know, Obama's Muslim ancestry was an issue for Jews in America as some saw that Hussein middle name as a potential sign that it maybe him who endangers Jewish life as we know it in the future. As unlikely as it sounds I have Jewish American friends who still argue that Jews are safer in Israel than in USA or worse that Jews in USA are safer in USA thanks to the existence of Israel, something that if true, it's probably true the other way around. Most Jews still believe that the State of Israel exists to provide a safe heaven to the Jews of the Diaspora. But now, surrounded by hundreds of millions of enemies, I believe that without the Jews of the Diaspora, and especially without the Jews in the United States the State of Israel would be endangered. As military technology improves and becomes available for all it is hard to see how 5 million Jews can defend themselves against so many rich and well armed enemies who in some cases directly support Hamas and Hezbollah. The chances that Jews are picked up country after country by Neo Nazis and exterminated as it happened during WWII is as probable as the chance that the same happens to Gays, Blacks, native Americans or any other minority that used to be discriminated against. Almost zero. Instead, the chances that Islamic terrorists or Islamic states end up defeating or greatly damaging Israel with the use of advanced weapons over the next 20 years are significant. And it is my opinion that invasions such as that of Lebanon or Gaza increase the possibility of this tragic event happening. If there is ever another holocaust again in my view it will sadly happen in Israel. But this is not because the anti semites are winning. This is because the creation of the state of Israel was accompanied by the displacement of the Palestinians and the Palestinian issue must be solved. The dangers that Israel faces is not a Jewish issue anymore. Israel is a mostly Jewish country at war with enemies for reasons that are not antisemitism per se but are geopolitical in nature.

I firmly believe in the right of Israel to exist but oppose the recent policies of the Israeli government including the invasion of Lebanon and of Gaza because I believe that both invasions are unethical and moreover, tactically wrong. They are unethical because in both cases Israel is attacking, killing and greatly damaging the infrastructure of other countries or quasi countries (Lebanon and Gaza) in retaliation for dangers that are minimal. Casualty ratios of 900 to 13 can hardly be called a war regardless of the fact that human life should be impervious to mathematics. In Spain where I live we take higher number of casualties from Islamic and Basque terrorists. I am not happy to live in Madrid 10 minutes from an airport that was partly blown up a year ago with 2 casualties. But I do not want my government to send helicopters to Bilbao to shoot missiles at the Basque terrorists who are guilty of that crime. Such action would only make it more likely for ETA to recruit members and grow. Where 5 are killed, 50 others would arise. Moreover, in asymmetrical warfare of the kind that Israel fights, the danger to Israel is not that it is defeated by the regular armies of its neighbors, the danger is that its neighbors evolve to have better and better terrorist weapons and that next time Israel is hit with 4000 missiles these actually hit their targets. I am concerned that Israel is precipitating the evolution of Hamas into a more sophisticated enemy. And it is only a matter of time for terrorist technology to get better. Terrorism is defeated by making it harder for terrorists to recruit and evolve, not by attacking terrorists hidden among the general population with regular armies and killing hundreds of children whose siblings will grow up with the single minded purpose of destroying you. Terrorism is defeated as we do in Spain by patiently making the case for terrorists weaker, not by military force.

Furthermore I see another risk and that is that as Israel escalates in violence the Muslim world unifies against it. Yes I do know that Fatah hates Hamas and that the Muslim world is divided in all sorts of battles. I do know that in the last 20 years over a million Muslims have died killed by Muslims and less than 10,000 killed by Jews in all sorts of Muslim-Muslim conflicts such as the Iran Iraq war or the constant Sunni and Shia conflicts. But there are many Muslim leaders out there who are waiting for a unifying theme to get to rule whole Muslim world. Osama Bin Laden tries, Ahmadinejad tries, and unfortunately the theme of exterminating Israel grows more popular every year. Indeed Ahmadinejad seems to have better than Osama Bin Laden because he picked Israel and not USA as his stated enemy and now Al Qaeda seems to also be shifting in that direction.

So before invading a country, destroying its infrastructure, because they kidnap some soldiers as in the case of Lebanon, or because they throw potentially lethal rockets after a truce as in the case of Gaza, I think that Israel should think about how easier it makes the life of Islamic terrorist recruiters when it retaliates with tremendous force. Terrorists feed on anger and invasions, air bombardments, massive killings are certainly valid reasons for the attacked population to be angry about. Jews should learn from African Americans and realize that it is possible to be discriminated in the past, to be hated in the past, to be enslaved in the past, to be abused in the past and somehow...not be hated in the future. That if you lose a few soldiers is bad, but creating the conditions to lose your whole country is worse. Jews seem to talk about history as if it is destiny when instead I believe it is the destiny of the current generation of Jews to change history forever and make peace. Jews should learn to distinguish from the people who hate them because of territorial claims and the rest of the world who temporarily hates them because of the way they react against people who have territorial claims. These claims, while not valid in the case of the Lebanese, are pretty valid in the case of the Syrians and the Palestinians and as Jews we must acknowledge this and move back towards Oslo. Jews should learn that the reason why most people in secular Europe dislike us Jews is for the aggressive policies of the State of Israel. Jews should not confuse disagreement with Israel's foreign policy with the virulent racism that characterized societies of 70 years ago. This type of racist thinking is historically over. It´s over against African Americans and its over against Jews. Indeed it is so over that in the current anti Israel demonstrations in Europe the right wing parties, traditionally known as Neo Nazis were not present. Moreover I am convinced that if tomorrow Israel and Palestine learn to live in peace most people around the world will forget about both countries. They will be as relevant to the world as Croatia and Serbia are today. An irrelevance that is surprisingly great as a country tries to rebuild its future in a peaceful manner.

The present dislike for Jews around the world is not because of rampant global antisemitism but because most non Jews and non Muslims believe that Israel is reacting too strongly and too unfairly to the aggression it receives. Of course Israel has the right to defend itself. But while at the beginning of its history the world saw Israel as a country trying to survive, now the world sees Israel as a country using excessive force against the right of another country to exist. The best hope for Israel is that Palestine has a strong leader, that Israel can deal with in matters of security. Even as enemies Israel and USA are better off when the enemy is a state and not a terrorist entity. Until such leader arises Israel will not be safe but Israel must know that this leader will be somebody that is hard to deal with. History has many former terrorists who became respected leaders including some of the founders of the State of Israel. A strong leader who focuses on peace maybe difficult to deal with, but it will not be hard as fighting the Hamas Hydra that Israel is currently confronting.