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On “Anti-Semitism”

My first engagement with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was unexpectedly intimate. Yassar Arafat, long-time leader of the Palestinian Liberation Organization, was known to be dying. In a vision, I was brought to his wife’s bedside vigil. His spirit was consumed with rage. Indicating that she needed help piercing that armor, I complied, and she took us back to a moment early in their marriage. He was reclined after love-making, staring up at her as she knelt beside him, stretching luxuriantly in his witness of her beauty.

That was the memory that she wanted him to take to the other side: the simple, human truth revealed to all men through the grace of the woman that they love.

After 9/11, the minister at my Unitarian Universalist congregation organized a visit to a mosque in the San Fernando Valley. A relative newcomer, I was alarmed when a Jewish congregant took me aside to rail against the initiative. Months later, I was sitting in the sunshine with a more open-minded Jew when a friend went out to his car. I asked, “Is he Jewish as well?” He laughed. “No. He’s Palestinian.” When my jaw fell open, he continued, “Yeah, it’s crazy, isn’t it? They are the same people.”

“Semite” is not a religious designation. It is a genealogical designation. Supporting Palestinian self-determination thus cannot be equated to “anti-Semitism.” The distinction between “Jew” and “Muslim” is also hypocritical: “Allah” is the Arabic pronunciation of the Hebrew “Eloi.” It is the same tradition; the division emanates from political ambitions.

In today’s Israel, we are witnessing the replay of the prescription set out in the last two books of the Pentateuch. The Law commanded that, in taking possession of the Holy Land, the Israelites must eliminate all masculine influence. In repeating that program, modern Israle is implementing a program of anti-Semitism. In no way, then, can criticism of those practices be considered “anti-Semitic.”

The problem with all genealogical categories is that no criteria exists for rejecting the demands of loyalty. This is what allowed Hitler to turn Germany into a racist killing machine and fueled the American Civil War.

Sadly, the idea that cultural homogeneity is essential to political harmony is gaining in popularity. Time magazine published a horrific opinion piece by Bruno Macaes, “In Israel and India, the Civilization State is Taking Over.” Macaes announces the failure of liberal civilization, and asserts that the future lies with states organized around cultural homogeneity.

The dangerous stupidity of this view was displayed in Rwanda. The colonists, confronted with a homogenous population, issued identity cards to families based upon the number of cows, thereby birthing “Hutu” and “Tutsi.” Long after the colonists had departed, the artificial category spawned a genocide during the Clinton Administration. Homogeneity is a figment of attitudes that are easy to manipulate.

Saudi Arabia, perhaps the longest established “civilization state,” demonstrates the extension of these tendencies into the international community. Having established the monarchy as “keeper of Islam’s Holy Places,” the regime sponsored a new Islamic sect, Wahabbism, to legitimize its excesses. Of course, domestic critics countered with traditional Islamic scholarship. The regime’s response was to scatter Madrassas – Wahabbist schools – throughout the Middle East and Central Asia. The “civilization state” is inevitably imperialist in its practices.

This is now evident in Israel, where a corrupt leader uses his alignment with ethnocentric fascism to promote dismantling of the institutions of the liberal state that preserve civil rights. Netanyahu is become “anti-Semitic.” To continue to defend him on the basis of his progeniture is not only amoral, it is self-defeating.

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