Word on the Street: Defending Decency

Alan Elsner
on March 27, 2016

Last week, in quick succession, we saw Donald Trump get a huge ovation at the AIPAC Policy Conference, were shocked by the latest awful terrorist carnage in Europe and observed the festival of Purim.

Listening to the traditional reading of the Book of Esther. I was struck by a verse in Chapter Three:

And Haman said to King Ahasuerus, “There is a certain people scattered and separate among the peoples throughout all the provinces of your kingdom, and their laws differ from those of every people, and they do not keep the king’s laws; it is therefore of no use for the king to let them be.”

The Brussels bombings the day before prompted Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz to suggest that law enforcement agencies should “patrol and secure” Muslim neighborhoods in the United States. He was swiftly followed by Donald Trump. Never mind that American Muslims — one percent of the population — are extraordinarily patriotic and productive members of our society.

Trump’s response to the attacks was characteristically to blame them on all Muslims. “I knew Brussels years ago,” he said in an interview with a British TV channel. “It was so beautiful, so secure and so safe. Now it’s an armed camp. It’s like a different world, a different place, there is no assimilation … Look at the cities where there’s been a large inflow and something’s different. There is very little assimilation for whatever reason … they want to go by their own sets of laws.”

In other word, “they do not keep the king’s laws. It is therefore of no use to the king to let them be.”

This was the same Trump who the previous day had received a rapturous ovation from many of the 18,000 delegates to the AIPAC Policy Conference, when he and his two Republican presidential rivals, taking their cue from one of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s favorite talking points, demonized the entire Palestinian people as a nation of terrorists with a “culture of death.”

John Kasich declared that “Palestinians cannot continue to promote a culture of hatred and death.” Trump said that Palestinian children are all “being taught to hate Israel and to hate the Jews.” Cruz talked of a “relentless campaign of incitement that has fostered genocidal hatred towards Jews.”

There’s no denying that incitement is a major problem in Gaza and the West Bank. When Palestinian leaders hail terrorist attackers as martyrs or murderers as heroes there is a problem. Responsible Palestinian leaders must confront this honestly. We cannot excuse incitement or violence, even as we also note that young Palestinians, like many young Muslims in Europe, feel hopeless, angry and frustrated and see no path to a better life. And yet, the vast majority of Palestinians do not dream of sending their sons and daughters to die in suicide attacks. It is their worst nightmare.

When Israel labels all Palestinians as enemies; when Palestinians label all Israeli Jews as occupiers, colonialists and oppressors; and when Trump and Cruz label all Muslims as potential terrorists, they are all doing the same thing. They are all scapegoating an entire community, religion or nation with one broad brush and giving their own supporters someone to hate. Hating others will not solve anyone’s problems. It will only create new ones.

This is a very old story — and Jews throughout our history have often been the victims. To give just one example, in 1919, Henry Ford began publishing a newspaper, The Dearborn Independent as an anti-Semitic mouthpiece. It blamed Jews for everything — strikes, agricultural depression, financial scandals and the decline of the dollar. “The International Jew: The World’s Problem,” blasted one typical headline on May 22, 1920.

Ironically, today Dearborn, Michigan is home to America’s largest Muslim community — which Trump and Cruz would no doubt fence off and subject to constant police surveillance and control.

We know where these things lead — and we have a duty to reject and oppose them — here at home, in Israel and in the occupied territory. We must stand together with other sane forces who favor dialogue and build bridges rather than walls.

While opposing terrorism and incitement and taking necessary and legal steps to combat them, we must defend our democracy, our decency and our humanity and band together with the vast majority of Israelis, Palestinians, Christians, Jews, and Muslims — who want to share our troubled world as peaceful neighbors and make it better for everyone.