Well, here it is, Saturday night. Some time around 8:30 I observe that Shabbes is over, so I crank up the old laptop to see what’s new and catch up with my Forward fan mail. My latest column on Palestinian statehood had some pretty lively back-and-forth going on as of Friday evening, and I’m eager to see what new pearls of Torah have been shared while I was off-line.
One comment sort of took my breath away, I must admit. A faithful reader named Howard informs me that I am “an enemy of G-d, Torah and Judaism.” This comes as a shock. I take the Good Book pretty seriously, as those who know me are aware, and I go to considerable lengths to stay on the right side of the Big Guy. It would be a drag to discover that all my efforts were so unappreciated.
But then I look again, and I see that Howard’s comment was posted 22 hours ago, or about 10 or 10:30 Eastern Time. Unless Howard lives in Hawaii, he’s been posting on Shabbes. So now I’m wondering, what Torah is he such big friends with that I’m not?
The truth is, I sort of know the answer. It’s no big secret that much of today’s Judaism consists not of Judaism per se but of political support for Israel. But not merely support for Israel. It’s the right kind of support for Israel. It’s commonly described as support for the government of Israel and its policies, but that’s not it either. The same mentality that attacks you if you criticize the policies of the Netanyahu government just as vehemently attacked you if you supported the policies of the Olmert government.
The bottom line is, you are judged not by how much you love Israel but by how much you hate its enemies. If you can see common cause or shared interests between Israel and the Arabs, you are a traitor.
Jeffrey Goldberg blogged the other day about Richard Goldstone, speculating on what made the judge recant. Among other things, Jeffrey asks, rhetorically, whether Goldstone was “really naive enough to believe that people in ‘his community’ wouldn’t be upset with him” for the accusations in the Goldstone report. To shed some light on this, take another look at Howard’s comment to me. There’s upset, and then there’s loony-upset. We all expect robust debate, even sliming, but as a wiser man than I once said, Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition.
Does it surprise me that people in “my community” (why the quotes, Jeff? Is Goldstone faking his membership in the Jewish community? Do we need to see his bris certificate?) will get upset with me for questioning Israeli policy? Of course not. But we’re not talking about upset. We’re talking venomous hatred that gets tossed around in the name of defending Israel. Some of this stuff is repugnant and, no matter how often you see it, shocking.
And I see this stuff all the time, mind you. A lot of ordinary, mainstream, liberal Jews—probably most, my experience tells me—don’t spend enough time surfing the sewers of contemporary pro-Israel discourse to realize what sort of bilge passes for robust debate. When it hits you in the face, it is beyond shocking. Read Sivan Zakai’s essay in the Forward Forum this week, “Our Divisive Discourse,” to see what I mean. It’s very, very painful to be called names like this. It’s shocking if you’re expecting it; it’s horrifying if you’re not expecting it.
Not to mention the little matter of being told you can’t attend your grandson’s bar mitzvah. I can tell you from personal experience, being called a traitor and told you don’t belong in your own shul is no fun.
Again, for the millionth time, Goldstone is no mystery. He is a devoted Jew and passionate, lifelong Zionist, former world chairman of ORT, no less, and a former honorary life member of the Hebrew University board of governors (until he was kicked off last year) who thought his credentials as a world-renowned human rights jurist would help him to win Israel a better hearing than it would otherwise have gotten. He wasn’t expecting Israel to refuse to cooperate, leaving him only with the other side’s evidence. Having signed up for the job, he signed onto a report that drew the relevant inferences from the available evidence. And its primary recommendation, if you read it, was that Israel and Hamas, both having committed apparent (this was not a judicial verdict) war crimes should conduct investigations. Israel did so. Hamas did not.
And, no, Jeff, he never said he was surprised that Hamas killed people. He’s not that naïve. He was disappointed that Hamas refused to conduct any sort of investigation. Most organizations, even terrorist organizations, make some pretense of concern for the opinions of mankind. So yes, Hamas caught him off guard. Then again, nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition. Not even enemies of the Torah like me.
Jonathan Jeremy “J.J.” Goldberg is editor-at-large of the Forward, where he served as editor in chief for seven years (2000-2007).