November 12, 2010

Violence is an Obstacle to Modeling Jewish Behavior

In Reza Aslan’s interesting op-ed piece, “Muslims: Make Like the Jews,” in the Nov. 5 issue, he correctly argues that education about Islam, alone — that is, acquiring facts about the religion — is insufficient to alter the negative perception most Americans appear to have about Muslims. Further, Aslan states that the path to acceptance for Muslims is through a “slow and steady building of relationships” via increasingly active participation in government, business and the arts, just like he thinks the Jews have done. However, his analogy between the Jewish experience in America and the Muslim one is rather weak.

Much of the negative Jewish experience in America was based on the preachings and teachings of contempt for Jews and Judaism as rooted in Christianity’s New Testament. Suspicions of Jews also were certainly aroused merely because they were “strangers in a strange land.” However, the experience of Muslims in America for a majority of non-Muslim Americans seems filtered through the violent attacks on the American homeland on 9/11, whether fair or unfair, and not through the teachings of a holy book.

In general, Muslims in America have a much greater or critically different obstacle to overcome than what confronted Jews. Gradual acceptance appears to hinge largely on the capacity of non-Muslims in America (and of American Muslims) to counter the fearsome legacy of continuing Islamist or jihadist violence against America perpetrated by extremists in the name of Islam. Moreover, to my knowledge, neither individual Jews nor Jewish groups ever threatened or violently attacked America’s people or institutions in the name of Judaism.

The Challenges of Labeling Today’s Israel

Although you have had numerous news and commentary pieces about taking an oath to Israel as a “Jewish state,” there are a few points you have not touched on.

The only other state I know of which makes such a claim to religious identity is the “Islamic Republic of Iran” (yes, that is its full legal name). Hardly the sort of international company Israel should want to be associated with. The “Jewish State of Israel” is an uncomfortably parallel title. And it is farcical to think that such a phrase is somehow compatible with democratic practice.

Second, I am tired of Israeli politicians claiming that Israel is the “State of the Jewish People.” I am a Jewish person who already has a state, thank you, and it is the U.S.A., not Israel. Indeed, the majority of Jews are not in any legal way tied to Israel, so it is outrageous for that country’s officeholders to purport to represent us. This, too, is a practice not compatible with democracy.

When the people of ancient Israel pressed Samuel to annoint Saul as king, he warned that they would become a state like every other. It is time for modern Israel to accept that reality.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Forward.

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November 12, 2010

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