A Time to Mourn, Not a Time to Accuse

Oct. 30 2018

Since the massacre of worshippers at a Pittsburgh synagogue, many have rushed to place the blame squarely on the shoulders of the American president. At least two well-known Jewish journalists—almost immediately after the attack—took this claim one step further by holding Jewish supporters of Donald Trump accountable for the murders as well. Rabbi David Wolpe responds:

My synagogue is on the west side of Los Angeles. On a rough guess, about half of my congregants support Donald Trump. Many of those who do, but certainly not all, are from the Persian community. We have had frank discussions. They know I deplore many of the things he says and I oppose much of what he does. . . . They also know that we respect and listen to one another, that I do not preach politics at them but do speak with them and learn from them, and that our relationship in many cases is one not only of affection but of genuine love.

So when I see major American Jewish figures tell me that my congregants are illegitimate, my blood boils a little bit. After the tragedy in Pittsburgh, perhaps because I spend so much of my time at the bedside of the sick and dying, I expected that the first impulse of Jews in particular would be simply to offer messages of sorrow and condolence [rather than to suggestion that] more than half of my Shabbat-morning congregants, and in some more traditional synagogues almost all of them, should have the doors barred against their entry; that Jews who make minyans, pay shiva calls, underwrite nursing homes and kindergartens—people who make Judaism possible . . . for other people—should be cast out of our midst because of the levers they pull in the privacy of a voting booth. And what, after all, would a Jew who fled from Iran know about anti-Semitism—or protecting the Jewish community?

[M]y congregants are not the ones who are dangerous, and refashioning blood libels so that Jews are the perpetrators is ethically appalling—and communally toxic.

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More about: American Jewry, Donald Trump, Jewish World, Persian Jewry, Politics & Current Affairs

Who Changed the Term “Nakba” into a Symbol of Arab Victimization?

April 19 2019

In contemporary Palestinian discourse, not to mention that of the Palestinians’ Western supporters, the creation of the state of Israel is known as the Nakba, or catastrophe—sometimes explicitly compared with the Holocaust. The very term has come to form a central element in a narrative of passive Palestinian suffering at Jewish hands. But when the Syrian historian Constantin Zureiq first used the term with regard to the events of 1948, he meant something quite different, and those responsible for changing its meaning were none other than Israelis. Raphael Bouchnik-Chen explains:

In his 1948 pamphlet The Meaning of the Disaster (Ma’na al-Nakba), Zureiq attributed the Palestinian/Arab flight to the stillborn pan-Arab assault on the nascent Jewish state rather than to a premeditated Zionist design to disinherit the Palestinian Arabs. “We [Arabs] must admit our mistakes,” [he wrote], “and recognize the extent of our responsibility for the disaster that is our lot.” . . . In a later book, The Meaning of the Catastrophe Anew, published after the June 1967 war, he defined that latest defeat as a “Nakba,” . . . since—just as in 1948—it was a self-inflicted disaster emanating from the Arab world’s failure to confront Zionism. . . .

It was only in the late 1980s that it began to be widely perceived as an Israeli-inflicted injustice. Ironically, it was a group of politically engaged, self-styled Israeli “new historians” who provided the Palestinian national movement with perhaps its best propaganda tool by turning the saga of Israel’s birth upside down, with aggressors turned into hapless victims, and vice-versa, on the basis of massive misrepresentation of archival evidence.

While earlier generations of Palestinian academics and intellectuals had refrained from exploring the origins of the 1948 defeat, the PLO chairman Yasir Arafat, who was brought to Gaza and the West Bank as part of the 1993 Oslo Accords and was allowed to establish his Palestinian Authority (PA) in parts of those territories, grasped the immense potential of reincarnating the Nakba as a symbol of Palestinian victimhood rather than a self-inflicted disaster. In 1998, he proclaimed May 15 a national day of remembrance of the Nakba. In subsequent years, “Nakba Day” has become an integral component of the Palestinian national narrative and the foremost event commemorating their 1948 “catastrophe.”

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More about: Arab World, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, New historians, Yasir Arafat