There are always two sides to every story, at least that is what we are supposed to believe. Personally, in this story I have no stake. I am not a Christian or Muslim Arab and I am not a descendant of European or American Jews. As an American – and one who grew up amongst a large Jewish minority outside of Washington, DC, I do have a certain natural affinity for Jewish culture. As a matter of fact, I have probably been to a synagogue (for bar mitzvahs and weddings) more times than I have been in a Christian church of any denomination.
Furthermore, I – with my well-trained American olfactory sense for sniffing political incorrectness and racism – now live in Europe and can attest to the fact that Europe is not an option for Jews. Even more than a half century after the Holocaust, I cannot think of a single European country that is comfortable with sharing its society with a non-indigenous, non-Christian minority. Europeans define themselves as European, not on shared values or citizenship (in a strictly political sense), but on ethnicity alone. Full stop. It shouldn’t be surprising then that while most Europeans would not consider themselves anti-Semitic, the vast majority side with the Palestinians over the Israelis. Ironically, though, Europeans are more openly hostile to Muslims than they are to Jews.
So there you have it: regardless of what Helen Thomas may think, Jews of European descent really don’t have the option of going back to Europe. On the other hand, though, you have all of the Palestinians – both Christians and Muslims – who have spent the last half century asking themselves why they should have to pay the price for the Europeans’ brutality towards the Jews. They’re wondering why an American from New York or a Russian has more rights in and to the land they grew up in than they do. And just as I have grown up with the children of those who were forced to flee for their lives from Europe to the U.S., I also know Palestinians who have lost their family homes, quite literally, to Americans and Europeans resettling in Israel.
So without taking any sides – once again as I have absolutely no stake in the dispute – I read Rabbi David F. Nesenoff’s critique of Helen Thomas in today’s Washington Post. Rabbi Nesenoff happens to be the person to whom Ms. Thomas uttered those very unfortunate words about how the Jews should leave Palestine and return to Europe and America, inevitably causing Thomas to resign her position as a White House journalist.
Interestingly enough, what Rabbi Nesenoff finds most troublesome is that Ms. Thomas justified her comments by declaring that she was “from Arab descent”. (Ms. Thomas’ father was an Arab Christian immigrant to the U.S.)
For the next few paragraphs Rabbi Nesenoff discredits Thomas’ conclusion with a few different predictable arguments about the inherent anti-Semitism in her statement and how it denies a two-state solution to the crisis, and even how the Bible grants this land to the Jews. But in the end, he too denies the other’s right to co-exist, offering little more than the exact mirror of Thomas’ “because I am from Arab desecent”:
My grandmother used to kibitz, “Friends you choose; family you’re stuck with.” The Jew is stuck with Israel. There is no ungluing the connection. It is beyond the ambiguous term “chosen people”; they are “the people who have no choice.” It is more than a religious belief; it is a value and a moral barometer of the Earth. History, truth, integrity and the foundation of our world are not negotiable.
In other words, this land is mine because I am Jewish. And you are not.
At least both of them are comfortable in the U.S., as long as they don’t move to Arizona.