The man who controls the language controls the conversation, as George Orwell rightly observed. The word that the left is trying, with a certain success, to appropriate now is “genocide.” Genocide is what Hitler set out to do, to exterminate Europe’s Jews (and who knows where his evil ambition would have gone from there).
The manifesto of the Black Lives Matter movement, with the connivance of intellectually slovenly academics, applies “genocide” to Israeli self-defense in Gaza. There’s neither logic nor data to prove it.
“Between 1939 and 1945,” writes Joseph Telushkin in the Tablet, an online magazine, “one-third of the Jewish people in the world were murdered. That was genocide. And since Israel took control of the West Bank and Gaza in 1967 [as a result of a] war of self-defense, the Arab population in these two areas has gone from just over a million to 4 million. That is not genocide. It’s a population explosion.”
Facts are stubborn and persistent, but so are those who deny, manipulate and abuse them. Black Lives Matter, in protesting the shooting of young black men by police (and in the case of one or two of the young black men, they were asking for it) was a positive thing, but the movement now is trying to turn the rage against injustice to destructive rage against Israel. It’s an old phenomenon. Blame the Jews: They’re rich (most of them own department stores) and live the life of Riley, so why not?
Until now the Jew-baiters tried to camouflage their game, being careful to say they weren’t talking about the Jews, just the Zionists, the Jews who wanted to build and protect a Jewish homeland. When a black student at Harvard tried this line on Martin Luther King, he was having none of it. “When people criticize Zionists,” he told him, “they mean Jews. You’re talking anti-Semitism.”
This was a time when Jews and blacks marched together against segregation and racial abuse in the South, when racial reunion and solidarity seemed both close and far away. Now, after nearly eight years of the Obama era, it seems only far away, and the Jew-baiters now rarely bother to camouflage Jew-baiting by calling it skepticism of Zionism.
Sometimes well-meaning but soft-headed people who would be shocked that anyone would call them insensitive and impolite, and certainly not bigots, join the angry conversation. Several Christian denominations of the Protestant persuasion have lately joined prominent academics to urge boycotts, divestment and sanctions against Israel, the so called “BDS movement.”
The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the largest of many branches of the church of Martin Luther, approved resolutions demanding that the U.S. government suspend all aid to the Jewish state until “the military occupation of Palestinian land” is ended. The vote, 751 to 162 at the denomination’s triennial assembly earlier this month in New Orleans, was not even close.
“By adopting this investment screen,” the denomination spokesmen said, “[we are] taking an important step to ensure that we are not profiting from, or complicit in, injustice in the Holy Land and elsewhere.”
Soft heads do not necessarily afflict other denominations to quite this degree, though there’s ignorance aplenty when some people gather not necessarily in the name of the Christ, but in the name of the gods of political correctness. Similar anti-Israel resolutions failed at the quadrennial conference of the United Methodist Church, either by vote or by bottling them up in conference committees. The good news was that by a decisive vote the denomination voted to distance itself from the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, which promotes and encourages the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement.
Many Jews themselves, blinded by an inability to discern the friend from foe, sometimes choose their friends unwisely. These are sometimes called “self-hating Jews,” a harsh name given not by Christians or secular Gentiles, but by other Jews. I would watch my language. I was told by an editor many years ago, in a kinder, gentler era when I was but a young reporter, “never allow your typewriter to put on paper the letters ‘j, e and w’ in succession. You’ll only hurt someone’s feelings.”
One of the most famous of what Joseph Telushkin calls the self-hating Jew was Rosa Luxemburg, an early Communist and Marxist philosopher, murdered by German authorities. When she was asked to denounce pogroms, she declined. “Why do you come to me with your special Jewish sorrows? I cannot find a place in my heart for the ghetto. I feel at home in the entire world wherever there are clouds and birds and human tears.”
Both Lenin and Trotsky mourned her death, and Lenin called her “an eagle.” But her anguished father told her that “an eagle soars so high he loses sight of the earth below. I shall not burden you any more with my letters.” Her father knew best.
• Wesley Pruden is editor in chief emeritus of The Times.