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Not All In the Family

November 04, 2001|JOE DOMANICK | Joe Domanick, the author of "To Protect and to Serve: The LAPD's Century of War in the City of Dreams," is working on a book about California's three-strikes law

I handed a copy of the October issue of Harper's magazine to my wife and pointed to its cover photo--the hand of a Palestinian man clutching a fistful of rocks, to be hurled at Israeli soldiers. Inside was the accompanying story: "A Gaza Diary: Scenes from the Palestinian Uprising." It described in grim detail the Israeli Army's brutal oppression of Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip. My wife took the magazine, glanced at the cover, then laid it on the coffee table, where it remains unread by her to this day.

The magazine has become a symbol of an unspoken political divide that has existed in our house since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks--a source of tension between me, her and my friends, most of whom are politically progressive Jews.

My wife is half Jewish, as secular a Jew as I know. We share the same liberal politics. But she grew up in Hungary hearing the story of how her mother and aunt had crouched for weeks in the belfry of a Budapest church during World War II, hiding from the Hungarian variant of the Nazi party, the Arrow Cross. The local Nazis had been busy then, hunting down the city's Jews, executing them and then floating their bloated corpses down the Danube River. My wife and mother-in-law rarely mention this awful past, they being the kind of people who don't look back.

On the second night after the terrorist attacks, my wife and I sat glued to our television despairing of the shattered lives and utter destruction unfolding before us. A thirst for vengeance was in the air, a thirst I shared.

But I was also curious why so many Middle Eastern Arabs were not openly condemning the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. And why some were even cheering the destruction. Almost to myself, I posed the question aloud, and then answered it. In addition to tracking down Osama bin Laden, I said, we should also start examining our foreign policy, which had surely contributed to those cheers.

Spinning around, my wife glared at me: "Don't start that! Don't give me that! I do not want to hear it!"

The next day, when I raised the issue with a long-time friend, an old Jewish lefty, I was told much the same thing. Several evenings later, at a dinner party, I sat with close, long-time Jewish friends--progressive educators who had taught around the world and who are among the most cosmopolitan people I know. When the talk turned to the terrorist attacks, I again brought up the cheering Arabs and U.S. foreign policy, and was met with withering stares. So, I shut up. And I've been shutting up ever since.

The source of my friends' hostility was implicit in my question--Israel and America's tacit condoning of that nation's brutal suppression of millions of Palestinians. We certainly had no argument over Muslim rage at U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia, America's support of despotic oil-rich monarchies or the bombing and killing of Iraqi civilians. That could all be discussed. But not Israel, even though it is one of the issues intertwined with our current crisis that must be discussed--especially with and among liberal, progressive American Jews.

Palestinians don't want peace, my friends tell me. They want to dominate all Israel, Gaza and the West Bank--and drive out the Jews. I'm sure some Palestinians might possess such attitudes, but it's also clear that many more know that Israel is here to stay and that they are desperate for peace.

I think I now understand the difference between what I see and read and what my family and friends feel. I and other non-Jews view the Holocaust as an unspeakable blot on humanity. But the memory of the Holocaust and of centuries of pogroms is not seared into my DNA. The outrage and fear awakened in many Jews by the Sept. 11 attacks are directly--reflexively--linked to Israel. To Israel, the one place that exists and stands for the Jewish people and assures every Jew that never again means never again.

But I also understand that until American Jews begin to view Israel not just through the prism of the Holocaust and the glory of its establishment--but as a nation with the most powerful military in the Middle East and with the most powerful ally on Earth, nothing will ever really change in the region. Until they recognize that Israel is no longer victim but victimizer, America can stop bombing Iraq and propping up Mideast dictators, and millions of Arabs and other Muslims will still hate us.

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