Did it make sense for Nazi Germany to waste precious wartime resources pursuing worldwide Jewish genocide? Or what happened in Colleyville, Texas, on January 15, 2022 – did that make sense? Malik Faisal Akram flew from England to Texas and took a Jewish congregation hostage, demanding “the release of, as he said, ‘my sister,’ Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistani Jihadist held in federal prison in Fort Worth.” Why? Because, he claimed, “Jews control the world, Jews control the media, Jews control the banks … Jews control everything.” This kind of craziness goes back some 2,000 years. But you know that! 

For I’m preaching to the choir and our congregation knows the story. Who else was murdered by the millions in facilities designed to create nothing other than Hell on Earth? What other people has been deemed to deserve it—to the detriment and even self-destruction of the persecutors themselves? We know about being regularly beset by absurd injustices—what it is to be against impossible odds—and to lose. We know of the hopelessness of those who died in the camps – our relatives, our allies. We know that Sophie Scholl and her friends in the White Rose resistance movement were captured and executed. 

Nothing makes sense. I mean, did it make sense for Germany to waste precious wartime resources pursuing worldwide Jewish genocide—a policy founded on nothing but obsessional delusion?

I’m addressing those who already have a sense of such realistic hopelessness. I remember hearing the testimony of a Holocaust survivor: “We knew, every day, that we would die—we had no hope … and yet…” 

And I’m addressing those who understand that “Jews may be guilty of many things, but I would put it to you that they are never, never guilty of the crimes with which anti-Semitism charges them,” as the scholar Ruth Wisse said. So I’m not going to make that case, and I speak to those who recognize anti-Jewish prejudice precisely by such false charges. To those who believe otherwise, as well as to those who remain unaligned (and those passing by who catch an earful of my sermon), I say: listen, if you want to, if you can, if you feel drawn (you may be changed); otherwise, move along. 

The congregation I’m addressing is not defined by religious affiliation, or by tribalism in either its positive or negative sense, not by indelible markers or even by general life choices, but instead by decisions made in the moment—any moment, every moment. It requires a decision for truth—a wager on its validity, on its value; a decision for fidelity—to the facts of the case, to what’s given in reality; for honesty—with an oath, a pledge; and for justice—the truest possible, for such fallible beings. It is a decision made, in every case, in each individual heart. 

***

And since you already know, I don’t need to convince you that the charges against Israel are, as Jewish advocate Dani Ishai Behan puts it, 80 percent lies and 20 percent half-truths (though it’s always good to be reminded). Nor do I need to rehearse the details of the defense when, amongst ourselves, it suffices merely to recite the litany: 

We’ve pointed out these realities tirelessly, but it makes little impression. We’ve answered the unjust charges reasonably and with overwhelming evidence, but to no avail because we’re up against unreason. The fact that our prosecutors’ case is the exact obverse of the Israeli one is plain to us, though not to the wider world. And we know why: because the truth is coherent, they’ve modeled their every point on it, but in reverse. 

The charges against Israel are 80 percent lies and 20 percent half-truths.

We know that the so-called “Nakba” is a cruel, cynical ruse to usurp the true horror of the Shoah, to seize the status of victim for its public relations appeal. But with such outrageous accusations levelled so relentlessly at the Jewish state, who—outside of our circle—isn’t naturally going to wonder if there isn’t fire where there’s so much smoke? And while people do admit there may be “two sides to the story,” even that much—giving the Jews some benefit of the doubt for being such frequent victims of persecution—increasingly requires the willingness to defy an angry chorus and to risk having one’s voice cancelled completely. 

This exposes a stark reality. Out of three possible judgments—Israeli/Jewish responsibility for the conflict, Arab/Muslim responsibility, or combined Israeli/Jewish and Arab/Muslim responsibility—only actual Jewish innocence seems inconceivable today, even to the most generous of viewpoints. 

***

My own wholehearted support of Israel was not a foregone conclusion. If life experience made me aware of Jewish suffering (my great-uncle had been in Dachau, my father’s family had left Eastern Europe and its pogroms for the Americas), and if my patrilineal connection gave me some skin in the game (I was ashamed, for example, of “looking Jewish”), these also helped orient me toward the suffering of Palestinian Arabs. I could easily imagine them feeling aggrieved about their loss of land, their military defeats, their living conditions. 

And if liberal parents and a rebellious bent led me to question convention and authority, Israel did represent one of those authorities, its essential rightness a convention of my upbringing. If my icons of politics and philosophy—self-described defenders of the underdog, challengers of the status quo—were interrogating its public face, how could I help but ask along with them: Is Israel an apartheid state? Does it oppress Arabs? Does it silence its critics? Has it betrayed its professed ideals? Was it born in an “original sin” of dispossession? 

I became “critical of Israel,” as people sometimes say of themselves. No, I didn’t accept (unlike many, it must be said) the most fanatical charge: that Israel had become Nazi-like and therefore, like Nazi Germany, shouldn’t exist. I knew that was nonsense—though probably inevitable, given the psychological factors (and, of course, a post-Nazi Germany does continue to exist). But surely Israel was committing the crimes and transgressions enumerated by my progressive sources. Why should this be inconceivable? If Jews are just human (the very argument against anti-Jewish demonization), why mightn’t they give in to vengeance, or simply act badly? Who in history hasn’t done as much, at some point? 

If Israel is in fact behaving like apartheid South Africa, it should be subject to the same sanctions, no less—though also no more! For if it manifests the violence of abused-become-abuser, doesn’t it deserve our love as much as our censure? Because other historical victims-turned-victimizers were provided by my progressive models, with justifications for their extremism, it seemed only fair that Israel be judged according to the same standards. And couldn’t the Jews, of all people, be forgiven some overreaction? The worldwide Jewish population hasn’t to this day returned to pre-Holocaust levels! But even my attempted evenhandedness (itself shockingly rare) was utterly off the mark. It didn’t take into account the mythical power of “Palestine” and its apocalyptic battle with the “Zionist entity.” 

***

I did at last come to realize, less than a decade ago, that Israel is not guilty. Studying the contending positions, weighing the credibility of the parties, considering the psychological dimensions, reasoning as objectively as I could, I finally determined that the charges are not only false, but made in bad faith. The accusers pervert the course of justice for their self-serving, unjust ends. 

Israel is not guilty of a founding sin, not guilty of repeated aggressions, not guilty of land-theft or historical revisionism, not guilty of expansionism or imperialism, not guilty of supremacism, not guilty of indefensible violence. (If, unlike the people I’m addressing directly, you’re not convinced of this position, you can’t do much better for an objective overview than Ben-Dror Yemini’s Industry of Lies: Media, Academia, and the Israeli-Arab Conflict – or, for that matter, this issue of White Rose Magazine.) Should Israel have acted wrongly in some instance (of which there is, I swear, indeed remarkably little evidence), such exceptions have no bearing on Israel’s supposed fundamental crime, the crime of existing. 

And double-jeopardy applies: that charge can never again be given credence. Even in the face of other, lesser charges, one’s first response must now be disbelief, for there exist no prior bad acts to be taken into account, and the prosecution’s zeal has been exposed as agenda-driven, its objections as slanderous distractions. As we’ve cried out for 2,000 years: the Jews are not guilty!

But you know that. 

***

If we want to talk about systemic bias, how about one that regularly accuses Jews of the most heinous crimes, prejudges them as guilty, then sentences them to the most brutal punishments—a “system” that includes Christian, Islamic, secular, even Jewish variants, a protocol of thinking now 2,000 years old? Who wouldn’t despair? I feel it sometimes, and I don’t live on the Gaza border, subjected to the incessant renewals of attack, to rockets from above, terror tunnels from below, environmental arson all around—not to mention a media determined to misreport the situation, if mentioning it at all. Nor am I on a Western campus, isolated and facing an indoctrinated mob barely able to contain its urge to hurt—an ever more common occurrence, one coming entirely from the left, but one that hardly registers among Western liberals, including campus administrators. 

But I do see things plainly and clearly (now). And that’s part of my message: the whole is visible like never before. Yet, we can’t help but ask, isn’t it all the more overwhelming to rehearse such a record of wrongs, all the more hopeless to glance back over such a history of loss? In a way, yes. Realism! But no, too, because a new clarity may emerge about just what we’re dealing with. 

If we want to talk about systemic bias, how about one that regularly accuses Jews of the most heinous crimes, prejudges them as guilty, then sentences them to the most brutal punishments—a “system” that includes Christian, Islamic, secular, even Jewish variants, a protocol of thinking now 2,000 years old?

In Germanic legend, there’s a story about how Thor leaves the human world, Midgard, to visit Utgard, “the beyond,” where King Loki challenges him to prove his strength. But it’s a trick: the cat Loki directs Thor to pick up is really a section of the world-encircling Midgard Serpent. So try as he might, Thor can’t help but fail. The cat’s ordinary appearance masks its incomparable immensity. Our situation is different, because we do know the enormity of what we’re up against. But the hostage-taking at Beth Israel in Colleyville was resolved when the rabbi, Charlie Cytron-Walker, threw a chair at their captor, allowing the four hostages to escape. This sermon of mine is about that chair, which—thanks to our historical moment—is within all our grasp. 

Thor and Loki’s Cat

I know that “the Israeli/Palestinian conflict” seems too big to lift, too heavy in every way, and it can be massively destructive when wielded against us. But taking it up into our thinking we actually hold the very key not just to the moral, spiritual fight for the Jewish people, as if that weren’t enough. Our decision to see through the spectacle to its meagre ordinariness, to pull back the curtain on the Wizard, shows to the world that truth, fidelity, honesty, and justice won’t be held hostage, illegitimately occupied, self-servingly redefined—un-defined—by their enemies, despite their bluster, despite even their desperate violence. 

***

The word “Palestine” has become wildly mythologized, has come to fairly drip with classic anti-Semitic associations, generally unrecognized as such. We, of course, know the old tropes: rapacious Jewish land theft, secretive Jewish power, child-murdering Jewish fanaticism, innocence defiled by an alien Jewish presence. They explain why anti-Jewish persecution has always played out the same way: a misunderstood minority is imagined as having outsized influence but is much weaker in reality than the majority and therefore makes the perfect target for any show of false bravery—a “punching down” portrayed as its complete opposite by the perpetrating mob. 

The unique geopolitical situation of Israel has thus been ideal for the emergence of the newest version of the old configuration. For a calculating focus—“Checkpoints!” “Refugee camps!”—can easily make Israel look like the bad guy. In reality, it’s but a tiny country with a tiny population, beset by internal enemies and outnumbered by external aggressors, facing a “Long War” waged by the most patient of foes, in an unsympathetic global context. Denial of context is key, the refusal of a broader perspective—for as we know, checkpoints are but a practical response to Arab terror, and Palestinian Arab living conditions are kept poor by their own leadership. Why? To cultivate despair and render civilians more easy to weaponize against the Jews—who are portrayed as the obstacle to Islamic supremacist dreams, as substitute villains to be blamed for Arab misery. To create conditions not unlike those of Germany, 1930—fertile ground for would-be dictators, with a ready supply of disaffected potential extremists. 

The word “Palestine” has become wildly mythologized, has come to fairly drip with classic anti-Semitic associations, generally unrecognized as such.

Israel’s military may be renowned, but we know the story of its gradual build-up from nothing in the face of repeated assault. We’re rightfully proud of its proficiency, and of its precision in minimizing civilian casualties—we know Israel has no bloodlust. And we know beyond doubt that Israel would have preferred not to need a military at all, to have lived in peace from the outset. We know, too, that every self-defensive Israeli gesture will be met with condemnation, will be presented to—and taken by—the world as an Israeli offense (for, as we know, Jews are never granted the right to be “innocent until proven guilty”). 

But if we zoom out, what appeared upside-down—as a cartoonish hell with no explanation beyond “Jewish evil”—is suddenly righted, explicable by the most pragmatic, psychologically obvious interpretation. The Nazis had unified, controlled, and exploited a war-scarred, post-Depression populace by conjuring a demon of epic proportion and sending Germany into existential struggle against it. The forces arrayed against Israel have more at stake even than Hitler’s “Thousand Year Reich”: the worldwide caliphate, the millennial victory of Islamism, the absolute confirmation of their belief. And they’re aided and abetted by that other would-be world conqueror, utopian collectivism/leftism, in almost all its variations. 

If we take a still longer view, we can see beyond even this understandable if unfortunate drive to conquest (“It’s just human nature”). Crucial though it is to refute the “Big Lie” of Israeli criminality, to expose the base motives behind its enemies’ high-minded talk of “rights” and “justice,” all we’ve shown is familiar human ugliness at work. (Practically speaking, achieving even this level of humanization is usually impossible with anti-Israel activists). Yes, the image of “Palestine” holds together a narcissistic role-play in which real people are demeaned into fairy-tale opponents. But what is revealed by this construction is not merely a pathetic pretense or a rigged game, not just the power-lust of the immature or a desperate con-job—all prosaic insights, however vital. It discloses something far more consequential for everyone. 

***

Complex and unresolvable as it is, yet somehow transcendently singular, Jewish peoplehood has been attacked in its every aspect in historical turn: the religious dimension (deicide, “Christ-killers”), the geographic (exile and diaspora), social (ghettoization, expulsion), biological (“racial inferiority”), cultural (“Degenerate Art”), and finally, today, the political as such (“Israel is illegitimate”). But these onslaughts haven’t been random: each is meaningful, for their objects together form the very image of human personhood. What is a person, after all, but a spiritual, geographical, social, biological, cultural, political being? To be anti-Jewish is thus to be anti-human, to flee the demands of personhood as such. And this coherence has only become visible today, because over time the anti-Jewish figure has shown itself completely, thanks to the survival – spiritual, geographic, social, biological, cultural, and political – of the Jewish people. 

Even more: as the people, Israel, were chosen by their G-d as “a light unto the nations,” so the region, Israel, may function for anyone as a light on human universality, on the place of truth, fidelity, honesty, and justice – for those with eyes to see, for those who decide to look with truth, fidelity, honesty, and justice. It creates a line that cuts through every positive identity, every abstract demographic: Christian, Muslim, secular, even Jewish; traditionalist, conservative, liberal, radical. If one decides, in one’s own heart, for oneself, to abide by truth, fidelity, honesty, and justice, one will find oneself among genuine allies, sharing a cardinal orientation if not every particular position. And one will find oneself on the side of Israel – that ethnically diverse, politically pluralistic, religiously tolerant, argumentative but life-affirming nation, that state which is more than just another country (as its enemies clearly realize, on the deepest level). 

***

From our long vantage point, we will see, too, that Jewish values have won—despite their repeated betrayal by hypocrisy. In fact, our very awareness of hypocrisy testifies to their triumph, for otherwise people (and regimes) would get on with their self-serving acts without the need for higher “moral” excuses. The true source of the fantasy of Jewish world domination is Judaism’s actual universal influence on consciousness! It testifies to the supreme elevation of conscience—the inescapable presence, in each person’s mind, of that infinite demand to take the other into account, to consider the effect of one’s actions on one’s neighbor. (Hitler, remember, thought conscience a Jewish invention.) 

This is why Israel’s enemies can’t simply annihilate it, but must pretend to defeat it on its own ground—must illegitimately claim the mantle of truth, honesty, fidelity, and justice before a bought or bullied jury. It’s why Jewish anti-Zionists can claim to be truer to Jewish values than Zionists: even their spurious authority comes from speaking “as a Jew.” For the Jewish people do, as it happens, stand on the side of right in the courtroom of universality, despite their enemies’ overwrought denials (which, seen through, only further reinforce the fact). 

“Palestine” is the keystone in an edifice of lies, and its removal can bring down the walls. It is what psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan designated with the term point de capiton, the “quilting point” that sutures together a fabric, unifying all the pieces of an ideology, giving the whole its semblance of truth. In the fever-dreams of Israel’s enemies, “Palestine” makes it all make sense—not just this specific historical, religious, social, political conflict, but everything: history, religion, society, politics. They believe all inequities will be ironed out, all struggles pacified, utopia flower, if there is but “justice in Palestine.” 

“Palestine” is the keystone in an edifice of lies, and its removal can bring down the walls.

We know—those of us who care about the reality of truth, fidelity, honesty, and justice—that this inversion of reality casts their position on everything else into doubt. If you’re so committed to one illusion, how can your other views be trustworthy? Sure, it’s understandable to prefer a fairy tale where you’re the vanquishing hero to a lifelong struggle against the odds. Yes, it’s sometimes awkward to stand with people who disagree about fundamental things – though the workers, bankers, artists, students, Christians, Jews, Roma, soldiers, intellectuals, farmers, and shop-keepers of the anti-Nazi resistance knew their common enemy (imagine the philosophical debates!). 

But to place a fabrication based on lies and evasions at the symbolic center of your worldview? Israel, in this fantasy, represents the epitome of all Western evils rolled into one. It is meant to be guilty of all our era’s ultimate crimes. And like every historical example of this same pattern, Jews are imagined as being virtually all-powerful, with only the shaheed for jihad—or “Siegfried” queered, depending on your background—able to take them down. (Recall our Colleyville hostage-taker’s tirade.) 

***

Finally, demythologizing “Palestine” offers us a unique and decisive purchase on modernity itself – on the very questions of meaning that haunt our post-truth times. For the whole “anti-Zionist complex” (as Jacques Givet titled his masterful book) is not simply a lie, or even the sort of demonization common to all warring enemies. If it were, it wouldn’t have the uncanny power it does, the superficial allure to seduce ideological opponents, the shiny promises so attractive to the easy mark. The collectivist fantasy of “Palestine” presents the very mirror-image of the community of truth: the latter cuts across simplistic identities, bringing together disparate individuals through their own choice for conscience; the former provides those wishing to avoid the challenges of personhood with the cheap satisfactions of conformity and self-gratification. 

The deconstruction of truth in contemporary culture is not separate from the line of development that begins with Judaism’s earliest enemies, and that results in what Holocaust survivor Primo Levi called “the anti-creation” of the camps – the murder, not just of human beings but of the very idea of the human, as survivor Elie Wiesel said. In the real-life logic of history, in the sense behind many sensational events, Israel – name of the people and of the nation – is indeed pivotal. 

Demythologizing “Palestine” offers us a unique and decisive purchase on modernity itself – on the very questions of meaning that haunt our post-truth times.

In the fantasy on which Israel’s enemies rely, “Palestine” is the keystone, quilting point, linchpin. But in our hands, the reality of Israel is that chair with which the rabbi took out the Beth Israel attacker. In our discussions and debates, in our own minds when trying to wrestle with the huge, seemingly world-encircling serpent that is anti-Jewish prejudice, we are – thanks to the truth revealed by the facts – in the remarkable situation of being able to lift the cat, to throw the chair. It can be wielded by anyone who takes the long view, who grabs reality by the big picture, and whose aim is guided by truth, fidelity, honesty, and justice. 

I’m preaching to the choir: sing out! Even in the surest knowledge of hopelessness, the word of our congregation, clearly articulated and precisely targeted, can disable a hallucinating, hysterical attacker. And to save a life—not least, one’s own—is to save a world. 

“We had no hope … and yet … ” 

CODA: A chair for everyone – As my friend, artist Gilles Goyette, asks when challenging accusations of Zionist “Nazism” by leftists and Islamists: whose side do you think would Hitler have been on today, that of Israel or that of Israel’s enemies? In other words, here’s a “Beth Israel chair” that anyone can use to hit the target square on the head, because everyone knows the answer. Would Hitler have sided with the Jews? The idea is laughable, absurd. So throw the chair: “If Hitler were alive now, how would you feel about being on his side?”