Israel and Jews are the world’s obsession

Accepting the reality that we will always be the focus of attention.

Abraham and Isaac portrayed in an engraving by Ephraim Moses Lilien. Credit: Wikimedia.
Abraham and Isaac portrayed in an engraving by Ephraim Moses Lilien. Credit: Wikimedia.
Douglas Altabef
Douglas Altabef
Douglas Altabef is chairman of the board of Im Tirtzu and a director of the Israel Independence Fund. He can be reached at: dougaltabef@gmail.com.    

Is it my imagination, or is the world obsessed with Israel and the Jews? If so, it isn’t because of our omnipresence. Our worldwide numbers make us literally a rounding error of the world’s population: approximately 0.02%.

Mexico City has more residents than the entire world’s Jewish population. How often is Mexico City the focus of the world’s attention?

If one were to search the worldwide press over the course of a year, I believe it would be staggering how many articles, editorials, columns and letters focus on Israel. That doesn’t even take into account the attention devoted to Jews.

Even in countries with few, if any Jews, countries that have no interaction or relationship with Israel, and countries that have never had a Jewish community, we attract reams of attention.

In Korea, they are studying Talmud. The Japanese famously studied The Protocols of the Elders of Zion as an owner’s manual of how to run the world. That obsession saved the Jews of China during World War II, as the Japanese refused German entreaties to sink them all in the sea because the Japanese wanted to learn world domination from us.

What never ceases to amaze the clearheaded is the wild, completely disproportionate, and, yes, hypocritical nature of this focus.

Not only are the Jews a tiny people, but Israel is a tiny country. American comedian Dennis Miller once analogized the world to a football field on which Israel was a divot of grass that had just been kicked up on a running play.

We can somewhat understand the Arab/Muslim obsession with Israel because anywhere that Muslims ever ruled must always and ever be Muslim lands. Having said that, when was the last time there were calls for jihad to retake Andalusia?

Historically, Christianity and Islam abhorred us. By subjugating, humiliating and demeaning us, they could point to our resulting lowly status as proof of divine punishment.

Perhaps that helps account for the hatred that underlies the grudging respect given to Israel. What respect, you might ask? Well, respect that, despite it all, we are still here. Not only here as a people, but within just three years of the end of the Holocaust, a people restored to their own land.

This is a feat unprecedented in human history. Of course, it only ratifies the underlying obsession with us as a force of history, nature, even—though they did not want to admit it until the Catholic Church reluctantly did so—Divine Providence.

So, Jews are the odd man out of history and humanity. That might account for the ongoing double standards and demands imposed on us.

Based on the handwringing and finger-wagging at Israel over the IDF’s war on Hamas, one would think that Israel was actually surpassing Hamas in barbaric cruelty, and the operation and its inevitable repercussions are somehow an unprecedented world calamity.

Well, where was the world during the evisceration of Syria by Assad, the pillage of Yemen by the Houthis, the rape of Nigeria by Boko Haram? Is it the geopolitical equivalent of “boys will be boys”? Or is it simply the soft racism of low expectations? The belief that “those people” cannot and should not be expected to abide by basic codes of human decency?

Whatever it is, it surely undermines the legitimacy of the world’s attempt to “hold Israel to account.” What account? Exquisitely avoiding targets cynically placed behind human shields? Or, as an infamous Ph.D. thesis by a young Arab woman at Hebrew University posited, the refusal of IDF soldiers to rape Palestinian women?

One way or the other, there is an inescapable sense that this mindset will never change; that living, not dead, Jews and especially Israelis will never command the sympathy, let alone the empathy, of the world.

We are the people that dwell apart. While boneheaded progressive Jews in America might not understand this, the rest of the Jewish world is coming to that realization.

In last week’s Torah portion, we got an important hint as to what might ultimately account for our otherness and the double standards that inevitably flow therefrom. We are introduced to Abraham, formerly Abram, who literally changes the world. His realization that there must be a sole Creator, and his complete fealty and faith in Him, is reciprocated by a mission statement never to be equaled in human history.

God not only promises Abram great rewards for his service, but tells him that he will be the father of many nations. Not only that, but those who bless him will be blessed and those who curse him will be cursed. All the families of the earth will be blessed through him.

Could that blessing qua mission somehow be at the root of all that we perceive around us? Abraham is both the progenitor of blessing in the world and the Ivri, the one who dwells on the other side, who dwells apart.

Abraham, the original Jew, is not like everybody else. Yet he is somehow intimately connected to the well-being of everybody else. It is a paradox, to say the least.

As the children of Abraham, we continue to bestow blessings upon the world in fields like science, medicine, culture and knowledge. Yet we also continue to insist on living on the other side, as it were, true to our Torah and our traditions.

It is a difficult line to walk. I suspect it both fascinates and repels everybody else.

The bottom line is that we, the Jews and particularly the Jews of Israel, don’t want this to change. The price of not changing is to live with the schizophrenic love/hate that being the children of Abraham entails.

I, for one, wouldn’t have it any other way.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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