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Are the Words "Israel" and "Jews" Synonymous?

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I remember reading a story once about some of the Jewish fighters during the years of the Nazi genocide who escaped from the Warsaw Ghetto through the sewer system into another part of the city. Bedraggled and dazed, they came up into a city that was going about its business as usual, largely unaware of what was happening in a part of town that had been sealed off. (The street cars that went through the ghetto had to darken all windows so travelers couldn't see what was going on.)

The escapees sought out brave members of the Polish resistance who were also fighting German aggression against their country. They too were at war with the invaders and occupiers. But they soon found that their "comrades in arms" couldn't accept what they were being told, couldn't believe the extent of the forced starvation and mass murder taking place just a few blocks away. They couldn't image the extent of the barbarity, perhaps because it wasn't happening to them. They were in denial.

The desperate Jews were shaken. They too couldn't believe that they were unable to communicate the full horror of their plight and make it believable, even to people who shared some of their political goals. That realization turned into demoralization that turned to despair. They then felt guilty about fleeing and surviving while their friends and families were being killed.

They looked around at the normality and apparent indifference of carefree Warsaw, and decided to go back, back to their fate.

While there is never any exact parallel with today's events--- and no, I don't believe that yesterday's victims of Nazism have become today's Nazis--- there is one aspect of this terribly tragic story that has relevance: the inability of many people to transcend their own pain (or point of view) to empathetically connect with the pain of others or even hear the critics.

As someone who grew up in a community that each year marked the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, its lessons were drilled into my head from an early age. I was taught to support those who resist aggression and stand for human rights. And as anyone who saw the film Schindler's List knows, it was not just Jews who joined that fight. There were "righteous" Christians and people of all nationalities.

Yet, at the same time, I believed that the bitter history of Jewish suffering conveyed on us a special responsibility to speak out when others are suffering and yearning for freedom. Is that not the key lesson of the annual Passover Seder and the idea of solidarity and community concern? Is that not why activist "Jews for Justice" rallied to the cause of Bosnia's embattled Muslims? Is that not why many Jews have always been on the front lines of the fight for humanity and social change?

Like many other Jews, I was drawn to the civil rights movement and other social justice movements. During those years, I was privileged to personally meet and talk with a Muslim leader named Malcolm X who introduced me to his traditions. Since then I have traveled in the Muslim world and met many people who respect democracy and believe in the need for a just resolution of the Israel-Palestinian crisis.

I know of many Jews who share that concern, and, in fact, surveys have shown over the years that ordinary members of the Jewish community are far more politically progressive about the need for peace than those who claim to be their "leaders," self-righteous elite who sit on top of vast fundraising machines. They have well-paid jobs specializing in spreading fear and alarm about anti-Semitism as a tool for frequent solicitations and psychological conditioning. The memory of the Holocaust is still manipulated for political purposes.

There is a well-financed Israeli lobby that funds politicians and dominates the op-ed pages. What else explains the dramatic difference in public opinion in this country and overseas? Why do polls show Americans and Israelis backing the war while the world calls for a cease fire?

These organizations operate like a well orchestrated machine to enforce a "party line" and, in some well-documented cases; groups like the Anti Defamation League even spied on and demonized fellow Jews who feel differently. Pro-peace organizations like Tikkun have had to buy ads in the NY Times to get heard.

Jews who support Darfur are acceptable; those who oppose Israel's bombing of Lebanon are deemed extremists.

Don't they know that human rights are universal and cannot be invoked selectively?

Israel cannot be given a special pass: it has to obey international laws and UN resolutions, not just the ones it agrees with.

Just as the shelling of civilians by Hezbollah is unacceptable, so is the widespread Israeli devastation of a neighboring country, one ironically, with many people who wanted to live in peace with Israel. Almost every journalist who has looked at this war has noted that Israel used the kidnapping of its soldiers as pretexts for war plans that were years in the making. The Hezbollah rockets were fired after Israel's bombing began, not before.

If anything, this Bush-backed war will radicalize Lebanon as it is the Middle East and fuel more anti-Semitism and hostility to Israel. It has turned Hezbollah into a hero in the region.

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News Dissector Danny Schechter is blogger in chief at Mediachannel.Org He is the author of PLUNDER: Investigating Our Economic Calamity (Cosimo Books) available at See
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