Friday, August 20, 2010

Why is Israel Unpopular?

By Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
reposted from

Question (from a citizen of India):

There is an anti-Israel feeling growing around the world. Especially after the First Gulf War and 9/11. Almost all means of media are contributing to this anti-Israel feeling. There are different lobbies working behind this. I am wondering why Israel is not doing enough to stop or control this. It is truly a total failure. This is high time to do something. War is not an option. Think about it.


Thank you for taking the time to provide these comments.

You write that Israel's popularity has suffered since the First Gulf War in 1991. This is surprising to hear. As far as I can recall, I do not remember any time that Israel was popular, from the time she was granted autonomy to the present day. In fact, I cannot recall a single act that Israel ever did on the international stage that gained her acclaim and admiration.

Does it have something to do with our occupation of a strip of land on the Mediterranean? Or perhaps because we are not nice to our neighbors?

I doubt it. We were not too popular in Europe, where most of us lived beforehand. But that may have had to do with our involvement in science and the arts. After all, what business did Mendelsohn, Heine, Mahler, Freud, Einstein, Chagal et al have mixing their noses into European culture?

But that doesn't work either, because when we lived in the ghettos and minded our business, our popularity was also somewhat under par.

I wish I could say it was just a European thing, but my history lessons tell me that we never quite won an award for popularity from the Arabic-speaking world. Neither were we too popular under the Byzantines, the Persians, the Romans, the Greeks, the Babylonians or the Pharaohs of Egypt.

It's not as though we didn't try. We offered them many new ideas, and they accepted most of them—our alphabet, architecture, crafts such as glassmaking and metalwork, monotheism and divine providence, our prophets and what they call "the book of books," most of our ethics, the idea of the equality of all human beings before G‑d. They happily took it all, even claimed it for their own. But for whatever reason, we remained even less popular than those who contributed somewhat less.

So today things have not changed much. Whether Israel defends herself or grants concessions, assassinates terrorists or frees them, speaks out or shuts up, she receives the same degree of criticism and outrage. Even when, only a few months ago, Israel provided the most advanced medical aid of any country in the world to the suffering people of Haiti, her motives were questioned and not a thing changed.

You will say, "So what did you people do to deserve this bad rap?"

And I will ask you in return: What did the peace-loving Ahmadiyya of Pakistan, whose motto is "Love for all, hatred for none" do to deserve a massacre of 86 of their following in a mosque last June? What did the peace-loving monks of Tibet do to deserve the torture and persecution of the Chinese conqueror while the world remains quiet? What did Gabriel Holtzberg and the tourists in Bombay do to deserve the bloodthirsty cruelty of terrorists? Since when were the peaceful and virtuous touted as heros among humankind, rather than simply trampled beneath the horses' hooves, the chariot's thunder and the grinding battalions of war?

In truth, there was one time that Israel gained a small window of popularity. When Israel's young men fought back Egyptian, Syrian, Jordanian, Saudi and Iraqi troops directed and armed by Soviet aid to victory in six days, then there was a short outburst of admiration. Even our enemies were truly impressed. Why? Because they don't admire wimps who try to live in harmony. They admire tough men and winners of war.

Perhaps Jews are the woman of the nations. Our forefathers are praised for many traits, but prowess at war is not one of them. Look in the Talmud and you'll be hard put to find the sages extolling the virtues of their people as warriors and the mighty heroes. Rather, they describe "three virtues of this people: they are compassionate, they bear a sense of shame and they do acts of kindness"—all very feminine virtues. Perhaps as macho men beat their wives, so the nations of the world are obsessed with beating down the Jews.

Or perhaps, as Paul Johnson writes in his History of the Jews, Jews represent G‑d to the world. G‑d is what provides people with guilt and shame. They don't like guilt and shame. So they don't like Jews.

Or perhaps we should go to the greatest anti-Semite of all time and ask him. Adolph Hitler, may his name and memory be forever erased, wrote that, "The Jews have provided the world with two blemishes; one on their bodies and one on their psyches. On their bodies, they have provided circumcision, and on their psyches, they have provided a conscience."

It's simple: You're told that Hitler gassed the Jews while the world looked on, that those nations who had a chance to save Jews deliberately failed to do so, and those lands to which Jews fled refused to let them into their borders. How do you rid yourself of this horrible guilt? By pointing to Israel, reinterpreting the facts and saying, "See, they're just as bad as the rest of us!"

Perhaps that's it. Perhaps if we stop being the conscience of the world, then they will let us come to the prom and even dance with us.

Perhaps. But if we do, we will no longer be who we are.

So I have a better idea. Maybe we'll just stop apologizing for everything we do, lift our heads high and be who we are without regard for the world's opinion.

One day soon, all the world will turn upside down and those who loved peace and compassion will rise to the top while the emperors and conquerors will fall to the bottom. I'm quite sure that at that time we will gain some popularity. Until then, we can wait.

By Tzvi Freeman More articles... | RSS Listing of Newest Articles by this Author
Rabbi Tzvi Freeman heads's Ask The Rabbi team, and is a senior member of the editorial team. He is the author of Bringing Heaven Down to Earth. To subscribe to regular updates of Rabbi Freeman's writing, visit Freeman Filessubscription.
Rabbi Freeman is available for public speaking and workshops. Read more on his bio page.
All names of persons and locations or other identifying features referenced in these questions have been omitted or changed to preserve the anonymity of the questioners.