What decent person was not offended by Arun Gandhi’s comments about Jews? He was effectively saying that Judaism had violence and oppression at its heart. Any time an entire tradition or group is vilified, good people need to raise the alarm and stop the disease before it spreads.
Jews know this danger all too well. Unchecked anti-semitism in early 20th century Europe rapidly descended into the horrors of the Holocaust, which is why I speak out against anti-semitism every chance I get, including on this site, on NPR and in a podcast for the Holocaust Museum.
As Judea Pearl, a man who turned unspeakable grief into remarkable grace, put it in his letter to the Chairman of the Washington Post Don Graham: “Too many people were killed, abused or dispossessed in the past century by words of irresponsible authors, often disguised as scholars or humanitarians, who pointed fingers at, and blamed one segment of society for the ills and maladies in the world.”
There was such an outcry about Gandhi’s article (justifiable, in my estimation) that the editors of “On Faith” apologized for posting Gandhi’s piece, calling it “regrettable” and stating that it violated the site’s goal to “conduct a civil and illuminating conversation.”
I like these terms a lot – they suggest a sense of decency and fairness and inclusivity.
But, actually, there’s a bit of rub here.
That line above about Judaism having violence and oppression at its heart describes Arun Gandhi’s ugly post all too well. But it is actually taken from something else – Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s article on Islam from this site a few months ago.
The rules of a civil and illuminating conversation apply to everyone – all writers, all audiences – right?
If essentializing Jews as violent and oppressive is wrong, then baldly stating the same about Muslims is wrong too.
If we are concerned about the words of irresponsible authors who blame one entire group for the ills and maladies in the world, then we should be concerned about the words of irresponsible authors who blame another entire group for the ills and maladies in the world.
For me, this isn’t just about good journalism. It’s also about living up to the core of our faith.
My Jewish friends often quote Rabbi Hillel to me, “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am only for myself, who am I?
I quote the Prophet Muhammad back to them, “None of you truly believes until he wants for his brother what he wants for himself.”
Here is what those two quotes mean right now: If you are a Muslim, you should seek fair treatment for your Jewish brothers and sisters in the press. If you are a Jew, you should seek the same for your Muslim brothers and sisters.
Anything less is both bad journalism and a violation of our faiths.
Footnote: In re-reading this post, I realize I may have been a bit unclear in saying Arun Gandhi’s contention that “violence and oppression” lie at the heart of Judaism “was taken” from an article by Ayaan Hirsi Ali. Hirsi Ali’s wrote that “violence and oppression” lie at the heart of Islam, not Judaism, and my point is that she characterized Islam in the same, offensive manner in which Gandhi characterized Judaism.