Spending a week delivering lectures in Germany, Holland, and Switzerland gave me a renewed perspective on European Jewish life and attitudes toward Jews. Many of my lectures were based around my new book “Kosher Lust,” which led to the frequent question, “Is it true that Jews have sex through a sheet with a hole in the middle?”
I responded that the Jewish law allowing a couple to have sex through a sheet with a hole in the middle is actually a lenient rabbinic position, mostly practiced by Reform Jews. The truly Orthodox have sex in two different bedrooms through a hole in the wall, while the ultra-Orthodox are in the habit of donning full body armor just before sex. (Incidentally, in Jewish law any and all clothing is prohibited during sex, because love-making is about becoming bone of one bone, flesh of one flesh. Even condoms are prohibited as a contraceptive for the artificial barrier they impose between husband and wife – the pill or a diaphragm is preferred.)
There seems to be no lie that the Jews can be accused of that the rest of the world – especially Europe – will not absorb. First, we were charged with killing God. Next, that we poisoned Europe’s wells during the Black Death. Then we tortured the Eucharist wafers to cause further suffering to Jesus, whose flesh was incarnate in it. After that, we killed Christian children, and, like vampires we drained their blood into our matzahs. Of course, countless people across the world believe that in an ongoing conspiracy, Jews plot and scheme about taking over the world.
In 2014, many Europeans believe that tiny Israel is the cause of most of the strife in the Middle East, and that its 6,000,000 Jewish citizens are responsible for the plight of the 400,000,000 who surround it.
The Czech Republic is considered friendly to Israel, given its history as an object of appeasement to Hitler’s insatiable appetite. But that friendship did not stop a government official telling me, respectfully, that Israel’s stealing Palestinian land had alienated most of Europe. When I reminded him that Israel actually had conquered the West Bank in a defensive war launched by Jordan, had offered to create a Palestinian state there many times, and that the Palestinians had responded with a terror wave that killed thousands of Israelis, he told me that none of that mattered. He had negative feelings toward Israel.
The basic strategy of Israel and the Jewish community must change.
We easily could blame European anti-Semitism for anti-Israel hostility. But although it’s true, it’s too convenient, and it absolves us Jews of the responsibility of communicating our message.
Until now, it has mostly been our policy to overlook ludicrous lies against the Jews, believing that responding to them was dignifying them. Israel has lost the public relations battle because so many Israelis believed that the justice of their cause was so self-evident that it required no defense.
Well, wake up and smell the hatred. The policy has failed miserably. If history has taught as anything, it’s that the world will believe that we have horns under our yarmulkes unless the falsehood is aggressively challenged.
Hardly a week goes by when serious new allegations aren’t hurled against Israel. The latest was when the pope prayed in front of Palestinian graffiti equating Bethlehem with the Warsaw Ghetto. This made a fundamentally good man an unwitting party to Holocaust trivialization. To us Jews this is a grotesque, revolting lie, that should require no rejoinder. But we are fooling ourselves if we think that most of the world doesn’t already believe that Israel’s anti-terror wall is a giant Alcatraz.
In April my organization, This World: The Values Network, started a series on campus, inviting Israel’s leading critics to defend their allegations against Israel in open debate. The first forum, at Columbia, featured Peter Beinart, who calls for a boycott against all products from the West Bank – including Soda Stream – because of “the Israeli occupation.” I asked him why he uses an iPhone, given that it is manufactured in China, which has been occupying Tibet for more than half a century.
He had no response.
A woman came over to me and said that she believed that arguments like these, defending Israel, should be a standard feature of Jewish day school education. I could not agree more. Every Jewish young adult should be equipped to respond to lies about the Jewish people. The world Jewish community should adopt the policy that every lie should be convincingly rebutted at a grassroots level, not dismissed as beneath contempt.
Jews may not use a sheet with a hole in the middle for sex. But we do need a wall without any holes to stop terrorists from blowing up more Jewish children. And unless we can persuade the rest of the world of the justice of our cause, they will continue to put barriers in the path of our barriers.