YOU’RE LOSING YOUR MIND AND YOUR DECENCY, RABBI – NOT EUROPE
by Michael Lesher
Because I have no ambition either to be the next Chief Rabbi of Barcelona or to be subject to the whims of whoever is – as it is, I’m not even Spanish – it’s of very little direct importance to me that the current occupant of that position, one Meir Bar-Hen, is a blithering idiot.
On the other hand, I am a Jew – and a human being. And on both counts it does matter very much to me that Rabbi Bar-Hen, who claims in the wake of a car-ramming attack in Barcelona (for which the motive remains unclear) that “Europe is lost” so long as its governments allow Muslims to live side by side with other citizens, is not only a fool but a bigot of unspeakable effrontery. In fact, he’s exactly the sort of man who, with Goebbels, would have pointed to Herschel Grynszpan’s murder of a young German diplomat in 1938 as “proof” that Jews could not be tolerated in Germany.
And yet I confess that even the rabbi’s racism – essentially a declaration of war against every Muslim in Europe – is less infuriating to me than the silent complacency with which his remarks have been received throughout the Jewish world.
One might have hoped a few Jews, even today, would remember that being stigmatized as a collective threat to civilization was a familiar Jewish experience not so long ago. In the previous century, when the Reverend A.E. Patton complained of the danger of immigrant “hordes” who were “stealthy and furtive in manner…too filthy to adopt ideals of cleanliness from the start, too bigoted to surrender any racial traditions or to absorb any true Americanism,” he was writing about Jews, not Muslims, and if asked for evidence of the threat would have pointed to nothing less momentous than the gathering storm in Russia. (The Nazis used similar “evidence,” for that matter; so did some of their descendants at the recent violent hatefest in Charlottesville.) Quite apart from its moral reprehensibility, then, is Muslim-bashing a clever game for Jews to play, given our continuing minority status and a little knowledge of our own history?
And in Spain, of all places! Has a Spanish rabbi utterly forgotten what Jewish historians once dubbed the “Golden Age” of medieval Jewry – namely in Spain, under Muslim rule – and that anti-Semitic persecutions followed on the heels of the expulsion of Muslims from that country?
But bigots don’t speak the language of history, just as they don’t speak the language of contemporary fact. They speak the language of power – and Rabbi Bar-Hen provides a fine example of how that language can turn the truth inside out. Just look at how neatly his recent statements, though at odds with reality, dovetail with Western imperial propaganda.
“I tell my congregants,” Rabbi Bar-Hen told JTA after the attack that left 14 random victims dead in Barcelona, “this place is lost. Don’t repeat the mistake of Algerian Jews, of Venezuelan Jews. Better [get out] early than late.”
Algerian Jews did face discriminatory treatment in the 1960s, in the wake of Algeria’s bloody war for independence from France (which the Jewish community, by and large, did not support). But Venezuela is a “historically open society without significant anti-Semitism,” the U.S. State Department concluded as recently as 2005. The only “grievance” of Venezuelan Jews JTA could scrape up the following year was that President Hugo Chavez had had the temerity to criticize Israeli war crimes in Lebanon.
And anyway, what has Venezuela got to do with Spain?
Well, nothing – except that Chavez was on Washington’s enemies’ list long before ISIS was. And that’s the clue to unpacking Rabbi Bar-Hen’s ominous reference to Latin America: it means, “Jews shouldn’t want open societies where the U.S. doesn’t want them. We must stay on the side of Big Brother.”
The same goes for Bar-Hen’s weird juxtaposition of Spain – where, he claims, Jews can’t survive because “radical” Muslims are “living among you” and “it’s very difficult to get rid of them” – against Israel, where he explicitly encourages his congregants to immigrate.
Now, Rabbi Bar-Hen knows as well as anyone that Israel and its occupied territories have a Muslim population too (in fact, one that is proportionally larger than the Muslim community in Spain), and that this population is not altogether acquiescent. If Spain is a “hub of Islamist terror for all of Europe,” as the rabbi claims, what in the world makes Israel a safe haven?
Again, nothing – except that Israel, unlike Spain, is an American client state. And so what the rabbi is really saying to Jews is, “Go where American power goes. The U.S. is fighting a war against the Muslim world, and we want to be on the side of the powerful – never mind what’s right or wrong.”
And then there’s Bar-Hen’s flagship “proof” that Spain is soft on Muslim terrorism: the fact that the government wouldn’t suppress the free travel of Leila Khaled, a Palestinian refugee who nearly 50 years ago helped hijack an airplane (hurting no one) and who wanted, to the horror of people like Rabbi Bar-Hen, to attend a book festival in Spain this year. This showed that Spanish authorities “do not understand the nature of terrorism, if they treat it as an action by the disenfranchised,” the rabbi told JTA.
Got it? In Bar-Hen’s world, a Palestinian woman who was driven out of her native Haifa at the age of 4 can’t possibly be “disenfranchised.” And any country that would dream of allowing a small-time Palestinian resistance fighter to set foot in it, five decades after her last illegal act – the same country having already welcomed the likes of Shimon Peres, the butcher of Qana and eager backer of apartheid South Africa – should be ashamed of itself. That is, if its moral standard is all about what’s good for the Empire.
Which, in a word, is Bar-Hen’s standard.
Taken separately, each one of Bar-Hen’s remarks amounts to pure stupidity. But their sum total is something rather more sinister. Bar-Hen may be a blithering idiot, as I called him a moment ago, but what am I to call a man who scorns the mayor of Barcelona for saying, after the tragic car-ramming deaths in her city, that “Barcelona is a city of peace,” and that “[t]error will not make us stop being who we are: a brave city open to the world”?
Bar-Hen thought so little of that fine statement that he said he might not attend the public solidarity rally called by the mayor, claiming security officials instructed him to avoid public areas in the coming days – because he is recognizably Jewish.
Rabbi, I doubt you’ll read this column. But if you do, I’m calling your bluff. I want to know which “security officials” told you it’s not safe for a Jew with a skullcap to be seen in the streets of Barcelona, though it’s apparently quite safe for Muslims to show themselves, even immediately after a terrible crime has been blamed on someone in their community, and even with the likes of you whipping up public hysteria against them all. I want to know what entitles you to claim victimhood at the same time you incite violence against roughly a billion people worldwide. I want to know why Leila Khaled’s 50-year-old violence is reprehensible to you, while Israel’s continuing brutality is not.
And I want to tell you something, Rabbi. You’re not losing “Europe.” What you’re losing is your mind – your ability to reason, to ground your opinions in fact, to guide your congregants with truth rather than propaganda.
And you’re losing something else, too: your common decency. Because behind your stupidity is, as I’ve shown, a corrupt agenda every Jew, let alone a rabbi, should repudiate. Because when you sell out to imperial power, you cease to be a religious leader and become one more toady to the powers that be. Because inciting hatred against an already demonized people puts you squarely, and exclusively, in the ranks of vulgar propagandists.
And this is one Jew who isn’t going to let rabbis like you forget how utterly, in a moment of crisis, you morally betrayed and abandoned us all.