Saturday, January 31, 2009

The Zionist in Me

OK, there's something that's been bothering me for quite awhile - well, probably at least since I was twelve. And that's the Jewish question ...

You see, I don't like intolerance of any sort; and what irks me more than most things is when someone mistakes strong opinion for intolerance. I was raised in a political household. It was also a Catholic household, which means I was weaned on guilt - until I was seven and got smacked by a nun for daring to suggest that there was a woman in the picture of Da Vinci's Last Supper, but that's a topic for another blog. Not only was I raised in a Catholic household, but it was a Southern Catholic household, which - in the Sixties - was like waving a red flag to a bull in rural Virginia, which was primarily Protestant (meaning Southern Baptist and Pentecostal Holy-Rollers speaking in tongues, something today known as Palinism). Christians of this ilk didn't much like Catholics, and every Wednesday afternoon whilst we Catholic kids were let out for recess at our parochial school, the local public school was walking down the street to the public swimming baths for their swimming lesson. They'd regularly do nice things like spit at us through the iron gates. That was the nicest thing. Suffice it to say, I learned a whole new four-letter vocabulary from boys I'd later date when we met up again at the public high school.

But I digress. They didn't like us. They didn't like us because we were Catholic. Because, according to them, we worshipped the Virgin Mary, we had strange statues in our church and Christ was still on the cross. And the head of our church was foreign and didn't speak English. They didn't much like Jews either, because according to them, Jews killed Christ. The ironic thing about all this is that I attended my parochial school in the mid-Sixties, at the time of desegregation in the South. My school was private and it was also open to non-Catholics if you could afford the fees. Now right about this time as well, the Supreme Court upheld a plea by Mrs Madelyn Murray O'Hare, a Texas atheist, to remove all prayer and forms of Bible study from state schools. Mrs Murray O'Hare argued that the Constitution established separation of church from state, not only in government and state, but also in government and state institutions, of which the public school system was a part. Smart woman.

So because of this, a great many people with children in state schools who wanted exposure to Bible and Christian teachings removed their children from these schools and put them in the only religious school around those parts - St John the Baptist Elementary. My school. And the majority of parents who did this were the black Protestant ministers. Ergo, we had an integrated school. Unbeknownst to the vociferous Protestant fundamentalist inhabitants of the area (today commonly known as base Republicans), they applied for admission to St Johns for their children too. Why? Because they didn't want their children being educated with blacks. So they paid their year's tuition and - hey presto - their kids were being educated with blacks. And Catholics. And two Jewish kids, who were there solely because the education offered was good (when the nuns weren't smacking hard).

So I've grown up around all sorts, and my best and oldest friend is Jewish. We were best friends because our fathers had grown up together and were best friends. And when they married, our mothers became best friends too. I think we got on so well because of the guilt factor. Guilt is ingrained in the Catholic's soul from birth - after all, we're supposedly born into sin - and if your Catholic mother doesn't lord that over you, some nun will. Ross had a Jewish mother. Enough said. There was never anything romantic between us, and we were at school together right from kindergarten until we graduated from the University of Virginia. A lot of our friends and many relatives thought we were a couple, however. We're still friends today, and in hindsight, we may not have been still if we'd slept together. I remember when I married, the night before my wedding, my mother telling me she'd always half-suspected I'd end up with Ross. I laughed at that until years later, after Ross had finally tied the knot at forty, him telling me his mother's assessment of the situation.

The day before his wedding, his mother (who didn't like the woman he'd chosen) lamented that she'd always hoped he'd end up with me.

'But Ma,' protested Ross. 'She's Catholic. Surely you wanted me to marry a Jewish girl.'

'I've known her since she was in diapers,' his mother retorted. 'I know her mother and her mother raised her right. She understands guilt.'

Too right.

But, again, I digress.

What's bothered me lately is the situation in Israel, specifically the fighting along the Gaza Strip. Actually, it's bothered me more lately, but the two-state Palestinian situation has bothered me a lot, especially since coming to England to live two decades ago. You see, I firmly believe in the state of Israel. I believe it has an inherent right to exist and that the Jews have a right to the land in which they live. What's amazed, shocked and surprised me is the intensity of subtle anti-semitism that exists in the United Kingdom, masked as sympathy towards the Palestinian plight. I've heard no less than the wife of a serving Prime Minister (Cherie Blair) admit that she could understand the desperation which led some young Palestinians to become suicide bombers. (Cherie Blair, I might add, is a practicing Catholic). She made this comment during the time her husband was Prime Minister and placing his full support behind the Israeli state. I've heard high-ranking and influential members of the British media show anti-Israeli bias teetering on outright anti-semitism in their supposedly unbiased reporting. (Believe me, the BBC could rival Fox News for its 'impartiality'). I listened with disbelief at the aggravating Transatlantic tones of the BBC's pet Canadian Barbara Plett actually crying when Yasser Arafat, dying, left his compound for the last time. I've watched the anorexic Irishwoman Orla Guerin show equally anorexic and suffering Palestinian children whose plight was caused by Jewish, not Israeli, but Jewish intransigency. I've heard people in a position to know better liken the Jews to the Nazis of sixty-odd years ago.

And so, when the latest war started again in Gaza, confused, I turned to my oracle. Ross. I e-mailed him for an explanation because, quite frankly, I was beginning to get confused and irritated at the sight of so many children being torn limb from limb on my television each night. I was even more confused by the Palestinian slant being given on no less than MSNBC, via the web. And that's when Ross explained to me the evil of Hamas ... that those poor people on that strip of land bordering onto the sea are actually being used as human shields by Hamas. That it's a political and sociological ploy to sacrifice them in the conflict as a means of making Israel look bad. That there is a Palestinian state and that state is Jordan, who doesn't want these people pouring into its realm. So, it's a question of unwanted immigrants, basically. And good old modern day spin.

The other thing he told me was backed up by my husband, who occasionally surprises me with his knowledge ... that the British, as a rule, have always favoured Arabs over Jews. I can't imagine why, but they have. And this present debacle has brought out here, all the old hidden, inherent prejudices that make otherwise normal, working class people look like brownshirts. Of course, here too, in the UK, there's a sizeable Muslim population which, encouraged by British Empire guilt, a distinct lack understanding of multiculturalism and how it should work, plus a desire to curry (bad pun) potential votes, has been encouraged to retain its culture intact to the point that there is absolutely no cultural integration with the indigenous English people. In fact, there's a Religious Hate Law here which is only applied if a Christian/Jew says anything derogatory against a Muslim. However, Muslims, during the time when the Danish Mohammed cartoons were getting worldwide press, took to the streets here in droves and called for death and beheadings for ALL 'infidels' - that means Christians, Jews, Hindus and we who doubt. Is that not hate?

Recently, papers here have been awash with appeals for the poor and suffering children of Gaza. The independent television networks here (all two of them who show commercials) obliged by giving the appeal the necessary air time. But, for some reason, the state funded BBC did not. It suddenly remembered its charter for impartiality and cited that as the reason for refusing to air the appeal. And the people took to the streets in protest at the BBC, which was hilarious because for once in its bloated, opinionated, overfunded life, the BBC was practicing what it preached. To air the appeal, it stated, would look as though it was anti-Israel, and it had to be - dare I say it? - fair and balanced.

So welcome to the real world, BBC, where you're damned if you do and damned if you don't.

Oh, and I still want Israel to prevail, no matter what. Even if that means those poor people have to go back to their 'original' Palestinian state of Jordan.

My friend Ross says I'm a Zionist. I'm actually proud to be one.

Ma'zel Tov.

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