Anti-Semitism is a reality in the Middle East

Opinion: Letters To The Editor

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I generally find ad hominem attacks beyond the pale in public forums, unworthy of dignifying with a response; however, when a writer actively fabricates a quotation in order to make such an attack, as David Gilbert does in assailing Alan Peres [Who defines Israel? Viewpoints, Dec. 18], there is an imperative to respond.

Gilbert writes that Peres was engaging in "hypocrisy" for arguing [Israel's concern for security is justified, Viewpoints, Nov. 20] that "Palestinians harbor a congenital anti-Semitism that periodically explodes in terror." 

First, Peres never mentions anti-Semitism — much less of the "congenital" variety — in his article. Peres instead relates the experience of someone who has a daughter residing in the Middle East, living with the region's complicated reality. To suggest, as Gilbert does, that Peres is an armchair commentator is both insulting and disingenuous.

Second, Mr. Gilbert's presentation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not only specious, permeated with de-contextualized statistics and factual inaccuracies, but also demonstrates a genuine ignorance of the roots of the current conflict. Any Arabic-speaking Jew who has lived in the Islamic world recognizes that historical anti-Semitism informs the modern Middle East conflict. As evidence, I here relate but one of many experiences I had with anti-Semitism in Morocco in the fall of 2008:

"Ahh, you are Jewish," a pretty Moroccan college girl said with excitement in her voice. "We can eat at your house [since Jewish and Islamic dietary laws are similar], but we can't spend the night, since you, um … you stab us in our sleep."

A hermeneutical Jew has been crafted in the Islamic world, a construction that portrays the Jew as a cruel, conspiring figure beyond redemption. Jews are supposed to be a perpetually downtrodden and humiliated people, a proof of the triumph of Islam. A modern Jewish state in a land once controlled by Muslims is an affront to this worldview.

This historical context helps explain why the Islamic world refuses to tolerate a Jewish state in its midst. It is perhaps more reassuring to believe, as Mr. Gilbert does, that if Israelis would just throw down their arms, tear up their settlements and go back to their Tel Aviv discothèques, the conflict would be over and we could all sing "Kumbaya." But people who have lived the conflict, like Mr. Peres and his family, know that is a pipedream, and a dangerous one at that.

Brendan Goldman 

Johns Hopkins University Ph.D. student studying the history of Jews and Christians living in the Islamic Middle East

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