It’s Monday morning after the week of General Assembly meetings, and I have just about recovered. I didn’t even write Day 5, which was the biggest day of all as it was the day of the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas speeches before the General Assembly. And you know why I didn’t write it? Because I was really, really busy.
I wrote my take on the speeches here, so I won’t rehash. It was incredibly exciting to have a front row seat at what may prove to be an important moment in Jewish history. Okay, not literally the front row – that’s where the United States Ambassador to the UN sits – but the front row of the media box, which is an awesome vantage point and as close as I’ll get in this lifetime.
What I didn’t write about for the Jerusalem Post, and will share with you, is the fascinating element of being a reporter mingling with reporters from all over the world. This took on a particularly personally-relevant tinge during this General Assembly, as the main issue was the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Palestinians’ bid for statehood and how all the drama would play out.
Whether the reporters were from France or Brazil, their eyes were trained on the same story. But our seats in the media hangar enabled us to hear what those writing the stories for their audience back home thought of the story.
“It’s really unbelievable,” one reporter, talking about Obama’s speech, said to another reporter on break. “They’re such a small group of people, and yet they control the world.” She said it in a nonchalant way, almost in passing, to another reporter. The other reporter nodded in agreement as they went on to discuss how expensive the food options were in the media room (which, for the record, was accurate).
Now, I don’t know where this reporter was from, and I didn’t look at her name tag or ask. But I have a funny feeling she wasn’t talking about the Republicans.
Yes, Israel did command a lot of attention in Obama’s speech and at the UN in general. But that’s nothing new. As Netanyahu pointed out in his speech, Israel is “singled out for condemnation more often than all the nations of the world combined. Twenty-one out of the 27 General Assembly resolutions condemn Israel — the one true democracy in the Middle East.”
Regardless of your politics as to Israel, that’s a heaping dose of condemnation, and that isn’t regularly served up to nations like Iran (many in fact choose to sit and listen to the hate-filled rhetoric of its leader), Syria, Libya or North Korea. In Jewish history, on multiple occasions, things fall apart due to “sinat chinam, or causeless hatred. And hatred takes many forms, sometimes obvious and sometimes more insidious.
I’m not a conspiracy theorist by any stretch, but this week was instructive as to how the world views us. And yes, I’m saying “us” – us as Jews. Israel is the Jewish state. And wherever you are from, we are the “small group of people” the reporter alluded to in palatable, conversational anti-Semitism.
We do not control the world (unless I missed the meeting – I really should write things down), and I’m not one to cry “wolf” when it comes to anti-Semitism. But everything from that one little remark to the experience of the General Assembly illustrated that even now, 60 years after the Holocaust, there are those who regard us with suspicion, contempt, or outright hatred…and there are a lot of them. And as politics, internationally and nationally, devolve into polemics, such people and sentiments will become more and more visible, and perhaps, less risible.
So the question then becomes, how do we regard ourselves? If you’re on this website, odds are high that you’re raising Jewish children. And whether you’re in Israel, the US or elsewhere, again, I’d bet that if you’re here, your identity plays at least a passing role in who you are.
Let’s be clear: I don’t believe it’s important to be Jewish, or pro-Israel, because of anti-Semitism. I believe that it is important to be Jewish because it is important to see yourself as a part of something. If you are Jewish, you are a player in a historical and cultural drama that has played out on stages all over the world for thousands of years. You are the heir of a remarkable intellectual, ethical and religious tradition. Judaism is an amazing resource for how to be a parent and how to be a person. And it is ours.
Looking out at the General Assembly floor is looking out at the world: this is the world as it is. But as we raise our Jewish children, we can impact the world it will be.