By Jack Lichtenstein, Alexandria
To the editor:
George Byrd of Falls Church disagreed in your opinion pages with the notion that the Presbyterian Church’s divestment measures against Israel are motivated by anti-Semitism (“Divestment does not equal anti-Semitism,” August 7). He further compares the lot of Palestinian Arabs in Israel to that of black South Africans under apartheid.
I won’t pretend to be able to look into the heart of Byrd — or any man — and divine whether he is an anti-Semite. Anti-Semitism is a default position for all manner of sociopaths. Its manifestations range from outright murder to subtle discrimination, and toward the latter end of the spectrum it often comes in disguise, even dressed in good intentions.
Whether the lot of Arabs in Israel is similar to that of blacks in apartheid-era South Africa is an easier proposition to address, precisely because it is so absurd. Despite mutual distrust between Arabs and Jews that has built up over decades of hostilities, Israeli Arabs enjoy equal rights if not always equal treatment. Jews and Arabs in Israel, two peoples and a place not known for lacking reflection and debate, talk about this topic and the need for continued improvement in relations openly and endlessly.
By every measure of freedom — voting rights, gender rights, religious tolerance, access to jobs and social services — Arabs in Israel are better off than those in Muslim countries where they mainly are pawns and props for tyrants and religious lunatics. The lot of Arabs in Israel slowly is getting better and would be vastly improved if Israel were allowed to live in peace. Israeli Arabs also are infinitely better off than Christians and Jews in Arab or Muslim countries, at least those Christians and Jews who are still alive there.
Far be it from me to suggest what will make Byrd or the leadership of the Presbyterian Church feel sanctified. But instead of punishing the Jews of Israel for imperfectly striving to realize their own high ideals, these critics might focus on the growing and lethal threat to Christians, Jews and everyone else who does not subscribe to a narrow and virulent form of Islam. Unlike a campaign aimed at punishing a western ally, a campaign aimed at protecting religious freedom won’t be easy. But at least it will be pointed in the right direction, toward the ignorance, fear and naked aggression that are the root cause of the problem.