Infernal Ramblings
A Malaysian Perspective on Politics, Society and Economics

Can We Stop Blaming the Jews?

Written by johnleemk on 4:10:36 am May 24, 2008.

One of the constants in Malaysian politics, and possibly Malaysian society is anti-semitism. I do not mean anti-Israel sentiment, which may or may not be justified; I mean anti-Jewish sentiment, which labels people on their relation to those of Jewish extraction or the Jewish faith. Although I doubt this plays a major role in our politics or society, the very fact that it remains a prominent tool in politicians' arsenals is frightening and depressing. While we speak of moving towards a race-blind society, a country fair to all its citizens regardless of ethnic or religious background, many of our leaders think nothing of labellng people on the basis of their Jewishness, or association with Jews. Regardless of what we think of Israel, it's time we put a stop to this groundless and nonsensical race-baiting.

Before I start, let's get some potential bias out of the way. I am and was raised a Christian. I have always believed that the Jews were God's chosen people, although I am not sure whether they still are his chosen people (there's a raging theological debate on what happened to their chosen status post-Jesus, and I'm not going to wade into that). Having said that, I have never believed they are innately superior in any sense to other people, nor that I should defer to a Jew simply because he is, well, a Jew.

I was also brought up in a generally pro-Israel setting; churches are probably the only place in Malaysia where you will see people openly praying for Israel, although they are a lot more fair and even-handed to the Palestinians than Christians in other parts of the world. I think Israel has a right to exist, and I also think Israel has committed unspeakable atrocities towards the Palestinians, just as Palestinian and Arab terrorists have murdered innocent civilians whose only crime was to be born a Jew in Israel.

I have friends who are Israeli; I have friends who are Jewish, either by ethnic descent or by religious belief. I even have distant cousins who are Jewish, although we have never been close (I think we only ever met once). So in general, you might think I am inclined to be pro-Jewish and pro-Israel.

Let's make this clear: I have my biases, and I don't apologise for them. But I believe that any reasoned person who puts his biases aside must acknowledge that there is no point in race-baiting. There is no point in making blanket assumptions about a whole class of people because they happened to be born into the Jewish faith or to a Jewish family. The crimes of people who happen to be Jewish speak for themselves; they do not speak for the innocents who happen to be Jews, any more than the atrocities of Nazi Germany speak for all Germans for the rest of all time, or the atrocities of Malaysians of all stripes and colours on the 13th of May 1969 speak for Malaysians for the rest of all time.

We'll start with Israel. We all know the atrocities the Israeli government has committed. Even though there are strong cases to be made for and against the existence of Israel today, if I had the chance to rewind time, I would do my utmost to prevent the horrible state of things that the Israel-Palestine region is currently mired in from ever coming into being. I don't think anyone can excuse what Israel has done.

Yet, ironically, it is anti-Israeli sentiment that spurred me to think about this problem of anti-semitism. I remember how one prominent political activist prefaced his criticism of anti-semitism; it ran along the lines of "I hate Israel as much as the next guy". This got me thinking: anti-semitism in Malaysia really goes beyond anti-Israel sentiment. There is little distinction between Israel and the Jewish people in how we perceive things; we freely and readily blur these lines. We hate both the Jewish state and the Jewish people.

This hatred is what makes anti-semitism such a potent political tool in Malaysia. Everyone knows how Anwar Ibrahim is so frequently tarred as someone who associates with Jews, and by implication, supports the cause of Zionism and Israel. The most recent instance of this sentiment in public memorably occurred when Mukhriz Mahathir openly criticised Anwar in Parliament for being endorsed by a Jewish-American, Paul Wolfowitz. In the same breath, Mukhriz mentioned Wolfowitz's complicity in the murder of Iraqi civilians and his Jewish heritage. It did not occur to anyone to point out that while Wolfowitz could make a choice in assisting or ordering the killing of people, he had no choice about his parentage.

Instead, Anwar's surrogates in the opposition hit back by, first, correctly pointing out that Anwar has no real control over who supports him, and second, that Mukhriz's father should shoulder as much blame for associating with American Jews like the shamed political lobbyist Jack Abramoff. That, friends, is the state of political discourse in our country: when in doubt, blame the Jews. While someone's panties are bound to get into a knot if you blame the Chinese or Malays (and even then, both being relatively safe targets as long as you tightly control your audience), nobody gives two shits about the Jews. For all this talk of non-racial politics, we're still caught up in this mentality of resorting to race when it suits us.

Honestly, there is no reason to blame someone for befriending a Jew, or shaking hands with a Jew; to say doing so makes you complicit in the pro-Zionist cause is to say associating with Malaysian Chinese is to make you complicit in the Chinese chauvinist cause, or to say associating with Muslims is to make you complicit in the global violent jihad mounted by the likes of Osama bin Laden. Many Jews are not Zionist at all; many non-Jews are staunch Zionists. If we want to be consistent, surely we would criticise our leaders for associating with the Presidents of the United States, practically every one of whom has been a supporter of Israel?

I don't know if I should even bother to indulge the crackpot theory that Jews are trying to take over the world. Do they exert disproportionate influence in American politics? Yes. Do they exert disproportionate influence in world politics? Yes. Does this mean every Jew, or even most Jews are part of a conspiracy to take over the world? Absolutely not. Trying to defend anti-semitism on this basis is tantamount to claiming that the "all Muslims are part of a violent global jihad" rhetoric of neoconservative Americans has basis in reality.

I am not asking you to change your views about the Israeli state, or the Zionist cause. All I ask of you is that you respect the Jewish people in the same way you respect any other human being. I ask you to treat them with the same kind of dignity you would accord me, or any other person on the street. I ask you to recognise that each individual human being is different, and that to judge him or her on the basis of his or her parentage is completely baseless. I ask you to put a stop to race-baiting: to criticise people on the basis of their choices and ideas, not on the basis of something they had no choice in, something as petty as their parentage. Until we can do this, until we can acknowledge that to be a Jew is not to necessarily be evil or complicit in evil, we cannot claim to truly respect the dignity of every human being, and we have no business talking about being race-blind in our politics.

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Infernal Ramblings is a Malaysian website focusing on current events and sociopolitical issues. Its articles run the gamut from economics to society to education.

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