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Jews Aren't Just Under Fire In The Middle East

Sara Newman |
August 7, 2014 | 3:55 p.m. PDT

Deputy Editor

This French anti-Semitic gathering is becoming increasingly normalized throughout Europe (New York Times/Twitter)
This French anti-Semitic gathering is becoming increasingly normalized throughout Europe (New York Times/Twitter)
It is a terrifying day when we stop being able it to distinguish between a nation’s people and its politics, between a person’s religion and their worthiness to live.

Currently, almost any mention of Israel is immediately followed by the word Gaza. The news is flooded with updates about bombings and shootings and death counts. We hear about Palestinian schools and UN shelters under attack, and plans to kick the Jews out of the Middle East once and for all.

We hear and see so much destruction taking place over so few miles in so few days that we’ve nearly stopped looking anywhere else. 

But to understand the full weight of the conflict, we need to look beyond the geographic tensions and the bloodshed. We need to look at the daily terrors and verbal attacks pointing toward a history we swore we’d never repeat. 

READ MORE: Deadliest Day For Israelis and Palestinians In Israel-Gaza War 

First and foremost, it is crucial to remember that decisions made by the Israeli government and defense forces do not represent the feelings and choices of Jewish people around the world. Just as Americans do not wish to be held accountable for all of the choices of their leaders, so too must we understand that the international—and even the domestic—Jewish populations are not the ones dictating the deployment of bombs and soldiers into Gaza. 

This should be a simple enough concept, but as far away as Australia, people are trying to hold schoolchildren responsible for a humanitarian crisis taking place thousands of miles away. 

Just yesterday, the Daily Telegraph reported that eight men terrorized a bus full of children as young as five years old with threats of slitting their throats and taunts of “Heil Hitler” and “Free Palestine.” 

We can look back with shame at what happened in Europe during the 1930s and 40s, but that’s not enough, and this isn’t the past. 

This is about school-age children being harassed in 2014 because of their family’s religious identity and atrocities happening on the other side of the world that have nothing to do with them. This is about needing to take responsibility for ensuring that we don’t live through another genocide or World War. 

READ MORE: European Anti-Semites Attack Jews To 'Protest' Israel-Gaza Conflict

We aren’t just talking about the Middle East and Australia, and we aren’t just talking about the past few days or months. Anti-Semitism has been steadily increasing over the past few years, particularly in Europe, for reasons having nothing to do with Israeli politics.  

This problem has been documented for years, with a poll conducted by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) in Jan. 2012 documenting significant increases in anti-Semitism in France, Hungary, Spain and the United Kingdom, compared to 2009 levels.      

"The survey is disturbing by the fact that anti-Semitism remains at high levels across the continent and infects many Europeans at a much higher level than we see here in the United States," said Abraham H. Foxman, ADL National Director. "In Hungary, Spain and Poland the numbers for anti-Semitic attitudes are literally off-the-charts and demand a serious response from political, civic and religious leaders."

Yet, such findings received little publicity compared to the current Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Without explosive photos to sweep social media or horrifying head counts to make people shudder, the upsurge in anti-Semitism lacks the sensationalist ability to permeate people’s daily consciousness. It is horrifying, but for most people it does not represent an immediate threat.

While bombs may not be erupting throughout Europe, protests are. Synagogues are being attacked and windows of Jewish-owned businesses are being shattered. Protestors are shouting “Jews to the gas chambers” and swastikas are being drawn on public buildings. 

Hatred and intolerance have created "an atmosphere of Kristallnacht" in the modern day. They have brought us closer to a past nightmare than we should ever have come. With such a horrific ascension of anti-Semitism, we have once more arrived at a time when maintaining Israel as a Jewish safe haven may be a necessity, rather than a luxury.

READ MORE: The Persecution Of Jews In Iraq 

The current situations in Europe and the Middle East are not the same thing, but they are interrelated. The preexisting bias against Jewish people in many parts of Europe has encouraged the media to depict Israel's actions in such a way that reinforces this bias, and creates a positive feedback loop of increasingly anti-Israel news coverage and increasingly anti-Israel sentiments around the world. 

What most people know about the ongoing conflict is essentially what the media has shows them: photographs of buildings being blown up and stories about families losing their children to brutal, nationalistic violence on behalf of the Israelis. 

These are the stories that simultaneously repulse and captivate readers and viewers; these are the stories that sell, especially when there's a pre-established market eager to consume them. 

Meanwhile Israel's rocket interceptor, the Iron Dome, has received comparatively little coverage. Approximately 2,200 Palestinian rockets have been fired on Israel in the past two months, but the Dome has managed to deflect almost all of them. This makes for wonderful protection, but no so wonderful news headlines. 

There's no question that Palestine is winning the media war, but the news isn't giving us the whole story. People are being fed images and stories of the grotesque without the historical context to interpret them. 

The current narrative spread by the media and preexisting prejudices have made it easy to villainize Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. Yet people seem willing to forget the longterm goals of Hamas.

“The gun is our only response to [the] Zionist regime," said Hamas's Deputy Chief Ismail Haniyeh in October. " In time we have come to understand that we can obtain our goals only through fighting and armed resistance and no compromise should be made with the enemy." 

READ MORE: Gaza Invasion Prompted By Hamas Tunnels Into Israel 

As viewers and consumers of mass media, we have the responsibility of being aware of what we aren't being told, and with the current situation in Israel, this task is even more challenging than in most situations. To fully understand the current entanglement, we must look beyond the sound clips that the media feeds us and see what is happening around the world to make sense of the bombs that are going off each day. 

Palestinians and Jews, both in Israel and abroad, are hurting. Both groups of people are fearing for their lives daily, whether or not they agree with what choices their respective governments are making. 

#PrayForGaza may make a trendier Twitter hashtag, but really we need to be praying for peace.

Contact Deputy Editor Sara Newman here. Follow her on Twitter here.  



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