This Week: Virginia Then and Now: How Far We Have Come, and How It Relates to Israel and Jews
Forty-some years ago, I – Philadelphia born-and-bred city Jew – spent the better part of four years of my life in the Blue Ridge mountain country of rural western Virginia, not at the University of Virginia (UVa) in Charlottesville, but at a small college in a small town southwest of Charlottesville, a bit northeast of Roanoke and a bit northwest of Lynchburg. It is a beautiful area, and if you haven’t driven the hundreds-of-miles-long Blue Ridge Parkway meandering from Front Royal to Gatlinburg you owe yourself that road trip. But the road trip that, by your leave, I’ll take you on with me today is the one America’s taken, typified by that Blue Ridge mountain country, between then and now.
When I attended that small college, it had no black and no girl students (not that there weren’t girls’ colleges in nearby Buena Vista (pronounced ‘Beuna Vista’), Roanoke and Lynchburg). This was half-a-decade after Brown v. Board of Education, and more than a decade after Jackie Robinson took the field for the Dodgers. If there had been girl students at that school, it would have occurred to no one to debate who could use which bathrooms, but if there had been black students, there likely would. It was a time of sit-in demonstrations at lunch counters in Lynchburg.
I’ve always viewed political cartoons, when rarely perfect, as the most powerful of all political writing, and one, by herblock as I recall, captured that era. A Howard Johnsons, I think, restaurant in Arlington VA just outside Washington had refused to seat black African diplomats, and the State Dept went nuts. The next day, the restaurant acted differently. The day after that, the cartoon depicted such a restaurant, with two natively attired such diplomats at the front of the queue. The hostess looks at the manager, who tells her: “It’s all right to seat them, they’re not American.”
Fast-forward to summer 2017. Another, by me, cartoon on all-fours comes to mind. It depicts the front lines of the Iran-Iraq war, each side viciously pouring ferocious weapon fire into the ranks of the other. In the next frame, a fighter jet bearing the Star of David flies overhead. In the third frame, both armies are directing all of their fire at it. Is that what happened at Charlottesville? Self-proclaimed “neo-Nazis” and their ilk obtained a permit to protest threatened removal of a Confederate general’s statue and conduct a nighttime torch-bearing parade through UVa’s campus chanting “Jews will not replace us”? And their self-proclaimed “anti-fascist” counter-protestors single out in their credo one State in the world, the tiny Jewish state in the neighborhood of Iraq, Syria and Yemen, as “apartheid” and conducting “genocide”?
More about us in a paragraph, but, to borrow a phrase, America first. There are blacks and girls at that college I once went to today. If there are debates there over bathrooms, I wouldn’t know, but if there are, they’re about LGBTQ… etc people, not “Colored” vs “White.” There are no Ben Chapmans in major league baseball harassing black ballplayers today. For the past eight years, the President of the United States was a black man, and he would not have been our President had not a great many white people, including in the south, voted for him. So I think that between my college years and today, America has come a long way.
What is troubling, from our perspective, is that the only viewpoint that the extreme right and extreme left in America seem to hold in common is extreme disaffection for us. What is most troubling is that this attitude is not confined, today or heretofore, to extremes. A specter that haunts me still is the St. Louis, futilely sailing up and down the coast of an America that would not let its Nazi-fleeing Jewish passengers in, and finally turning back to Europe, where many of them died in the Holocaust. And not just America. Even after the War, an unequal sea war was waged by Britain’s Royal Navy against the packed rickety ships of the Aliyah Bet – Exodus 1947, the Ulua, many many others – bringing Home to the land of Israel the survivors of the culmination of a Jewish exile sojourn in Europe in which every device of ethnic cleansing and subjugation – Pale of Settlement, Ghetto, Holocaust, Inquisition, Pogrom – was invented in that heartland of Western civilization expressly for us.
There is a third cartoon, one that Lee and I include in our Powerpoint talk, bearing on this. It shows a great American Indian chief sharing a campfire pipe with Israeli premier Shamir. “Yitzhak,” the great Indian chief says to him, “Let me tell you about Land For Peace.”
In The Revolt, Begin’s classic memoir penned just after Israel’s 1948 War of Independence, he quotes what the Irgun warned the Yishuv when the U.N. voted partition in 1947:
“….Let this be clear: the partition plan is not a plan for peace, despite its inherent renunciation of territory, a renunciation which has no legal validity. The establishment even of this ‘ghetto’ inside our Homeland will be carried out amidst flames of fire and rivers of blood….
“Even this caricature of a State will have to be paid for heavily in the lives of our best sons. It is certain that the blood shed in the days to come in order to impose partition will not be less than what we should have to pay for liberating the Homeland in its entirety. . . . .”
Among the posters and chants of today’s American left, which encompasses organizations with many different primary causes, is “From The River to The Sea, Palestine Will Be Free.” And certainly the Arabs, not least among them those whom we ourselves gratuitously call “The Palestinians,” subscribe to this. The time has come for us, whose peoplehood heritage is that tiny area, the land of Israel, the Jewish Homeland, Palestine west of the Jordan, to be no less clear that the Jewish claim to that Jewish homeland does not stop at the Israel-Jordan military ceasefire lines of 1949.
To get there from here, our road is not to Charlottesvilles, but to stop saying things that contradict the very homeland claim that we make. To cite just one example, but by me an exceedingly grievous one, take CAMERA. Andrea and her associates are heroes to me because they took up the legacy of David Bar-Illan’s path-breaking “Eye On The Media” Jerusalem Post column confronting the mainstream media’s anti-Israel bias, when our American Jewish community was shamefacedly-silent in the face of repeated AP et ilk recitations of “millions of Palestinian refugees and their descendants from Israel’s creation.” But CAMERA just told the AP to replace (not yet sovereign) “Palestine” not with “Judea-Samaria” (which the UN itself used in 1947) but with “West Bank” or “Palestinian territories.”
If you think that the terms that we ourselves use are important, go take a look at our site, www.factsonisrael.com, where we rail against all the dirty words we can think of.
Until next week then.