"Antisemites are not your friends". That was the message that Uri Avnery and Yossi Sarid told their respective audiences as they watched the spectacular box-office success of Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ”. The interesting thing is that their message was identical, but their intended readership was very different.
Israeli MK and former Meretz leader, Yossi Sarid, was addressing his comments to the readers of Ha’aretz, particularly those Jewish readers who welcome the support that American Christian fundamentalists give to the Israeli government in its conflict with the Palestinians, but turn a blind eye to the reasons why those fundamentalists offer it. (Namely, because they believe that only when the Jews of the diaspora are ingathered to a Muslim-free Greater Israel can Jesus return to establish his rule on earth; at which point a Jewish remnant will see the error of its ways and acclaim Jesus as Messiah, while the rest of Judaism will perish. No, really.) Sarid cautions Israeli Jews about accepting the support of those whose endgoal is Jewish extinction:
The "Passion" is on its way to becoming Hollywood's number one blockbuster. From the outset, it would never have made it to the big screen unless it had a sure chance of becoming a major hit. Gibson is familiar with the American soul, with the world's soul, and he also knows for sure that a movie like this, at this time, will ride on the high waves of Christian fundamentalism in his country and in others. Without supportive surroundings, Gibson, who is not exactly known as a modern-day Shakespeare, would not have dared make this movie.
Within these surroundings are to be found the best friends of Ariel Sharon, Benjamin Netanyahu, Beni Elon, Nathan Sharansky and Effi Eitam, who are fighting fiercely, as we all know, against anti-Semitism. Sharon, Netanyahu, Elon and their friends have long entered into a blood pact, of ketchup, with the more anti-Semitic Christian groups in America, who pretend to be sworn friends of Israel….
The Israeli government's battle against anti-Semitism is hypocritical, because it is selective. We are ready to join forces with anti-Semitic zealots, even with certain Holocaust deniers, if they are just willing to support the policies of the Sharon government… With friends like these, who vote en masse for Haider and flock en masse to see Gibson's movie, there's no need for enemies; because enemies such as these friends are hoping to inherit this land in a war of Armageddon, whose advent, if it is taking time, maybe needs to be sped up.
On the other hand, Uri Avnery (chairman of Gush Shalom), directed his comments on “The Passion” to the Palestinians, in the form of an open letter to Yasser Arafat. He warned Arafat not to try to make political capital out of a movie that resurrects the blood libel of the Jews as “Christ-killers”: firstly, because it is not “the Jews” who are the enemy of the Palestinians, and secondly, because anti-Semitism hurts not only Jewish people, but has been a disaster for the Palestinians too. He reminds Arafat:
You, Mr. President, as an Arab and a Muslim, are proud of the fact that for more than a thousand years the Muslim world was a model of tolerance, toward both Jews and Christians. The Muslim world has never known mass expulsions and pogroms, that were a regular feature in Christendom, not to mention the terrible Holocaust. The blood-bond between Muslims and Jews runs through history… Let us not allow the present bitter conflict between our two peoples, with all its cruelty, to overshadow the past, because that is the basis for our common future.
The present sufferings of the Palestinian people - which we, as Israelis and Jews, oppose and fight against - have no connection with what happened - or not - some 1973 years ago. If there is any connection at all, it is the other way round. Without modern Christian anti-Semitism, the Zionist movement would not have been born at all… Anti-Semitism was and is the force that drives the Jews to Palestine.
Without anti-Semitism, the Zionist vision would have remained an abstract idea. From the pogrom of Kishinev, through the Holocaust to the anti-Semitism in Russia that has recently driven more than a million Jews to Israel - anti-Semitism was and remains the most dangerous enemy of the Palestinian people. There is much truth in the saying that the Palestinians are "the victims of the victims".
On top of all the moral reasons, this is an additional argument against a statement about the crucifixion that can be construed by anti-Semites as an encouragement for their cause. When peace comes, we shall all meet in Jerusalem, Jews, Christians and Muslims.
-- A Letter to President Arafat
So the message of both Sarid's and Avnery's articles, to Palestinians and Israeli Jews alike, is that no matter how badly you think you need friends right now, there are some friends you never need.
Why bring this up now, when "The Passion" is mercifully dropping from the radar? Well, I was reminded of it this week as I read a post by Mohsan at Je Blog, about a military cemetery being desecrated in Haguenau, northeastern France. I must admit when I read about neo-nazi graffiti being sprayed on gravestones, I assumed that I was looking at another sad story of a Jewish cemetery desecrated by followers of the far-right, as happened just a few weeks ago in nearby Colmar. But then I read Mohsan's linked story:
Les profanateurs en série ont trouvé leur terre d'élection : l'Alsace. Après — entre autres — les 50 tombes musulmanes taguées d'inscriptions néo-nazies le 13 juin dans un cimetière de Strasbourg et la profanation de 127 tombes au cimetière juif d'Herrlisheim, près de Colmar, fin avril, une cinquantaine de tombes musulmanes du cimetière militaire de Haguenau (Bas-Rhin) ont été recouvertes d'inscriptions racistes, de croix gammées et de sigles nazis tracés à l'encre rouge dans la nuit de mercredi à jeudi. Des dizaines de stèles ont aussi été jetées à terre dans ce cimetière abritant des «combattants musulmans morts pour la France» pendant la Première ou la Seconde Guerre mondiale.
Trans: The serial desecrators have found their preferred turf: Alsace. After - among others - the 50 Muslim graves sprayed with neo-Nazi inscriptions on 13 June in a Strasbourg cemetery and the desecration of 127 graves in the Jewish cemetery in Herrlisheim, near Colmar, at the end of April, about 50 Muslim graves in Haguenau military cemetery (in Bas Rhin) have been defaced with racist slogans, swastikas and Nazi symbols, written in red paint on Wednesday night [23 June]. Tens of gravestones were also overturned in this cemetery, commemorating "Muslims soldiers who died for France" during the First and Second World Wars.
If Sarid and Avnery were looking for a photo to get across their point that "these people are not your friends", they need look no further than Colmar and Haguenau cemeteries. This is what anti-semites think of Jews...
and this is what the same people really think of Muslims:
When Abu Nidal, formerly head of the PLO-General Command, died in Baghdad in August 2002 ("committed suicide by shooting himself several times in the head" as the Iraqi press agency laconically put it), Time Magazine noted that he had successfully disproved the old maxim that "The enemy of my enemy is my friend". In the west, Abu Nidal was notorious for bloody and spectacular attacks on Israeli and Jewish targets, but in the Arab world he was known for his hatred (and murder) of those PLO members who favored negotiations over force and for the fratricidal bloodletting that tore his own Palestinian faction apart. In death, he achieved the rare feat of being equally unmourned by Palestinians and Israelis alike.
Perhaps by the same token, Israelis and Palestinians might look at the photos from Haguenau and Colmar, and learn the same lesson that Abu Nidal once taught them: that sometimes the enemy of my enemy is...well, still the enemy.