This post was first published on February 27, 2002
For the past couple of months, I’ve noticed that Qatar turns up regularly in my web stat demographics. It may be a spider; it may be a spammer using someone else’s IP address. But it just may be someone from the from the State of Qatar who reads my weblog. And if it is, there are so many things I wonder about that person. Qatar is 95% Muslim; there is no Jewish population at all that I can discover, and aside from knowing that Al Jazeera is based there, and that it’s a Persian Gulf state whose main industry is oil, we’ve hit the limits of my knowledge of Qatar
But I wonder many things about my visitor.
You figured out in the last few days that I, like Danny Pearl, am a Jew. Does it bother you to know that I’m Jewish? Does it make a difference in the way you perceive my words? Do you hate me now that you know? Will you stop reading a weblog written by a Jew? Do they hate Jews in Qatar?
Would you kill me because I am Jewish?
Here in America, I learned early about hatred. A boy in my fifth-grade class called me a "jewbagel" one day. I didn’t know what it meant, but I was pretty sure it wasn’t a compliment. I told the teacher; he apologized to me and got detention. It was my first experience with anti-Semitism, but not my last.
I have worn a Star of David as long as I can remember. It is a part of my identity. Unless I say otherwise, it is the only way you can tell I am a Jew, because I don’t "look" Jewish, and I don’t have a Jewish-sounding last name, and I don’t speak in "Jewish" inflections except when I’m at a large family gathering. But all you have to do is glance at the hollow of my throat, and you will see a six-pointed Magen David that shouts to the world: Yes, I am a Jew.
In college, my then-best friend introduced me to some new people–a group of Iranians attending her school on student visas. I was polite and welcoming to them, but whenever Mary Jo left the room, they would speak to each other in Farsi and look at me strangely. I knew what the looks meant, if not the words, and grew immediately uncomfortable. When I told my friend that her new buddies didn’t like me because I am Jewish, she told me it was my imagination. After a few more experiences like that, I decided that when she wanted to spend time with her Iranian friends, she would do it without me.
The first time they spent an evening without me, they apparently filled her in on the evils of having a Jew for a friend. It hadn’t been my imagination. It never is. You can’t disguise hatred, particularly to the object of your hate.
That was the last time my friend saw the Iranian students socially.
Did I mention that she’s Polish? There’s an interesting story to that. When we first met as teenagers, our parents didn’t want us to be friends.
My mother didn’t want me hanging around with a Pole. Her father didn’t want her hanging around with a Jew. We just ignored our parents until they stopped behaving like idiots–which they did. Another of my closest friends was Polish, too. His parents were from the old country, but they didn’t seem to have a problem with their son and me being friends. And my dearest friend now is of German descent. That’s three deep friendships I made with people who, had each of us been in Europe instead of America, would probably have never crossed paths–let alone been allowed to be friends.
Is that it? Do you hate us because you don’ t know us? But you used to have large Jewish populations in the Arab world; most have since emigrated or been driven out. Unless the government wanted to persecute the Jews–like they did in Syria. I don’t understand the logic behind not allowing them to leave, but then, I don’t understand anti-Semitism at all.
Some people claim it isn’t anti-Semitism, it’s anti-Zionism. It’s the biggest lie of the 20th century, and working its way into the 21st. You can’t separate Jews from Israel. If Zionism has evolved from "the national movement for the return of the Jewish people to their homeland" to the support for the State of Israel, then Anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism under a new name. When Muslim speakers intertwine "Zionists" with "Jews" or "Israelis", they are speaking the language of hate.
And that language of hate—you’re teaching it to more than just your children. You’re teaching it to me and mine. You’re making me remember that I can be singled out and murdered because I am a Jew. Like the millions who died during the Holocaust. Like Leon Klinghoffer on the Achille Lauro. Like the Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics. Like the Jewish passengers on the hijacked Air France plane that landed in Entebbe Airport. They freed all the non-Jewish passengers and kept only the Jews. Do you remember that? I’ve never forgotten. It was a lesson thrust home well; I flew a lot in those days and often wondered if I would have the time to hide my Star of David if my plane was ever hijacked. Or if I could actually do such a thing. Survive a liar or die a Jew? God willing, I will never have to choose. Because I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t survive the choice.
Am I saying that I hate you because you’re from Qatar? No. I don’t hate you because you’re from Qatar. I don’t hate Arabs because they’re Arabs, or Muslims because they’re Muslims. I hate the people who hate me. They have taught me how to hate. I can tell in a moment. Sadly, I have far too much experience with hatred.
And so, my reader in Qatar, I stand openly and solidly with Danny Pearl and the millions of others who died for this reason, and this reason alone:
Yes, I am a Jew.