They're caricatured with hooknoses and humpbacks, as sucking up a sow's excrement, murdering children for their blood in a recipe for matzoh. They're scorned for being weak and sneered at for being strong, for passivity and aggression, for segregating themselves and for assimilating to disappear among their secular neighbors. They're too studious or merely stupid, obsessed with cleanliness or living in filth, hated for their industry and reviled for their sloth. They're condemned as greedy capitalists and naive communists, as reactionaries and radicals, patriotic nationalists and secular internationalists, for being stateless and for building a thriving state.
Jews are persecuted when they don't convert and persecuted when they do. The converted are accused of hating themselves, and the unconverted are accused of hating everybody else. Seneca, the Roman tragedian, expressed annoyance at Roman Jews for their observance of a ritual Sabbath: "This meant that Jews were wasting one-seventh of their lives doing nothing."
Now the Jews of Israel, doing what they have to do to survive, are accused of "acting out of proportion" to the daily assault of Iranian rockets fired by Hezbollah to kill Jews in their homes. The Jews should show restraint. Restraint was what the Jews in Germany showed when the Nazis were organizing the Holocaust and the world wouldn't believe that what was happening was happening. Restraint is what the rest of the world showed when they dismissed a crazy Austrian paperhanger and his nutty book, "Mein Kampf." If the rest of the world was willing to ignore Hitler and his boasting and bloviating, why couldn't the Jews?
Restraint is what you show in disputes with rational people who are willing to compromise, who will give up something in return for something. But restraint can buy time for your uncompromising enemies to enable them to plot the ambush to kill you later. During the Holocaust, certain Jewish leaders, eager to show restraint by trusting their enemies, gave up lists of Jews, a few at a time, to save others a little while longer.
Ariel Sharon, showing restraint, organized the withdrawal from Gaza as a way to achieve peace through strength, a controversial idea but nevertheless credible. You could call it aggressive restraint. All that was wrong with it was that it didn't work and was perceived as weakness by the enemies of Israel. The only thing Israel got was more rockets on its cities, the elevation of Hamas to power and the kidnapping of its soldiers standing duty in Israeli territory. "When you keep pinching a lion," Jeffrey Gedmin, director of the Aspen Institute in Berlin, writes in Die Welt, the German daily, "sooner or later he'll clobber you with his paw."
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