Steve Sachs Duke


Tuesday, October 14, 2003


The double standard: Another trip update--on a day spent in Budapest, I visited the Dohany Synagogue, the second largest in the world. Although it's been substantially renovated, the original late 19th-c. walls are, remarkably, still standing. The synagogue wasn't damaged by the Nazis because the Gestapo used it as a headquarters, and it wasn't bombed by the Allies because it was a synagogue. Although it's designed like a cathedral (the architects didn't know how to build anything different), it's a beautiful place of worship, and a reminder of how vibrant Jewish life in Europe had been before the catastrophe.

As I had half expected, the synagogue complex is surrounded by an iron gate, and those entering are required to pass through a metal detector. At first, I didn't think much of it; various security precautions aren't that unheard of for synagogues, and this was a landmark.

But then it started to worry me. Why should I expect this? When's the last time you went through a metal detector to enter a church? The fear isn't limited to tourist destinations; why should the Hillel on Harvard's campus, of all places, need extra police protection during the High Holidays? Why should a concern for random physical violence be almost normal for synagogues, something you often don't notice and don't find unusual?

It was hard to think about such questions without recognizing something I had never really considered--the "double standard." The Russian Orthodox diaspora, for example, doesn't live in fear for what Yeltsin and Putin have done to the Muslims of Grozny. And the evidence for deliberate and calculated attacks on innocent civilians is far, far better in the case of Chechnya than in the Occupied Territories. Why are true accounts of massacres in Chechnya (including threats to "exterminate" the civilian population) so quickly forgotten, while erroneous accounts of massacres in Jenin are remembered so clearly?

Obviously, these questions are just rhetorical; there are plenty of symbolic as well as power-politics reasons why the U.N. and others ignore Chechnya and focus on Palestine. And I certainly don't intend to justify all of Israel's actions, some of which (though only some) are indeed reprehensible, by claiming that "Everyone's doing it." But Jews aren't Israel, even if most Israelis are Jews. Why, then, does it seem like no surprise if innocent individuals are held responsible (even viciously murdered) for the actions of their co-religionists? (And this in the heart of Europe?)

I don't think the answer can be found in international politics, but only in something much darker. Those Parisian Jews who marched against the war were still beaten for looking Jewish. Yet the near-universal response--to change the subject to Israel's actions, to accept without question that Jews everywhere bear the blood guilt for Israel's sins--is nothing more than blaming the victim. It is deeply worrying to live in a world where this, too, is just to be expected.




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