Last week, Chabon and his wife, author Ayelet Waldman, published an open letter to "our fellow Jews, in the United States, in Israel, and around the world." The letter was born following the neo-Nazi march in Charlottesville and US President Donald Trump's response to the events, with Waldman and Chabon calling on Jews who hold senior positions in the Trump administration to resign, and advisiing Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, to get away from their father/-in-law. The advice they give to Ivanka is especially harsh: "Allow us to teach you an ancient and venerable phrase, long employed by Jewish parents and children to one another at such moments of family crisis: I’ll sit shiva for you. Try it out on your father; see how it goes."
The letter, however, drew my attention because of another paragraph, addressed to Jews who explain their support for Trump through the support he might give Israel. "You have viewed him as a potential friend to Israel, or a reliable enemy of Israel’s enemies," they write. "Sheldon Adelson and our other fellow Jews still engaged in making the repugnant calculation that a hater of Arabs must be a lover of Jews, or that money trumps hate, or that a million dollars’ worth of access can protect you from one boot heel at the door: Wise up."
One can argue with the degree of emotion that the two authors invest in their fight against Trump's embarrassing statements. Simcha Erlich, who served as finance minister in Begin's first government, once admitted in a moment of candor: "I don't say what I mean, and I don't mean what I say." Trump could use this statement in his next tweet.
But it is hard to dispute their claim that many Jews, in Israel and around the world, think that hating Arabs purifies and and all vermins, be they a neo-Nazi, a Ku Klux Klan member or a Hungarian fascist. If they hate Arabs they must therefore be a Jew lover and loyal supporter of the State of Israel.
Wrong, wrong, wrong. This perception is indicative of historical shortsightedness and even worse, a morality system that has gone off the rails. There seems to be no escape from concluding that while Islamic terrorism may have been defeated in battle, it won out within our consciousness. It caused reivers of blood to pour through the Arab world, sowing separation, fear and hatred while not winning a single achievement for Islam, while the West became racist as a result. Rather, it revived racism, which had been suppressed after the defeat of Nazi Germany, and made it the norm. Trump is not a racist; he is worse than a racist—he is an ignorant populist who caters to his voters.
But where are we in this story? Unfortunately, nowhere good. Terrorism has also made racism the norm in the state of the Jewish people. Racism flows through social networks, radio talk shows, politicians' statements. I find it in my Inbox. Readers may watch videos from the neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville, but their ears are deaf to the voices calling out "Jews will not replace us." Their hearts are with the white man who believes in the superiority of his own race, not with the black man or the Jewish liberal demonstrating against him. The white man is correct, he's one of us. The black man is different, he's a leftist, a traitor.
This is odd, because the attitude toward others in Israel has not been cut in the past according to the boundaries of the right and left. You could find the hatred of Arabs on the left and on the right. And you could find a true willingness to live together on the left and on the right. Reuven Rivlin, Mosha Arens, and Yoel Ben-Nun represent the Right's legacy no less, and perhaps more so than Miri Regev or Yariv Levin. One can support the unity of Israel without being a racist; and it is possible to support a withdrawal to the 1967 lines and to be a sworn racist.
The settlements and territories have long ceased to be at the heart of this debate: most Israelis do not care them either way. The debate is about what defines us—is a love for Israel, or a hatred of Arabs? The choice is ours.