David Mandler

Thoughts, feelings, reactions on Hungarian, American, Israeli, Jewish issues

Month: November, 2012

Never Again? A Brief Case Against the Yellow Star of David

The yellow star of David is perhaps the most famous signifier of religious and ethnic intolerance. Resurrected from the Middle Ages and redesigned by the German Nazis in the 1940s, the yellow star functioned as a marker of Jewishness in a society that had totally assimilated and absorbed its Jewish population into the general culture. It was with the help of the yellow star that Jews were visibly set apart from the general population not only in Germany but also in all other countries infested by the spirit of Nazi hatred and its dreadful influence.

So, what is the yellow star of David doing on hundreds of Jews in Budapest today towards the end of 2012?

As a sign of protest against the virulently demented demand by a Jobbik Party member of parliament in Budapest to assess the national security risks posed by “those people of Jewish descent living here, and especially present in the parliament and government” by first putting Jews on a list, many in Budapest decided to put on the yellow star.
While the gesture of pinning the yellow star on one’s shirt is a courageous and upright move of solidarity when done by non-Jews, I cannot shrug off the more disturbing implications of such a move when done by Jews.

Embracing  the yellow star of David by today’s Jews, to me, signifies the following:

1. The perpetuation of the Jew as a victim. So, you want to put us on a list like you did in 1944? Don’t bother to search: here we are! Put us on a list. While this is an admirable initial outburst of protest, it does nothing to dispel the image of the Jew as a victim. In fact, it invites its perpetuation, for it does not present any positive form of resistance and, instead, shows a sense of self-victimization.

2. The projection of the anti-Jewish fantasy. So, this is what a Jew looks like. Dressed exactly like you but with a yellow star, the way you see black and white pictures from the 1940s. Much has happened since the 1940s. Jewish identity has undergone many changes not only in Western Europe, America, Israel but also in Hungary. From the totally assimilated person “of Jewish descent” to use the Jobbik MP’s phrase, to the Chabad Lubavitch chassid: Hungary’s Jewry has it all. Granting to the anti-Semite (or the average uninformed Hungarian spectator) the image of the Jew with the yellow star–without fully explaining what you mean by wearing it–only supplies an image of Jews as weak, victimized and pathetic attention seekers.

3. It reduces or trivializes the unspeakable pain of forcibly wearing the yellow star Hungarian patriots who were Jewish or were deemed as Jews felt in the 1940s. Here! I’m wearing the yellow star. You cannot do with me what you did to us in 1944. This, no doubt, is the intended message. Yet, wearing the yellow star voluntarily is in no way analogous to what it signified in the 1940s. In fact, it is a conscious attempt at resistance, not a painful sign of submission. Thus, this symbolic gesture of protest may inadvertently end up as a means to change retroactively the meaning of the images of Jews wearing the yellow star in the 1940s. And nothing would please the Holocaust deniers more than such a retroactive reevaluation.

4. It smacks of a performance piece that may not convey the deep hurt, pain and anger the Jobbik MP’s words have awakened in many Jews and those sympathizing with Jews. Look at me! I’m wearing the yellow star. And so? Today it’s shocking. Tomorrow, it is the norm. The shock value is gone. The worst possible thing that can come out of this is the unwitting (or willful) judgment of those whose dislike of the Jews is habitual would be for the general population in Hungary to grow desensitized to this particular symbol of intolerance and see it as a viable, living image. Today the Jews wear this yellow star with prideful resistance. What would prevent some from thinking that it is no longer a badge of shame but rather of pride, so that it could no longer be seen as being forced upon Jews sometime in the future–since they have already embraced it voluntarily–as the voices of Jew-hatred translated into more political power?

It is my view that Jews of Budapest ought to find another symbol. The yellow star of David is too charged with negativity and imbued with a projection of Nazi fantasies about Jews to be appropriated as a proud symbol of resistance. It is a poison pill, no matter who administers it. If the yellow star cannot be redesigned  in a radical way, it literally must be burnt in the streets or cut up into pieces in a dramatic move during the next protest. It should never again disfigure the shirts, jackets, or blouses of Jews who know why being Jewish is such a huge gift with enormous responsibilities; who know why being Jewish is awesome; who know why being Jewish in Hungary should be a source of pride and not of shame when considering the collective and individual contributions of Jewish Hungarians to Hungary’s culture, economy, and social institutions in general throughout the centuries.

Read my newest short story, “The Loft,” on your Kindle or other devices:  http://www.amazon.com/The-Loft-ebook/dp/B00E4WONNA/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1380505011&sr=8-1&keywords=the+loft+david+mandler


Fighting for Justice: What I Believe about Israel

Whenever Israel is attacked and ultimately decides to eliminate the source of further attacks, the world begins to pay attention. And inevitably, people who do not care to protest when hundreds are killed in Syria each day just because it is other Syrians doing the killing (and do not care when mosques are attacked in Afghanistan, Pakistan or Iraq when Muslims attack other Muslims) suddenly find their moral backbone to stand up and shout at Israel when it can no longer sit back and watch hundreds of missiles flying into Israel from Gaza each day.

I, too, cannot remain silent.

But, instead of writing a lengthy article on the subject, I’ve decided to provide my views in the form of ten credos. Here they are:

1. I believe that Jews have a historical, moral, and legal right to live in the State of Israel. While Palestinian officials have intensified their efforts to falsify history by denying the history of Jews in the land of Israel, the evidence to the contrary is overwhelming. The historic connection between the land of Israel and the Jews has been taken for granted, even by the most virulently anti-Semitic in Europe who used to shout “go back to Israel” before they “realized” that the Jews were not even at home in Israel. Furthermore, it was and is morally just for Jews– exiled in 135 CE and consistently persecuted for almost two millennia–to yearn for a return to a place that had been known as the Promised Land for thousands of years. After all, the land was promised by God to the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (Genesis 15:18-21 and Genesis 28:13). Finally, legally, the United Nations partitioned the vacated British Mandate in Palestine, setting an area of it apart for the Jews. Lastly, Jews had been purchasing sparse and uncultivated land from Arabs in Palestine for many decades prior to the establishment of the State of Israel.

2. I believe that the comparisons between European colonial enterprises of the 19th century and the resettling of Israel by Jews is grossly inaccurate and pernicious.  There have always been a small number of Jews living in the land of Israel throughout history. The 19th century Zionists, while motivated by European anti-Semitism and nationalism, never thought of Palestine as a land that should be settled by Jews in order to exploit its natural resources or cheap labor force for the benefit of a home country, but rather as the site of the ancient and future home country of the Jews. The Zionists–themselves assimilated–realized that no degree of assimilation would satisfy the host countries where Jews lived, and that only a country of their own would allow Jews to live normal lives.

3. I believe that Israel is a democratic country in which Arab Israelis, both men and women, have more rights than Arabs do in most (if not all) other Arab countries. Arabic is an official language of Israel, Arabs are members of the Knesset, the Supreme Court, and are represented in all other areas of Israeli society. In most Arab countries, the civil rights of women, gays, and minorities are severely curtailed (to put it mildly).

4. I believe that the decision of Gazans to live under a regime led by Hamas, the goal of which is to eliminate the State of Israel with violence, has directly led to their current predicament and will lead to more tragic losses on both sides. It is unrealistic to expect Israel to allow Hamas to build up an arsenal of weaponry that could be used against Israel and consistently do nothing. Yet, it has done precisely that. It is even more unrealistic to expect Israel to do nothing when Hamas and/or its minions shoots missiles at Israel. When Israel hits back at carefully selected military targets that Hamas has deliberately positioned in civilian areas, it is ultimately Hamas that bears the responsibility for civilian casualties that stem from such attacks.

5. I believe that Hamas is cynically using the civilian population of Gaza by placing its terror infrastructure in its midst in order to exploit the human misery that is unavoidably caused when Israel hits those targets. Israel uses pinpointed attacks based on actionable intelligence to eliminate substantial sources of threat against it. Israel has invested tens of millions of dollars in developing an anti-missile defense system that protects its civilians against missile attack, leading to a drastic drop in Israeli casualties. Hamas, on the other hand, has embedded its significant military capabilities in civilian areas, has positioned its launching sites in urban areas with the hopes that Israel will kill civilians. For Hamas, pictures of dead and injured Palestinian civilians is the perfect way to win the sympathies of empathetic but often woefully uninformed observers.

6. I believe that the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians can only be solved when an overwhelming majority of Palestinians in both Gaza and the West Bank of Jordan recognize, acknowledge, and learn to live with the fact that the State of Israel is the legitimate historic homeland of the Jews. If this happened, nothing would prevent Israel from extending the kind of rights Israeli Arabs enjoy in Israel. Different political formations could take place–such as the idea of a confederacy modeled after Canada or any other negotiated solution. As long as the educational system implemented by the so-called moderate Palestinian factions now in charge of the West Bank is geared toward negating the rights of Jewish Israelis living in Israel is unchanged, this will not happen.

7. I believe that Israel has given more than its share to the world in technology, disaster relief operations and medical discoveries leading to treatments. For a limited list, go to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Science_and_technology_in_Israel. Israel has sent emergency teams to every country rocked by an  earthquake or other natural disasters that allowed it to enter, whether it be Haiti, Turkey, Indonesia.

8. I believe that a country’s character is best revealed by how it treats its wounded enemies. When Israelis see injured Palestinians, they do not jump up and down from joy but rather send them to Israeli hospitals to get the best medical treatment available. That is inconceivable as a policy on the Palestinian side right now. The only Israeli in Gaza for the past number of years was the kidnapped soldier, Gilad Schalit, whose release cost Israel more than one thousand Arab prisoners.

9. I believe that under Israeli sovereignty, access to holy places in Jerusalem and elsewhere has been unrestricted in general to people of all different faiths. Furthermore, only continued Israeli sovereignty can guarantee that this remains so.  Only when the security situation dictates that the Temple Mount be restricted to Muslim worshippers–because they throw stones at Jews praying directly below at the Wailing Wall–does Israel restrict access to that site to Muslims. Christians are welcome to visit any holy site at any time because they have not been throwing stones at people praying.

10. I believe that peaceful coexistence of Arabs and Jews is not only possible but has been in place in the State of Israel since 1948. The framework under which this has happened may be extended to cover those areas that are currently not under Israeli sovereignty. An independent Palestine is not possible because Hamas totally opposes Israel’s right to exist at all. As a result, no peace treaty could ever be signed by Israel and the Palestinians because Hamas would never accede to it or abide by it even if it were ever reached between the so-called moderates in the West Bank and the Israelis. Hamas is waiting to replace Fatah in the West Bank and could do so anytime even after Israel signed a treaty with Fatah. The best one can hope for is the continuation of the current situation in which the militarily stronger party is able to maintain control over the other. It seems that only divine intervention could effect a drastic change in the hostile perceptions of the Arab masses and their European sympathizers whose aversion to the Jews has never entirely dissipated.

Nobody is happy when uninvolved civilians are killed. It is because I want to see no more casualties on either side that I hope and pray that Israel succeeds in destroying the terrorist infrastructure built by Hamas. That is the only way to restore calm (however temporary) to the citizens of Israel as well as the residents of Gaza.