THE MALAYSIAN PM:
THE THIN LINE BETWEEN PRAISE AND CONDEMNATION

There is a Drybones cartoon that features an Israeli reading an Arab newspaper. When asked why he is reading this newspaper, the Israeli responds that he used to read Israeli papers but, sadly, they always seemed to report bad news concerning the Jewish People. By comparison, when he reads the Arab Press, he always reads wonderful news about the Jewish People -- the Jews own the banks, the Jews control the world, etc.

The
recent remarks by the Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad can elicit a similar reaction. It is most gratifying to discover that we, the Jewish People, "invented and successfully promoted Socialism, Communism, human rights and democracy". That doesn't sound so bad, does it? But, of course, the Malaysian Prime Minister's intent was not complimentary. The strange reality is how close praise and condemnation are. Lists are sent over the internet declaring, in praise, the inordinate number of Nobel laureates that are Jewish. This same information can, unfortunately, also be used for condemnation. It is often not the assertion itself but the context and tone of the assertion that conveys the message.

This is obvious in the remarks of Mahathir Mohamad -- and a review of his words to determine his tone is most helpful in demarcating the line between praise and condemnation. This necessarily involves recognizing a distinction in values. To us, being declared the founders of democracy or the perpetrators of human rights is admirable; However, to P.M. Mohamad, they seem to be terrible crimes. We often do not recognize that people do not only disagree on methodology -- i.e. how to arrive at the good -- but even on the definition of the good. There are people who do not hate us because of a distorted concept of who we are; rather, they hate us exactly because of who we are. They violently disagree with our values -- and our only retort is to vigourously promote our values. But we must be aware that as we proclaim our values, this very same proclamation will also be used by our enemies to condemn us.

There are also, of course, people who foster hate by distorting who we are -- and the Malaysian Prime Minister also fits into this category. In continuing his statement, he explained that the Jews invented Socialism etc. "so that persecuting them would appear to be wrong, so they may enjoy equal rights with others." With these words, this Prime Minister declared us to be only self-serving, only interested in our own welfare. This is a classic distortion promulgated by our enemy. To minimize the many positive benefits that members of our people have brought to the world, those who hate us will declare that our interest was only ourselves, that if others benefited it was by accident, that the Jew has no interest in helping others. With this one sweeping distortion, an enemy can also turn praise into condemnation. We can again list the many Jewish Nobel laureates who have devoted their lives to the betterment of Mankind yet, with this one distortion, these individuals can be reduced into demonstrations of how hard Jews will work for their own selfish benefit.
Nevertheless, there is no option but to continue acting as Jews, again with the recognition that, through distortion, these very same actions will be used by our enemies to condemn us.

And, of course, the Malaysian Prime Minister also invoked the greatest distortion, that of conspiracy. He states: "With them, they have now gained control of the most powerful countries and they, this tiny nation, have become a world power." It must be that we Jews are so successful because we meet secretly and plan together to implement a plan to control the world. And this image breeds contempt and condemnation. Yet, I cannot remember the last time I went to such a meeting! What I can remember is the last time I learned Torah with others, the last time I studied values and considered seriously the purpose of life and what is expected of me in this life. The many Jews who have affected the world did not do so as part of a conspiracy but as a result, whether directly or indirectly, of a Jewish philosophical system that declared the importance of affecting this world for the better. But those who hate us cannot accept how seriously we take our studies, how important we consider knowledge and a consideration of life. To them, it cannot be a teaching that touches and permeates through individuals; it must be a conspiracy. Yet, again, we have no choice but to continue to learn as Jews even as we recognize that these very same studies will be distorted and used by our enemies to condemn us.

Rabbi Benjamin Hecht

2003 NISHMA