Many a modern Indian politician’s claim to shame has been built on a pathological prejudice towards Islam and Muslims. But what about anti-semitism—described as a “hostility towards Jews as a religious, racial or ethnic group”?
Are Indians ill-disposed towards Jews and the state of Israel, or not—my enemy’s enemy is my friend and all that?
The question pops up courtesy of Arun Gandhi, the fifth grandson of the Mahatma, who is a professor at the University of Rochester. Arun Gandhi’s comments in a Washington Post blog last Monday was raising a few Jewish hackles even as Harbhajan Singh was attracting an ICC ban for “racist” comments.
Gandhi wrote (emphasis added):
“Jewish identity in the past has been locked into the holocaust experience—a German burden that the Jews have not been able to shed. It is a very good example of a community can overplay a historic experience to the point that it begins to repulse friends. The holocaust was the result of the warped mind of an individual who was able to influence his followers into doing something dreadful.
“But, it seems to me the Jews today not only want the Germans to feel guilty but the whole world must regret what happened to the Jews. The world did feel sorry for the episode but when an individual or a nation refuses to forgive and move on the regret turns into anger.
“The Jewish identity in the future appears bleak. Any nation that remains anchored to the past is unable to move ahead and, especially a nation that believes its survival can only be ensured by weapons and bombs.
“In Tel Aviv in 2004 I had the opportunity to speak to some Members of Parliament and Peace activists all of whom argued that the wall and the military build-up was necessary to protect the nation and the people.
“In other words, I asked, you believe that you can create a snake pit—with many deadly snakes in it—and expect to live in the pit secure and alive? What do you mean? they countered. Well, with your superior weapons and armaments and your attitude towards your neighbors would it not be right to say that you are creating a snake pit? How can anyone live peacefully in such an atmosphere? Would it not be better to befriend those who hate you? Can you not reach out and share your technological advancement with your neighbors and build a relationship?
“Apparently, in the modern world, so determined to live by the bomb, this is an alien concept. You don’t befriend anyone, you dominate them. We have created a culture of violence (Israel and the Jews are the biggest players) and that Culture of Violence is eventually going to destroy humanity.”
Arun Gandhi has since gone on to tender an apology for “my poorly worded post”:
“While I stand behind my criticisms of the use of violence by recent Israeli governments — and I have criticized the governments of the US, India and China in much the same way… I do not believe and should not have implied that the policies of the Israeli government are reflective of the views of all Jewish people.”
On the blog Desert Peace, Dr Efraim Zuroff, the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Israel director, has gone on to interpret Arun Gandhi’s comments as anti-semitism. Its piece titled “Grandson of Mahatma Gandhi an anti-semite?” has been one of the top posts on WordPress the past two days:
“Arun Gandhi’s thoughts on “Jewish identity” are “exceptionally strange, especially in light of the fact that there’s never been any history of anti–Semitism in India and among Hindus.”
“According to Zuroff, the notion that Jewish identity is “locked into” the Holocaust and causes resentment, coupled with the statement that “Israel and the Jews are the biggest players” in a “culture of violence [that] is eventually going to destroy humanity,”clearly amount to anti–Semitism.”
Have we reached a point where Israel cannot in any way be criticised? Does the special status they seem to want as a nation include the condemnation of all opinions against their policies?