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When Jacob returned to Israel after twenty-two years of being a minority in the city of Haran, where his uncle Laban lived, he said “I sojourned with Laban . . . and I acquired oxen and donkeys, flocks, manservants, and maidservants.[1]
Why did he announce that he had sojourned with Laban, …

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Home » Politics, Vayetze

Vayetze: Modern Antisemitism

Submitted by on December 4, 2005 – 3:29 am2 Comments | 2,902 views

Discrimination

I recently entered a shoe repair shop and asked for a quote on a minor repair job. I was surprised by the relatively high quote and explained that I had never been quoted so steep a price. The proprietor asked if I was Jewish. When I asked him to explain he said that Jews are always looking for a bargain.

I calmly informed him that his comments were discriminatory and that I would not patronize his shop under these conditions. The man politely shook my hand and sent me on my way. He never acknowledged, nor understood, that his remarks were offensive.

In retrospect, I should not have been surprised nor should I have taken offense. The fact that a Jew is blamed for an injustice done to him is not novel. Our Patriarch Jacob suffered the same ignoble treatment.

Audacious Duplicity

Laban and his nephew Jacob entered into a business arrangement. Jacob would shepherd Laban’s flock for seven years and Laban would, in turn, consent to a marriage between Jacob and Laban’s younger daughter, Rachel. (1)

Jacob kept faith and worked for seven full years. On the wedding night, Laban switched the bride and delivered his older daughter, Leah, but because the ceremony was held in the dark, Jacob remained unaware of the deception. When he awoke in the morning and discovered that he was wed to Leah, he demanded an explanation.

What was Laban’s response? Did he apologize for the deception? Did he acknowledge that he had wronged Jacob? No, he did not. What did he say? He admonished Jacob for his rudeness. “In our locale it is not customary to marry the younger sister before the older one.”

Laban accused Jacob of dishonor while he himself donned a false mantle of chivalry. Jacob had purchased the rights of the first born from his older brother Esau and conspired to receive the blessings his father reserved for his older brother. Laban chided Jacob about this, saying that a man who had conspired to replace his older brother could be expected to place Rachel ahead of her older sister. Alas, he said, this is not our custom. We in Haran are honorable gentlemen and cannot abide such dishonor. (2) (3)

Laban shamelessly deceived Jacob and audaciously pinned the blame on the victim. His duplicity set the tone for history and his ancient rhetoric has become a hallmark for the foreign policies most countries employ in their relations with modern-day Israel. (4)

Betrayed by the UN

Modern antisemitism learned well from Laban. In the summer of 1956, in an effort to stem the flood of Mujahedin terrorists into Israel, Israel joined Great Britain and France in a march across the Sinai peninsula. After the war, an agreement was reached through the agency of the United Nations by which Israel would surrender its position in the Sinai and an international peace-keeping force would be deployed to the region to ensure stability and security.

In a document dated August 5, 1958, former Secretary General Dag Hammarskjold proclaimed that the Egyptian government had committed to bring any request for a UNEF withdrawal before the General Assembly and to abide by its determination.

Ten years later, on May 16, 1967, the Egyptian Foreign Minister, Mahmoud Riad, sent a cable to U Thant, then Secretary General of the United Nations, to inform him that the government of Egypt had decided to “terminate the presence of the United Nations Emergency Force from Egypt and the Gaza Strip.”

Mr. Thant, with no prior consultation, agreed to remove the UNEF from the Sinai. Israel’s former Foreign Minister, Abba Eban, called it a removal of “one of the modern antisemitismfew safety valves that had prevented explosions in the Middle East for the previous ten years.”

Israel filed a strongly worded objection but was met with a response similar to the one  our Patriarch Jacob received from Laban. Mr. Thant replied that he had on his own cognizance rescinded the agreement because it was inconsistent with international law. He was effectively saying that even if the removal enabled Egypt to declare war against Israel, he would not breach UN protocol.(5)

Mr. Chuvakhin, the Russian Ambassador to Israel, declared that Israel was responsible for the current crisis because of its aggressive propaganda and belligerent rhetoric. Addressing the removal of the Emergency Force, he said, “The presence of a United Nations force on the territory of any state is depended on the free consent of that state.” (6)

Just like Jacob, Israel was clearly victimized by Egypt and the UN and was told that its objection was immoral and illegal. Furthermore, it was told that it had brought this crisis upon itself.

A Modern Betrayal

One would hope that we would have learned our lesson from history, but it appears that our travails are not over yet. In the summer of 2005, having turned the Gaza Strip over to the very people who declared their intention to murder Jews, the Israeli Government was pressured to abdicate control over the Rafiach border crossing between Egypt and Gaza. This, despite tangible evidence that ammunition and explosives are routinely smuggled through this crossing.

The United States forced an Israeli agreement to open the border and allow free access to all. According to the agreement, closed-circuit cameras would be installed at the crossing and all Israeli concerns about suspicious border crossings would be presented to the European Union for final arbitration.

Once again, the Jewish people were told to place their destiny in the hands of peacekeeping forces who, possibly with the best of intentions, have let us down before. Those who object are accused of curbing Palestinian freedoms, while concerns about Jewish lives are dismissed as insignificant and branded a burden to the peace process.

There is not a single country in the world who would hand authority over existential issues to avowed enemies. Nations that respond forcefully against terrorism in their own countries rise to the heights of hypocrisy when they condemn Israel for doing the same. The nations of the world treat us today as Laban treated Jacob thousands of years ago.

Jacob humored Laban because it was only a matter of working seven more years to marry Rachel. Are we permitted to humor the modern Laban when Jewish lives hang in the balance?

Footnotes

  1. Genesis 29: 18-28.
  2. Commentary of Ksav Sofer and Beis Halevi, ibid. (R Avraham Shmuel Binyamin Sofer, Pressburg, 1815-1879. R. Yoseph Ber Soloveitchik, Slutzk,1820- 1892)
  3. Furthermore, Laban was not in this alone. He recruited the entire guest list to join in the deception. He informed them that Jacob planned to depart Haran soon after the wedding. When they complained that Jacob’s presence in the region brought blessing upon the entire region, Laban suggested that they join in the duplicitous conspiracy. They manipulated Jacob, a man they acknowledged to be of superior spiritual value.
  4. It has long been said that in the arena of international diplomacy there is no such thing as friendship, only national interests. This adage seems especially true of the way nations develop foreign policy towards Israel.
  5. Immediately following the removal of the UN forces, Egypt moved to blockade the Straits of Tiran, an action which led directly to the Six-Day War. There is no telling if the presence of the UNEF could have prevented this war, but U Thant’s self-righteous justifications are incriminatory.
  6. Personal Witness by Abba Eban, published by G.P. Puttnam Sons, 1992, New York, pp.356-360
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2 Comments »

  • Anonymous says:

    Dear Michael,
    I am glad that you took the time to write and gave me the opportunity to clarify.
    The proprieter quoted a price well above average, but when I balked at paying he accused me of being cheap. He wanted to overcharge – an injustice – and when I did not want to pay he blamed me for trying to underpay.
    In comparison to the global rise of antisemitism this story is relatively minor. I don't want to harp on this episode. I wrote about it only to make a point.

  • Anonymous says:

    Unfortunately, the entire premise upon which your article is based, is nonsense. You say in the second paragraph, 'The fact that a Jew is blamed for an injustice done to him is not novel', yet no Jew in your story has been blamed for any injustice! I read no further. Your article is contrived.
    Michael Halpern London

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