The Yellow Star and the Scarlet Letter

Political historians may long debate the causal link between the Holocaust and the founding of the State of Israel. The demographic realities in 1936-1937 Palestine that compelled the Peel Commission to recommend dividing the land between Jews and Arabs then, certainly would have led to a partition plan regardless of the horrors unfolding in Nazi occupied Europe and North Africa. And yet, after the Holocaust, the founding of a Jewish State in Palestine became nothing less than an existential imperative in the minds of many of those building it.

We have just concluded a stretch of days in the Hebrew calendar that holds for us remembrances of both near annihilation and renewed life for the Jewish people. On April 16th, we marked Holocaust Remembrance Day and the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the Death Camps. On April 23rd, we celebrated the 67th anniversary of Israel's independence. Every year, I am struck by how each observance heightens the significance of the other. This year the anti-Semitism sweeping through Europe lent the week an unusual poignancy. Perhaps when one inhabits a society where living a Jewish life comes with risk, one better understands the necessity of a Jewish homeland for Jewish survival. But for American Jews too, the darkening prospects for Mideast peace, the specter of a nuclear Iran, and the relentless slander of Israel in the United Nations and on college campuses has made for a year of fitful sleep.

This week, we reach that place in the Torah cycle when the rabbis of old often spoke about the menace of slander.

The portion Tazria-Metzora concerns a mysterious skin ailment called tzara'at the ancients believed ordained from heaven as punishment for sin. In searching for the transgression which brought on the disease, our sages examined the word metzora for clues, and they scanned the Torah for instances where the term appeared. Metzora the rabbis linked with the words, motzi ra. Motzi means one who "brings forth." Ra means "wickedness." A metzora, they concluded, must be a person punished for hostile speech.

What kind of hostile speech? We read in the Torah that Miriam becomes a metzora after she and Aaron speak jealousy of Moses and maliciously about his Cushite or Ethiopian wife. So tzara'at is viewed as punishment for defamation... precisely what Israel and world Jewry continue to endure in anti-Semitism masquerading as anti-Zionism.

How should one describe a United Nations Human Rights Council that targets Israel for human rights abuses while ignoring the tyranny of its neighboring regimes if not as biased? How should one regard insinuations of divided loyalty leveled against Jewish students running in campus elections at UCLA and Stanford if not as classic anti-Semitism?

Israel's policies can be legitimately criticized by fair-minded observers, but the criticism must be legitimate and it must be fair. The UN's moralizers must insist on it. And college and university officials must rebuke any campus organizations that pervert support for Israel into a modern-day scarlet letter.

The book of Proverbs admonishes: "Death and life are in the power of the tongue." We will never silence the anti-Semitic "metzorahs" of our day. The longest hatred has proven its durability. But we can hold their calumnies up to the light and answer them with the truth, naming anti-Zionism for what it is: anti-Semitism in a most virulent form.