Friday, October 12, 2012

The Letter They Refused to Sign

It seems to me that our political views, if they are capable of flux and change and evolution, often get rattled at particular moments due to specific events.  I wrote about this a little in a 2010 piece entitled Landmarks in which I discussed how the Mavi Marmara incident effected my perception of the progressive-left.  It was a political landmark for me and a nudge in a different direction.

If I were to chart my own political evolution over the years I would highlight growing up in the aftermath of the Vietnam War, the Bush administration's reaction to 9/11, the realization of the hatred spit at Israel from elements on the progressive-left, and, most recently, my developing criticisms of the Jewish left.

Like the other aspects, this last thing has a number of "landmarks" associated with it in my personal experience.  One of these was the refusal of many Jewish "progressives" of my acquaintance to sign a letter of condolence to Tamar Fogel, that I forwarded to them, after the murder of her family by Palestinian Jihadis.  The letter, which I am reprinting in full below, was written by Professor Denis MacEoin, a scholar in the fields of Arabic, Persian and Islamic Studies, and the editor of The Middle East Quarterly.

At the time, I was just horrified at the Fogel murders and particularly at the fact that the Palestinian Jihadis who perpetrated them cut the head off of a three month old baby girl.  Nothing in this world seemed more natural to me than to sign a letter from a distinguished and respected scholar to the twelve year old daughter of the victims.  And I know that at some point she received that letter and there were hundreds, if not thousands, of names from Jews and non-Jews all around the world letting her know that people cared.  I very much hope that Tamar read those names, because one of them is mine.

So, when our "progressive Zionist" friends refused to sign this letter, I was quite taken aback.

I was, in fact, both horrified and disgusted.

My thought at the time was that if these people, these Jews, will not stand in solidarity with that little girl then they stand for nothing and can be counted on for nothing.  Sadly, from that moment to this moment, little has happened to alter that perception.

The reason they refused to sign the letter, I feel reasonably certain, is because Tamar is a Jew who lives in "the West Bank" and MacEoin refers to her place of residence, Itamar, as "Jewish land."

That's it.  That's all it took for these particular Jewish leftists to refuse a gesture of friendship and condolence and solidarity with a young Jewish girl who had just lost her family to murderers.  She and her family had the temerity to live where Barack Obama and Mahmoud Abbas do not want Jews to live.

I cannot even find the words to express my absolute disgust at these heartless Jewish "progressives."

Here is the letter:

An open letter to Tamar Fogel, by Denis MacEoin (April 2011)

Dear Tamar,

We have never met, nor are we likely to. I am not a Jew nor an Israeli, though for many years I have defended both Jews and Israelis from the physical and political attacks that are made on them. I live in England, though I’m Irish. The Irish used to be great enemies of the English, who did bad things to us, but who gave us their language, something in which we excel. But many years ago, long before you were born, the enmity between the Irish and the English faded. We are not the same people, but we no longer hate each other, and the English Queen will soon make her first visit to Ireland, in a gesture that the past is past, that we are now allies, not enemies.

The most important for you is to be sure that the only guilty parties were the terrorists who carried out the slaughter. And I need not tell you that these were not the first Palestinian terrorists to take out their hate, their resentment, and their jealousy on helpless Jews living on Jewish land.

I have watched you in two videos, the first time when Binyamin Netanyahu came to visit you and your grandparents, and I still remember the force with which you challenged him, such an important man and such a young girl. And after that your tears. It seemed to me then, and it seems to me now that the dead are at peace, and your two living brothers may grow up with less dark memories, but that you above all are old enough and aware enough to carry the most terrible memories through the rest of your life.

But I also saw a second video in which you spoke to a reporter from Israeli National Television, and here your tears gave way to a most articulate, awesomely mature, and moving assertion of your right to live in Samaria. I wish every Palestinian could watch that video with an Arabic voice-over. Perhaps there and then they might see that their fight against Israel is worthless, that you will never surrender, that you will not let yourselves be led to the slaughter as happened all those years ago.

Rabbi Chaim Potok once wrote that there are no more gentle Jews. He did not mean that Jews are no longer kind or good, but that they now know how to fight back. Kol Hakavod for every word you spoke.

You will grow up among strong people, and you will finally marry and have children of your own. That may seem far off to you, but to someone much older like myself, it will happen in no time at all. When that happens, and when your two brothers find wives and have children, there will soon be more Fogels than before. They cannot substitute for the dead, but they can stand up and speak for them down the long years to come. Your life, however much you may wish it otherwise, will be overshadowed by the terrible event that has fallen on you. You will ask questions and you may find answers.

After the Shoah, many rabbis tackled the question of hester panim, asking why HaShem had seemed to turn his face away from his people. I am not a Jew, and I cannot provide easy answers to those questions. You must seek your own answers from your rabbis and in your scriptures.

One answer may be found in a short sound recording that was made in Belsen shortly after its liberation by British forces. It was made by the BBC and contains at the end description of a Shabbat service held by a British rabbi, at the end of which the survivors stand and sing HaTikva. They are weak, they are out of tune, some of them will still die: but they are singing in open defiance of the very great Nazi evil that had overwhelmed them and their families. Three years after that, the state of Israel was established.

I’m writing, first because I’m a writer and that’s how I express my feelings best. But also because I want to convey just how many people’s thoughts are with you. You have your grandparents and aunts or uncles, and after that you have your small and concerned community of I’timar, but beyond that you have a world of people, Jews and non-Jews, who stand with you in your grief. We feel helpless, not knowing what we can or should do to help, yet longing to do so.

How many people can say they truly love the murderers who came to your house that night? Some may hand out candies and dance in the streets, but how meaningful is that? They love themselves and their own dreams of glory, but who can truly love men of blood, people who kill infants in their cradles?

For you the greatest problem of the next few years may be this: you are still a child and you deserve to be reading funny books and watching films and playing games and going to your youth club; but many will treat you as an adult before you are entirely ready for adult responsibilities. You do seem older than your years, but you should not be rushed into adulthood. I am sure your grandparents and others will understand this and will do their best to protect you from those who want to take your childhood away from you.

Enough of the advice! Everyone likes to give advice. You don’t have to listen to any of it, and advice isn’t really the reason I’ve written. You are in my thoughts and in the thoughts of millions of other people because the murder of your family has gone so deeply into so many people’s hearts. The list of atrocities carried out on Jews, not just in Israel but beyond, is very long. As a result, it’s easy to let them all blur together into one mass. But every so often one death or a group of deaths stands out and demands special attention.

One day there will be a memorial to the sacrifice your family made. People from far away may come to visit it. Photographs of it will appear in the press. But the true memorial will be you, an ordinary girl, with a torn heart and a wounded soul, going to school, going to shul, making friends, baking bread, sewing, cooking, reading, blushing when a certain young man comes to speak to you, going to Kever Yosef to marry him, giving birth to your first child.

I just mean to say that no-one expects from you heroic deeds, no-one wants you to have to shoulder resistance to all the evils you know better than most. It is your ordinary deeds, the day-to-day living of an ordinary life that are for the creators of horror the most painful thing of all, that Jews will continue to live on land sanctified by Jewish blood.

At the end of that recording made in Belsen, someone calls out ‘Am Yisrael Chai’. By living, the killers only bring eternal disgrace on themselves, their families, and everyone who shelters them. By living, you make clear to everyone that the People of Israel live, that their light will not be snuffed out, and that when your enemies have gone to dust and seen a darkness beyond measure engulf them, the light of the Jews will illuminate the nations. Grow and be happy and tell us what you see on your journey.

Denis MacEoin


  1. Wow, what can I say?

    Mike, thank you for posting this letter by Denis MacEoin.

    I hadn't seen it previously.

    It has moved me literally to tears and my head is full of so many questions that need to be answered and which I know there are no answers for.




  2. Mike, yes I am aware I owe you an email by the way!

    A tit-bit about the liberation of Bergen-Belsen by British Forces. One of the regiments was the 23rd Hussars. My late father-in-law was one of the men in that regiment.

    He suffered bad nightmares about it until he died around 10 years ago, aged 93.

    We all know the horrors of the Camps, but to hear it from a person who had no idea what he was about to confront, is really something else

  3. I missed this at the time. What a beautiful letter.

    Of course they would refuse to sign.

    They could never admit that these kids were murdered on their own land where they were for all of their short innocent lives.

    I plead guilty to underestimating the significance of leftist anti Israel Jews.

    I thought that their existence confirmed the inherent liberalism, breadth, free thought and essential decency of both Israel and the culture and therefore proved the case against them in the eye of the proverbial reasonable person tapping away on a tablet on a passing bus on the way to work.

    Also I didn't think that the fact that they were Jews was not only not particularly relevant but wouldn't be perceived as essentially relevant. To do so is a form of prejudice. A reasonable observer surely can see that.

    To give special emphasis to one person's views on Israel because he is a Jew while discounting or disregarding another person's views because she is a Jew.

    What would you call that?


    Hi ya Shirl!

    1. Hi Geoff
      Sorry not to have been in touch. I've been flat out. So what's new.

      This is from a young Samoan friend, who loves Israel more than many Jews, especially those on the left

      Hi Shirlee,

      So sad. Even after the few years I've had loving Israel, I'm still stunned that progressive, leftist Jews can be so vehemently volatile towards Israel. Even so much as to become heartless as the blog described :(

      Pray you are well dear lady xxx