December 10, 2007
Jewish and Arab genes

We heard the other day an interview with a university researcher who claimed to have located a part of the gene code that makes people more or less likely to be generous. He was careful to say that genetics do not determine how one will behave. There is room for education and experience to influence how one reacts to a plea for help.

When the research team finishes with generosity, I suggest that it investigate the genetic source of conscience. My suspicion is that Jews have a greater amount than other people.

How else to explain the honored place given to the biblical prophets who were shrill critics of the elites. I know of no other ritual that devotes the equivalent of the Haftorah to the likes of Amos, Hosea, Jeremiah, and Isaiah. Nothing was good enough for them. They wanted justice, defined in the most demanding of ways, with no compromise for those who were rich, occupied the highest offices, or who could sing the formal rituals of the Temple.

We have our modern equivalents. Those who attract my attention spare no adjectives to condemn sins against Arabs, while overlooking the mayhem that Arabs cause Israelis.

Ha'aretz is as good a place as any to find contemporary writing that can supply new Haftorah readings to update the tradition.

A recent example is an op-ed piece which celebrates the fact that leading Israelis cannot set foot in a number of Western European countries out of fear of being arrested as war criminals. Their crimes are having been associated with military attacks on leading figures in the war against Israel. Those Israeli attacks also caused the collateral damage of civilian deaths and injuries. (see http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/932411.html) It is a shame, according to the commentator, that the Israelis are not being tried for war crimes in Israeli courts.

A difference between this and the books of the Bible is that the ancient prophets were concerned with the moral and physical security of the Jewish people. In the op-ed piece at issue, I find no concern for the Israelis deaths that brought about the IDF's attack.

Yet another candidate for the new Haftorah is an article headlined, "Racism reaching new heights in Israel, civil rights group says"
(http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/932390.html) It summarizes the annual report of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, issued to coincide with Human Rights Week.

Among its findings are a rise in anti-Arab incidents, and public opinion surveys that find substantial numbers of Israelis with negative opinions about Arabs, do not want Arabs living near them, would not invite an Arab to their homes, do not believe that Arabs should have equal rights, and are inclined to promote the emigration of Arabs from Israel.

The full report of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, available only in Hebrew, (http://www.acri.org.il/story.aspx?id=1630), documents numerous other faults. It begins with a segment on the rights of Israelis to obtain medical treatment. This sets the tone of hyperbolic accusations that do not pause for detail. The claim that hospital facilities are the worst of Western countries, and that poor Israelis and especially Israeli Arabs lack equal medical opportunities is out of step with the universal coverage of Health Maintenance Organizations, as well as waiting times to see specialists or arrange operations substantially less that the norms in Great Britain or Canada. Americans stuck with no insurance, or stingy coverage, sizable deductibles and co-pays, would welcome the opportunity to become poor Israelis or Israeli Arabs.

The Biblical prophets may have been right. The kings and other elites of the Jews may have been as self-serving as other elites in ancient and not-so-ancient times. Modern Israel is no Paradise on Earth. There is meanness, exploitation, and inequality. Few of us love our neighbors as ourselves.

No less extreme than these faults, however, is that we are outspoken in criticism of ourselves. Perhaps there is a gene involved in our conscience that inclines us to be unlike others.

If it is a matter of genes, it appears that our Arab neighbors have an opposite kind of DNA. There is no evidence of a conscience gene in what they write and say. Quite the contrary. They claim a monopoly of having suffered at the hands of others. Guess who is responsible? If a researcher dares conclude that some or many of the "Palestinians" came from elsewhere, that is a frontal assault on their narrative. By their story, all of them have been here for ever. The Jews are the interlopers, with a doubtful story of being here in the distant past. Should they be pressed with details, they can cite Muslim tradition that it was Ishmael who Abraham went to sacrifice, and the event took place near Mecca. Israel as a Jewish state? Impossible. That violates the rights of Arabs. The claims of Jews who left Arab countries under pressure? They left of their own volition. The Arabs who left Israel during the War of Independence? All of them were hounded out or worse. Arab attacks on Jews and the missiles fired toward Sderot? The inalienable rights of resisting Jewish conquest. Israel's development? The rape of Arab land. The military responses of the IDF? Violations of Arab human rights.

Is it any wonder that not all of us love our neighbors? Perhaps the gene of conscience, which we may have in excess, has not worked its power against Jewish experience.

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at December 10, 2007 11:17 PM