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Harris Sherline: Insight and Observations About Israel

Start with the fact that I am Jewish. However, before you discount my comments as just another biased expression of unqualified support for Israel, you might find that my experience as a largely secular American Jew may provide some insight into the issues involved in the continuing struggle between Israel, Hamas and Hezbollah.

First, some background. Personal, that is: I was born in 1928, of an American Jewish couple, whose own parents came to this country in the 1800s from Russia. My parents did not practice Judaism, they both had only a sixth-grade education, and moved to California from New York in the 1920s. I was born and raised here. I have (had) two siblings: a brother (deceased), who was 4½ years my senior, and a sister (also deceased), who was seven years older than me.

We grew up in somewhat limited circumstances during the Great Depression, and in typical middle-class conditions after World War II, and we are (were) all college grads, with professional educations in teaching, engineering and accounting, respectively.

Religion was not a part of our upbringing. Both my parents spoke Yiddish, and my mother spoke a little Russian, but there was no formal religious training. Our family settled in Los Angeles, which had a large Jewish population. I can’t say that I experienced a great deal of overtly hostile prejudice as I was growing up, although I certainly did encounter my share in my business life.

I graduated from high school in 1946. At the time the world was in the midst of trying to resolve the situation with the Jews in the Middle East, who were attempting to create a homeland for their people. I can remember many heated discussions among the Jewish students at the time about partitioning what was then part of the British Protectorate in the Middle East, to carve out the nation of Israel in the desert. But my involvement was largely peripheral. I didn’t pay a lot of attention and wasn’t particularly interested, and I hardly noticed when the nation of Israel was finally created by the United Nations in 1948.

Fast forward 64 years: Today, I am a staunch supporter of Israel.

So what happened?

On the way to arriving at my current perspective about the Jews and Israel, as I gained experience and learned more, I was influenced by some of the basic realities about the world we live in:

The fact that a Jew is largely secular and does not practice Judaism does not change the reality that the world in general considers almost everyone with Jewish ancestry to be a Jew, no matter how “Jewish” or secular they may be. Adolf Hitler and the Holocaust demonstrated that quite vividly. People may be only “half” or “one-quarter” or “one-eighth” Jewish, but when push comes to shove, they are invariably “Jewish.”

The Jews are convenient scapegoats for the transgressions or ambitions of others. How many times have you heard the claim that Jewish bankers control the world, that all Jews are rich, that they always take advantage of others, in business or otherwise (“I Jewed him down” is a common expression), that they are “Christ Killers,” that they kill Muslim children and use their blood to bake bread, that they secretly plot to control various countries, etc., etc., ad nauseum? Whatever it takes for various leaders to demagogue the Jews and divert the attention of others from their own despicable behavior.

All that’s necessary is a mix of an uninformed population, poverty and religious fanaticism to create a foundation for the endless stream of lies and distortions that are employed to make the Jews the scapegoats for everything that’s wrong with the world and the oppression of others, especially the Palestinians.

Many, probably most, Jews are not religious in the formal sense, particularly in America. However, although they may not practice Judaism and may have intermarried, many, perhaps most, still consider themselves Jewish. I am in that category. Dennis Prager has written an excellent series of articles, “Explaining Jews” (Townhall.com), which I highly recommend for those who would like to learn more about the subject.

When I was in high school in the 1940s, and even years later — at the time I was practicing public accounting in the late 1960s — Jews still were not allowed to stay in many American hotels or resorts, they were not accepted for membership in most country clubs, many companies would not hire them, including major accounting and law firms, they were not accepted by many of the most prestigious universities, and they could not buy homes in many “restricted” neighborhoods, along with suffering a host of other indignities in American society at large. In many respects, it was not much different from the prejudice against African-Americans that has plagued our society for generations, and continues to this day.

The response of American Jews was to form their own businesses, law and accounting firms, open their own country clubs, establish their own university (Brandeis), etc., thereby in some ways further defining their separation from American society in many respects.

As the years passed, I learned something about the history of the Jews and the repression and persecution they have suffered since biblical times, how they always managed to adapt and survive, how their many accomplishments have improved the world.

I learned that they face seemingly insurmountable odds, that there are only about 5 million Jews in Israel, along with about 1 million Arabs, and that there are a total of only about 13 million Jews in the world today (including Israel) vs. 250 million Arabs in 22 states who want to exterminate them.

I learned how the Jews have taken the desolate, barren desert land they were given and turned it into a modern, productive, democratic state, with the highest standard of living in the Middle East.

I also learned that prejudice and bigotry take many forms, often hiding behind a façade of seemingly being unbiased, but that the potential is always present with some people, sometimes without their even realizing it themselves. I can remember sitting in business meetings and having certain clients openly brag to their associates how shrewd they were to have hired a “smart Jew,” without ever considering how insulting that might sound. Obviously, they thought it was a compliment. They were proud of their own good sense and judgment to have me on retainer, and I always let it pass.

In the final analysis, it doesn’t really matter who’s right in the Israel-Palestine-Hamas-Hezbollah situation, because neither side will ever convince the other. The parties to the conflict make similar claims about themselves and one another:

They were on the land first, therefore it belongs to them.

The other side are “occupiers” or “squatters.”

The other side is guilty of extreme tactics, killing women and children indiscriminately, and much worse.

The other side is responsible for the repression and extreme poverty of the Palestinian and other Arab societies. The Arabs blame the Jews and the Jews blame Arab leaders for keeping their own people poverty-stricken so they could continue to divert attention from themselves by fanning the flames of hatred against the Jews.

Unfortunately, in my mind, one fact overrides all others: The Palestinians, Hamas, Hezbollah, Syria and Iran all unambiguously avow that Israel must be wiped off the map and the Jews driven into the sea. And they are aided and abetted by most other Arab-Muslim states to a greater or lesser degree: Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Libya, United Arab Emirates, etc., often speaking one way to the world in English while saying the opposite in Arabic to their own people. No matter how much they try to cover up or talk around their openly declared goal of destroying Israel and the Jews, their real intent never changes.

It has been going on this way for 64 years, and I expect it will continue thus until long after I am gone.

Finally, it is an article of Muslim faith that the Jews and all people of other religious beliefs must be converted to Islam or exterminated, a reality that neither the Jews nor the Christians throughout the world dare ignore.

— Harris R. Sherline is a retired CPA and former chairman and CEO of Santa Ynez Valley Hospital who as lived in Santa Barbara County for more than 30 years. He stays active writing opinion columns and his blog, Opinionfest.com.

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