A Letter to My Arab Friends

by brian newman

The first time I met Nabil ( a Lebanese Arab who had grown up in England) I was stunned by his graciousness. He knew I am Jewish and yet treated me with respect and a warm embrace.

Nabil turned my world upside down. I was raised to believe that all Arabs hated all Jews, and we openly returned the sentiment. The past two decades has been a journey of my changing worldview.

  1. We Jews are the new Goliath, disguised in David’s clothes. In the past 70 years we Jews (and especially the state of Israel) have become wildly strong and powerful. Look at our military forces, armored vehicle carriers, and the F-16 fighter aircraft that strafe the skies above your countries. Ironically, we are like Goliath, that greatest of Philistines who appeared all-powerful. The problem is that we believe we are more like the shepherd boy David. We have been the underdog for many decades and centuries and have not adjusted our worldviews to the 20th century realities of being supported and funded by the most powerful military on earth.
  2. We are deeply concerned with our ethnic preservation. We have an overwhelming narrative centered in persecution over many centuries, and this makes us somewhat obsessed with our ethnic preservation. Sometimes we even go so far as to have a Darwinian view of this preservation. It goes something like this, “Eat, or be eaten.” I can and do relate to this worldview. But I do not understand why my people cannot allow other people to have the same obsession. It is as if we are saying, “We must look out for our survival, you must not look out for yours.”
  3. We have not learned to dialog without it coming back to the Holocaust. In some ways the Holocaust never ended for the Jews. We wonder who are the next Nazis who want to exterminate us. Most of my father’s family were rounded up in eastern Hungary, put on a transport train to Auschwitz, and killed there. My grandmother’s five brothers and sisters, their spouses and all except two of the children and grandchildren were either shot or gassed. I know this narrative all too well. The real question is whether I will allow this narrative to define and shape my very being or not. To the extent that Jews learn to move beyond the Holocaust (while still remembering it) we can learn to enter into real relationship and dialog with other people. Of course the opposite is true as well.
  4. We have replaced God with gods — power, money, fame, and influence. The greatest command for the Jew is the “shema,” from Deuteronomy 64–5: “Hear, O Israel, the Lord your God the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” As a people we have strayed far, far away from this command. The 14 million Jews in the world are disproportionately represented in politics, business, finance, and the entertainment industry. Why? Because we have substituted these “gods” (that which is penultimate) for THE God, the One whose name, YHWH, cannot even be pronounced (that which is Ultimate). Until and unless the Jewish people re-prioritize these other gods for THE God I am quite sure we will not be good neighbors with you. For that I am deeply, deeply grieved.
  5. In the deepest recesses of our hearts we want peace with you, our Arab brothers and sisters. We Jews are a restless people. Even though we have settled the land and built a Jewish great society in many ways, we are not at peace with ourselves, with you our Arab neighbors, or with the world at large. Deep in our hearts we are seeking true Shalom, but it is elusive to us. We do not want pity or an easy way out of this. We do hope you can be patient with us as we wander and seek and question.

Some Jewish people (and supporters of Israel) who read this letter will be offended and will disagree vehemently with me. I respect your right to disagree. But as a Jew myself, and having interacted with many, many Jews in my time, I believe these five issues are some of the realities we live with as a people. Hopefully they help you, our Arab brothers and sisters, understand us better. I hope we can learn to understand your perspectives better as well.

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