Rabbi Shmuley Boteach believes that men and women must learn to live together if Jews and Arabs are ever to do the same.
“Arabs and Jews are not more different than are man and woman,” said Boteach, host of The Learning Channel’s Shalom in the Home, to an audience of 180 Concordia students last Tuesday.
Accordingly, Boteach opened his presentation, which was to focus on interethnic campus conflict, by discussing relations between the sexes.
“How did people ever start hating each other so much?” Boteach asked. And while he was open to ideas from the audience, his answer was clear: When men and women stopped needing each other.
Boteach noted, by a show of hands in the auditorium, that most women value cellphones and household appliances more than they do men. “The basic bond between men and women has been eroded,” he said. “A man is like a handbag.”
But men, said Boteach, seek solely sex from a specific sort of woman. “Men are no longer attracted to womankind; they are attracted to a kind of woman.”
And men, said Boteach, needn’t be repelled by feminity. “Marriages suck when a man thinks he can learn nothing from his wife’s femininity,” he said.
In Boteach’s mind, the tenuous relationship between Jews and Arabs reflects the disconnection between men and women. Humans, he said, have lost the capacity to feel kinship with one another.
“People care only about their own: Jews care about Jews, Americans care about Americans,” said Boteach. “We only save our own skin.”
Boteach is dismayed that people aim only to tolerate other groups rather than be enriched by them. “‘Stomaching’ someone is one of the highest forms of contempt,” he said.
He admonished the Jews in the audience not to speak disparagingly of their “brothers and sisters in the Arab world,” even if Jewish and Arab politics seldom mesh. “I am sickened by Jewish remarks about Arabs,” said Boteach.
Boteach also questioned why the Arab-Israeli conflict has become the focus of campus politics at many institutions-Concordia included-when it only leads students to “argue about things they can’t resolve.”
But, said Boteach, “We can disagree without being disagreeable.”
Boteach added, though, that Arabs must contextualize the Middle East conflict if it is ever to be resolved. He noted that while Israel is often labeled an aggressor and a perpetrator of genocide against Arab nations, numbers indicate otherwise.
Since 1948, when Israel was founded, the wars it has fought against its Arab neighbours have resulted in the deaths of 50,000 Arabs. But he also pointed out that Saddam Hussein is allegedly responsible for the deaths of 1.1 million people, 800,000 of whom were Arab. “Why didn’t Arabs speak out [against this]?” asked Boteach.
If Israel were to cease existing – “If Israelis picked up and left”- the lives of its opponents in the region would not improve. “Five hundred million Arabs will still live under tyranny,” he said.
But while Boteach was adamant that “Jews need to push for Arab liberties,” he was unflinching in his loyalty towards Israel. “I would fight for Israel-but I love Arabs,” he said.
Still, Boteach was resolute in his belief that, on campus and off, Jews and Arabs can benefit from one another culturally and otherwise without compromising their respective identities and political leanings.
“I hope the Jewish students advocate for Israel; I hope the Arab students advocate for their countries,” he said.