Both Juan Williams ("Of Zulus, Watusis . . .") and Philip Geyelin (". . . And 'Arabs' said some very right things in their op-ed pieces of July 28. But there is also much that is very wrong and grossly exaggerated in their analyses. Taken together, and featured prominently under the general heading, "Name-Calling," these columns add up to a bum rap against the Jewish community.
Let's start with what is right about their observations. Ed Koch did indeed use words about Rep. Ron Dellums that are offensive, words that should never have been spoken. The mayor's immediate call to Ron Dellums to "explain" himself -- unconvincing as the explanation may be -- suggests that he did realize the seriousness of his blunder and sought to undo the harm. He does deserve credit for that.
Geyelin is right in warning against indifference to defamation of all Arabs. There surely has been unfortunate stereotyping of Arabs over many, many years -- not only during the recent period of intense Arab-Israeli conflicts. One has only to think of Anwar Sadat, on the one hand, and of Yasser Arafat, on the other, to know that it is outrageous to express pejorative generalizations about "Arabs."
But outrageous, too, is the implication that Jews generally do not understand these basic elements of tolerance, that our community fails to speak out against racism or bigotry. To extrapolate from the Koch case, only days after it became known, a broad indictment of "Jewish leaders" is unfair. And it is not really analogous to the Jesse Jackson situation of last year.
Ed Koch is Jewish, of course, but he is not a "Jewish leader" and does not speak for the Jewish community. If his comments about Dellums deserve rebuke, that rebuke is not called for from Jews as such but from all who resent and reject pejorative stereotyping. It is unfortunate that Williams makes a "black-Jewish" issue out of the incident.
Are there some Jewish bigots? Yes, there are. But they are overwhelmingly rejected and repudiated by the general Jewish community. Only this past week we have seen conclusive evidence of this. Meir Kahane, always denounced by American Jewish leaders and organizations, has now suffered a colossal defeat in the Israeli Knesset in its approval of a law that will bar his running for election again because his party advocates racist policy against Palestinian Arabs. What more is needed to disprove the ugly charge that "Zionism is racism"?
The Arab-Israeli dispute has indeed led to emotional, rhetorical excesses. Geyelin believes that we have been too one-sided -- on both the substantive issues and on the Arab defamation question. But he, too, should be careful about making exaggerated, generalized accusations. Most of us with responsible positions in the Jewish community do not rush to pin the label of anti-Semite on critics of Israeli policy. If we did, we would have to include the 400,000 Israelis who took to the streets of Tel Aviv to protest some Begin-Sharon policies during the Lebanese war. We would have to pin that ugly label on American Jews who disagree with this or that particular Israeli policy.
If Geyelin believes that Jews generally are approving of anti-Arab defamation, he may be comforted by a very recent example of rejections of such practices. On July 21 the Chicago Tribune printed a letter from Marcia Lazar, president of the Chicago chapter of the American Jewish Committee, protesting a cartoon about Lebanese Shiites.
"This cartoon encourages prejudice against Shiites and this kind of prejudice is simply unacceptable in our society," the letter stated. "The cartoon negatively stereotypes an entire group, tarnishing all in that group based on the behavior of some." I have myself met with both the present and the former directors of an Arab anti-defamation organization to explore the issue.
Despite these concerns about the Williams and Geyelin pieces, they do challenge us to think about the overarching question that has troubled me over the years -- the ever-increasing and ever-more-abusive incivility that characterizes our public discourse. Angry, accusatory, insulting ad hominem attacks have become altogether too common. Such attacks are not only hurtful to the attacker and to the attacked, but they make impossible the rational, constructive debate that could bring about accommodation and social harmony.
Such issues as bigotry and nationalism arouse deep emotions. They are surrounded by frustration and anger. A long time ago, Aristotle told us how difficult it is to deal with anger. "Anybody can become angry -- that is easy," he said, "but to be angry with the right person, to the right degree, and at the right time, and for the right purpose, and in the right way -- that is not within everybody's power and is not easy."
Not easy, but we should all try to do our best.