Jewish 'Oversensitivity' Not So Funny Anymore

January 28, 1991 - Edward Alexander - The Seattle Times

The first classified American documents that Jonathan Pollard, a convicted spy, turned over to the Israeli government in 1984 concerned the details of Iraq's chemical-warfare factories, then producing nerve gas to be used against Iran.

Pollard had decided to transfer the documents illegally after he discovered in 1982 that his colleagues in naval intelligence were withholding from Israel information about Soviet and German chemical-warfare agents being shipped to Iraq.

When Pollard asked the reason for this breach of faith, his superior "turned to me laughing and said that ... the Jews were overly sensitive about gas during their experiences during the Second World War and ... should just calm down a bit."

This Jewish "oversensitivity" to poison gas must seem a good deal less laughable to American intelligence now that it did in 1982. Since the war began, every person in Israel has been spending much time in an anti-poison gas room, wearing a mask to protect himself against the possibility that Saddam Hussein will make good, in his missile attacks on Israel, on his oft-repeated threat - starting last spring - to "burn half of Israel with poison gas."

Although the barrages of Scud missiles have so far contained "only" conventional warheads, few Israelis are likely to forget that Saddam has used chemical weapons against Iranian soldiers and Kurdish civilians. How could they forget, when Hussein's Palestinian Arab cheerleaders for six month have orchestrated the organized violence of the Intifada with the chant, "Saddam, you hero, attack Israel with chemical weapons" - even, as they demanded, with admirable logic, free gas masks from the Israeli government?

As of this writing, three elderly Israeli women and a 3-year-old girl have suffocated from gas masks improperly applied in the moments of panic ignited by Saddam's missiles. Hundreds of others have been hospitalized because they injected themselves prematurely with atropine, the powerful antidote to gas poisoning.

The third missile attack killed 3 and wounded 98.

And what justification did Saddam and his foreign minister give for declaring and then making war against Israel, which had no part whatever in the "alliance" against Iraq?

Precisely the same justification that Hussein's "role model," Gamai Nasser, gave for declaring war on Israel in May 1967: "

Israel's existence is itself an aggression


Just as the Jews of Europe were killed by poison gas, not for anything they had done or failed to do, but solely for the crime of being born, so Israel's "guilt" (for Nasser, Saddam and Yasser Arafat - who noted that Jan. 15 was important as Nasser's birthday, not President Bush's deadline) - consists

in her very existence

, and her citizens must keep gas masks at the ready if they are to escape the death sentence passed on them.

Saddam's terror attack on Israel is the existential realization of "linkage," the code word for that anti-Semitic fever in the brains of malicious journalists and the herd of independent thinkers who populate the political-science and Middle East departments of the universities.

"Linkage," like poison gas, has a history, a longer one. Voltaire recalled that after the Lisbon earthquake of 1755, which killed 30,000 people, the Inquisition proposed linking the catastrophe to the Jews by the simple expedient of burning some of them in an auto da fe (act of faith).

What connection was there between the earthquake and the Jews? None at all, until the Inquisition established one by burning them at the stake.

Saddam was greatly impressed by the number of scribblers who were eager to support his Orwellian equation between Iraq's unprovoked pillage and annexation of Kuwait and Israel's administration (pending a peace treaty) of territories acquired in defending herself against unprovoked aggression in 1967.

To those who may have balked at this obscene, Goebbels-like equation between killer and victim, he has now offered a gigantic proof of it in the form of 1,000-pound missiles dropped on people whose mere existence he considers a form of aggression. Israeli Jews have been bombed by the invader of Kuwait; therefore Israel is linked to that invasion.

Now that not only Israelis but hundreds of thousands of Americans must protect themselves with gas masks, we may well ask: Who was right - that anonymous naval intelligence analyst who sneered at the Jews for being "oversensitive about gas" or Jonathan Pollard, who sits in a federal prison in Marion, Ill.,

serving a life sentence for trying to sound the alarm about Iraq's acquisition of the instruments of mass murder


Edward Alexander is a professor of English at the University of Washington.