Plots and characters in Torah are said to portend what history will have in store for the Jewish people. That being so, the Balaam narrative in the Book of Numbers foretold the plot against modern Israel: if war could not bring down the nation then cursing would.
The compelling intrigue with its twists and turns and bad forebodings is familiar enough. It begins with the desire of Balak, King of Moab, to stop the redeemed slaves in their tracks after unlikely victories over real armies. Military might was not behind the juggernaut Jews, so Balak understood. The power of the start-up nation, he learns, resided in their leader’s power of speech. Moses was the secret weapon. And this gave Balak an idea. If by speaking with God, Moses could empower the Jews, then equally they could be disempowered by speech.
So the king contracts with a pagan prophet for hire. A militant curser and master of talking donkey, Balaam was made for the job. This grandson of the schemer Laban was born to curse. Up to now he has made a good living out of plaguing people to untimely and ugly deaths. The Near East was rife with practitioners of similar stamp, but here was a commission that would make Balaam immortal. He is offered a king’s ransom to bad mouth
"Let us drive them out," the king says at a meeting with the elders of Moab and Midian. It was not the Jews they feared so much as the idea of a sovereign state. Homeless and stateless Jews were no problem; as far as the elders were concerned, God’s chosen could keep their difficult laws anywhere they liked; or almost anywhere. The Moabs and Midians were prepared to live and let live. But a Jewish people in possession of God’s own country – that would be a different kettle of fish. Happy with their deities and quaint perversions, they feared that a sovereign Israel would fundamentally make the world a different place. So it was imperative that Moses and his crowd be cursed into spiritual oblivion.
Listen, myriad voices urge at a far-ahead point in history, at which time the people of Israel are living, and thriving, in the Promised Land, and “Human Rights” delegates by the thousands meet on the side of a game-changing conference at the Indian Ocean city of Durban. The year is 2001, and plots are afoot. Listen, the plotters gabble; war after war has left Israel not just intact but invulnerable. Why not wage a different kind of war? This will be a war that Israel can’t win. Words will be our weapon. We’ll bring Israel to its knees through the power of negative publicity, condemn and demonize the Zionists to the point where they become a pariah people. We’ll unite the nations of the world in a common hatred.
This was an intoxicating vision, and many entities and people bristling with pent-up scores to settle, were intoxicated by it. What could be simpler than picking on the worst international crimes in the book and laying them at Israel’s door! Apartheid came to mind first; who wouldn’t hate a country that implemented apartheid! Ethnic cleansing, war crimes and occupation came a close second, third and fourth. The prospect was enough to make plotters drool. Add some imaginative marketing and PR, draw on deep pockets to grease the wheels, and in no time at all a full-blown campaign had gone international. Before Israel knew it, the court of public opinion was onto its case.
From there on it was all downhill. Set an impossibly high legal and moral bar to clear, Israel was coerced into fighting terrorism with kid gloves. And another ‘plus’ for the mischief-makers: it cost Jewish lives. ‘Be not over righteous, nor too clever,’ Ecclesiastes 7:16 warns the nation. And Shimon b. Lakish adds: ‘Whoever shows mercy to the cruel will ultimately be cruel to those deserving of mercy.’ Look for these truths to the victims of terrorism.
Zionist brutality, Zionist oppression, Zionist occupation; Zionist Nazi: this is cursing, and it’s enough to make Jews, young and old, duck and dive like criminals. The cursers are trained to avoid the ‘Jew’ word, which would be an unpardonably destructive thing to do. Curse the Zionists all you like, but don’t call them Jews. Protect our prime asset, that human rights halo. Remember our halo, and keep it shining brightly, warn the script writers. Brandish the halo while we curse Israel out of existence.
The club of cursers is led by the Big Five: Amnesty, Oxfam, Human Rights Watch; Christian Aid, and the UN Human Rights Council. Nominally these entities are humanitarian, not-for-profit and apolitical. Really they are none of those things. And there are hundreds of second-tier bad-mouthers of Israel, a bewildering number of them in tiny Israel. Entities like B’Tselem, ‘Committee Against House Demolitions’, Jewish Voices for Peace’ and so on, compete fiercely to bad mouth Israel. After all, with publicity comes money, and ultimately that is what the human rights business is all about.
There is a load of cash out there for anyone with a bad word to say about Israel. George Soros coughs up hundreds of millions per year; the European Union coughs even more. Trade is brisk, the money big and the players earnest. For the rights activist Israeli crimes represent the goose that lays the golden egg.
So war by other means was born in Durban. And on its heels tumbled the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. BDS sets out to paralyze Israel to the point where it stands alone and vulnerable among the nations, a meek prey for waiting wolves. Negative people (awake to faults, real or not); arrogant people (presuming to know better than the Palestinians what’s good for them); greedy people (earning good money and benefits for their cursing) they are progeny of the patriarchal curser, Balaam.
Will modern-day cursers meet the fate of the wily wizard? ‘When the Almighty told Balaam to hold his tongue he should have listened. But feted celebrity-hood beckoned like a pot of gold. Ill will in human form, he ransacked his whole bag of tricks. But the Almighty had other plans for Balaam. Stymied, he rode from pillar to post. Immortal Balaam would be, though for reasons he would not have foretold. At the moment of truth wrong words tripped off his tongue, that mouth organ of militant curses, bridge to a grubby soul, gadget of fortune and misfortune, master of talking donkey. Born to curse, Balaam uttered the most sublime blessings in human annals, and would have departed this life with the hurt rioting and rotting in his head.
How beautiful are your tents, oh Jacob, your dwelling places, oh Israel!
For the tribute recited in synagogues to this day thank a pagan prophet for hire. Odder yet, thank a lifetime antagonist of the Jews. Oddest of all, thank a curser by trade.