The chutzpah of hasbara

Israel/Palestine
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First there was the “voluntary” birth control injection of Ethiopian immigrants. Now now we have the secret “voluntary” repatriation of 1000 Sudanese back to Sudan, where even Israel concedes their lives are in danger. From “Haaretz”:

Israel has “voluntarily” returned at least 1,000 people to Sudan, an enemy country that has vowed to punish any of its citizens who ever set foot in Israel.

In the past, the state has said in court that Israel doesn’t deport Sudanese nationals, because “Sudan and Israel are enemy states, such that a Sudanese national who has set foot in Israel can’t return to his country for fear of his life, or so he claims.” …

Aside from the fact that Israel and Sudan are enemies, Sudanese law explicitly forbids its citizens to enter Israel. Its passports even state that they are valid for entry to every country except Israel…

In September 2007, Sudan’s foreign minister said that for a Sudanese to reside in Israel was a criminal offense. The UN’s stance on the issue is also clear. Michael Bavli, UNHCR’s representative in Israel, warned the Population, Immigration and Border Authority that “deporting Sudanese to Sudan would be the gravest violation possible of the convention that Israel has signed – a crime never before committed.”

One of Hasbara’s talking points is that the international community holds Israel to different standards than they do other countries. They are certainly right about that. Is it even conceivable that another “western” country would do something like this, let alone get away with it– without being met by world wide moral outrage and revulsion? The same can be said as well about Israel’s “uncivilized” neighbors; they would be judged harshly for such conduct.

No country likes having downtrodden foreigners sneaking over its borders. But in this day and age, only Israel has the chutzpah, moral self righteousness, and the feeling of immunity to do what by any definition is morally repugnant. 

Why do I say “chutzpah?”

The decision-makers in Israel and their intellectual supporters have been lecturing us for decades on how the restrictive immigration policies of western countries in the first half of the 20th century that kept many Jews out was motivated by anti-Semitism. That the governments of these countries and their populations didn’t want tens of thousands, or hundreds of thousands, of refugees who looked differently, spoke a different language, and seemed entirely foreign– that was not a good enough explanation for their having tightened their borders.

For these thinkers the explanation that people want to live with their own was just an apology for anti- Semitism. And this understanding has taken root. Now when right wing European politicians complain about the “open borders” in their countries they are labeled by many as racists and reactionaries. 

Which leads us to today’s story. How has Israel handled its unwanted visitors?

Nothing infuriates supporters of Israel more than the Nazi analogy. But if you compare the statements from Nazi leaders in the mid 1930’s about Jews to some Israeli politicians’ diatribes against the (very minor) African influx, you would be hard-pressed to see a difference. Describing the stranger in their midst as “a cancer” and “vermin” seems to be popular with fascists everywhere.

How does the “light unto the nations” deal with with this cognitive dissonance? How can Israel’s supporters be so judgmental of countries that want to be homogeneous as Israel itself does such morally reprehensible things? Why does the ADL hardly utter a peep about Israel’s policies?

I think part of the explanation involves ethnocentrism. When non-Jewish parents prefer that their child marries one of their own or when a country club prefers not to have Jews or blacks as members, many Jews say these attitudes reflect bias, prejudice and racism. They believe there is nothing “real” or natural on the part of such people to want to be with their own.

It is almost a false consciousness. There is nothing intrinsic that make these non-Jewish people alike. If they’re not welcoming to “the other,” it doesn’t come out of the way they feel about their own group but more based on the prejudice they feel towards other people. But the Jewish people– and nation– are different. Nothing compares to the way one Jew feels for another. The identity that Jews feel as Jews is incomparable to any identity that any member of another group can feel about his or her group. Thus mainstream Jewish leaders can publicly (and unselfconsciously) describe the high rate of Jewish intermarriage as like a holocaust without giving a second thought to how that sounds to the rest of America.

Their ethnocentricity is so strong that they don’t even realize that other people are ethno-centric too.

So Israel does what it needs to do to keep Israel “pure.” The world needs to realize that certain morally dubious activities by Israel aimed at stopping the defilement of the Jewish people can be compared with what other countries should or should not be allowed to do under similar circumstances.

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