In 2009, I was traveling from Israel to Denmark via Vienna, and happened to be on a flight with a couple who used to live close to us in the kibbutz where I grew up. They were on their way to Poland via Vienna with a group of Israelis, on a tour of concentration/extermination camps. After we took off, I had a conversation with the man, and one of the first things he asked me, knowing I was living in Denmark, was “Tell me, why do they hate us?”
This is a phrase that needs to be explained to the reader who is not familiar with the automatic understandings in the Israeli perception built into such a phrase. By “they” he meant those I was living with, Europeans. By “us” he meant us Israeli Jews. When you are an Israeli Jew, there are some things you just know. And the way he turned the words and accentuated the word “hate”, it was all telling a story of many more words. He was wondering, How it could be that the European “western civilization”, which in earlier years seemed to have a basic understanding of the need of the Jews to have a refuge from persecution and to defend their country, was now turning ever more critical of Israeli policy. He was reading this criticism as anti-semitism, and that was the essence of the idea in the word “hate”.
His question further deserves to be reflected upon in the light of recent “hate” accusations addressed to Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallström. When an Israeli educator suggested that Wallstrom deserved to be assassinated for her criticisms of Israel, he wrote, “Has anything changed in the Swedish DNA [my emphasis] in the decades following [Count Folke] Bernadotte’s death? Nothing has changed. The Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallström, with her characteristic covert anti-Semitism, with her arrogance, ignorance, and her interest-bound speculation regarding her future Muslim voters – she too seeks to fight the foundations of the State of Israel.” In the usage of the somewhat chilling “Swedish DNA” expression, the author is clearly making this a generalized national-ethnic issue.
I told my neighbor on that flight that we need to realize that media coverage in the world has become much more efficient. In the 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s, a state could have much more control of what is reported out. But look at the 80’s already – the Lebanon War, the Massacres at Sabra and Shatila. I said to him, the footage of Sabra and Shatila was sent out in the whole world – except Israel.
“That was not even us!” he said. Then his wife came in and said to him “Of course it was us, you know it was our responsibility.”
This little discussion was ever so revealing to me, and painted the picture of the dilemma concerning responsibility:
If the Israeli army initiates a war for whatever reason and it acts in alliance with the Christian militias in Lebanon, then when those militias massacre thousands of Palestinian civilians whilst the Israeli Defense Forces is holding guard surrounding the area and lighting the scene in the night, you have a question of responsibility. Ariel Sharon, Minister of Defense at the time, was found “Indirectly responsible” for the massacres. So the question becomes, what part of that last phrase one chooses to place the focus upon – is it “indirectly” or “responsible”. The man chose one, his wife chose the other.
I continued to speak about the media coverage of the Gaza invasion of 2008-2009, which was a rather fresh subject. I said to him, when you embark upon such an operation and close the area off to media, in today’s world, the news will come out. In fact, I said, a CNN reporter standing on a hill overlooking Gaza with distant explosions everywhere, creates ever more suspicion about what really goes on.
Norman Finkelstein, in his book “This Time We Went Too Far – Truth and Consequences of the Gaza Invasion” has a section mentioning, not the non-Jewish critique that is so often taken by Israelis to be ‘anti-Semitism’, but the gross critique by Jews around the world of Israel’s military activity during the Gaza invasion:
Most significantly, Jews prominent in communal Jewish life criticized Israel, albeit generally in muted language. As Israel stood poised to launch the ground offensive after a week of aerial attacks, a group of Britain’s most distinguished Jews, describing themselves as “profound and passionate supporters” of Israel, expressed “horror” at the “increasing loss of life on both sides” and called on Israel to cease its military operations in Gaza immediately. On a more acerbic note, British MP and former shadow foreign minister Gerald Kaufman declared during a House of Commons debate on Gaza, “My grandmother was ill in bed when the Nazis came to her home town of Staszow. A German soldier shot her dead in her bed. My grandmother did not die to provide cover for Israeli soldiers murdering Palestinian grandmothers in Gaza.” He went on to indict the Israeli government for having “ruthlessly and cynically exploit[ed] the continuing guilt among Gentiles over the slaughter of Jews in the Holocaust as justification for their murder of Palestinians.”
Meanwhile in France the popular Jewish writer Jean-Moïse Braitberg called on the Israeli president to remove his grandfather’s name from the memorial at Yad Vashem dedicated to victims of the Nazi Holocaust “so that it can no longer be used to justify the horror which is visited on the Palestinians.” In Germany Evelyn Hecht-Galinski, daughter of a former president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, wrote, “Not the elected Hamas government, but the brutal occupier . . . belongs in the dock at the Hague,” while the German section of European Jews for a Just Peace issued a statement headlined “German Jews Say NO to Israeli Army Killings.”
In Canada eight Jewish women occupying the Israeli consulate called on “all Jews to speak out against this massacre,” and celebrated Canadian pianist Anton Kuerti declared, “The unbelievable war crimes that Israel is committing in Gaza . . . make me ashamed to be a Jew.” In Australia two award-winning novelists and a former federal cabinet minister signed a statement by Jews condemning Israel’s “grossly disproportionate assault”.
Then my old acquaintance raised another subject: “Arabs” invading Europe. He said he had read that Denmark now has a population of about 35% “Arabs”. I asked him where he read this, to which he answered “the internet”. Interesting, I told him; I also used to get these spam mails about Europe being overtaken by Arabs. I said that the claim sounds exaggerated, but that I will check the matter for him. In addition, I said we would have to agree on what the term “Arab” is perceived as – is it everyone who speaks Arabic? Does he mean all Muslims? Who are we talking about? (I did not even ask why we were talking about them.) When I got home, I checked the statistics, to find that Denmark had a total immigrant population of about 9.5%, including descendants. The specification mentioned a “non-western immigrants” percentage of 6.4%, and also mentioned that 11% of the total are of Turkish origin – and Turks are not Arabs, although the man might have thought about them when he said “Arabs” (source: pdf). I did not find statistics about “Arabs”. In any case, the man’s idea about 35% “Arabs” was a total fantasy.
But what were his ideas when speaking about this “problem”?
I had the idea that an Israeli would be interested in this kind of invention and racial propaganda because it plays into the idea that “the Western world is now experiencing our problems”. It brings me back to 2001 after September 11th. I was in Israel and had taken a taxi. The taxi driver commented on how “the rest of the world now knows what we’re talking about,” meaning that the world now understands the terror we experience in Israel. He said this with a certain glee, as if the September 11 attacks on the Twin Towers were a kind of liberation – now we were not alone. I noted, with a certain worry, how Israeli society could be experiencing moral benefit from violence.
Zionism included an assumed intrinsic ‘goy’ hatred as a core argument for a Jewish homeland – under the idea that gentiles would always hate Jews for no reason, which is why Jews will always need a national refuge. That ‘hate’ was then referenced to ‘Arabs’, and once again their hate was regarded as an irrational, primitive feeling. Even if one lightly accepted that there was some violence involved in the inception and currency of the Jewish state, the ‘hate’ was regarded as irrational. They have simply not understood the ‘special case’ and necessity of the Jewish state. Whilst they have a right to be angry and not understand it– still, it was them lacking understanding and enlightenment.
It is the same rationale that informs Jewish Israeli feeling today about the many Palestinian stabbing attacks: they are irrational, they just hate us. Without justifying attacks against civilians, one can indeed address a greater paradigm of oppression and a stale status-quo of occupation, causing hopelessness. But no, Israel wants an unequivocal condemnation of this. And Palestinian hate and irrationality is apparently supposed to exonerate violent lynchings and extrajudicial executions. Those are not hate. They can’t be. It’s just ‘security’. When Swedish Foreign Minister Wallström merely suggested investigation of what seemed to be extrajudicial executions (and Israeli journalist Gideon Levy is unequivocal about them being just that), she and Sweden are tarnished and admonished by Israeli government leaders, and their diplomats are unwelcome in Israel – indeed, some go as far as suggesting her assassination.
No, Israelis are not irrational. They can’t be. Their response is always a response to irrationality, to hate. And those who don’t understand that, or who merely question that– they must be the haters.