People who are still fuming over Bob Simon’s 60 Minutes piece from last month, which was critical of Israel’s treatment of Palestinian Christians and called Michael Oren to task for attempting to kill the story before it aired, received a gift last Sunday – a fluffy superficial ode to the city of Tel Aviv’s undeniable awesomeness.
First I’ll say that I like Bob Simon, I think he’s an excellent journalist well versed in Middle East politics in general and Israel/Palestine specifically. That’s why I found his report so objectionable. It seems Simon left his A-game in his hotel room. I think it’s safe to assume that Simon knows the situation Tel Aviv finds itself in today is far too complex to characterize as a utopian “island of sanity” where the larger problems of the country and the region at large are nonexistent.
For instance, that beach looks really nice, but Palestinians in the occupied territories cannot go there. That might be worth mentioning. The place looks like a liberal bastion with a thriving art scene; politicians party till the wee hours. “Compared to the rest of Israel, Tel Aviv is not only more cosmopolitan but more tolerant,” that is unless you’re seeking asylum from Eritrea or Sudan and living in South Tel Aviv. If that’s the case then mobs of racist Israelis will protest your presence, a kindergarden in your neighborhood can be firebombed and if you work for an NGO dedicated to helping those people then you can be threatened with rape, with the blessing of the Israeli Interior Minister. If Simon wanted to do a serious piece about the city he could have touched on this. Nightlife is wild because maybe “people believe that tomorrow Tel Aviv is going to be attacked.” Perhaps, but whatever potential Hamas and Hezbollah have to rein terror on the city pales in comparison to whatever potential Israel has to bring hell to southern Lebanon or Gaza – or whatever Israel already has done.
The glib tone of the report continues. When Yossi Vardi, the “godfather of a vast software empire” is asked why Israel has so many startups he answers it’s a cultural phenomena and the secret source is the Jewish mother. “Every startup kid here has a Jewish mother which drive (sic) him crazy, which will push them and challenge them and inspire them.” Aside from the absurdity of his explanation, that same sort of reasoning by someone else in a different context might be construed as anti-Semitic. But hey, it’s a light-hearted piece so no harm no foul. Tel Aviv is beyond gay-friendly, and plenty has been written on the cynical use of this. As for incidents of violence in the West Bank, Simon describes them as “rituals which have been going on for decades” and that’s it.
Watching this segment one could be forgiven for believing that what happens in the West Bank (and Gaza) is not deeply connected to the situation in Israel proper. But in fact, rather than being an exception to Israel’s history of dispossessing the Palestinians, Tel Aviv stands as a monument to it. The city itself sits on top of the ruins of four Palestinian villages destroyed during the Nakba. To his credit Simon allows Haaretz columnist Gideon Levy a few words of wisdom: Tel Avivians have “no idea what’s going on there (in the West Bank), it’s their dark backyard to which they will never go…about which they know so little, they don’t care, they really want to close their eyes.” “Because this is what a bubble is about: the illusion of the moment. It can work for a while… and it will blow in our faces,” Levy says. Simon doesn’t ask how so? or why? Because this is a feel-good story.
At the end Yossi Vardi the software tycoon says, “We have this damn conflict that I hope we will finish one day. And I hope we will do peace. But in the meantime, look what we created.” Indeed, and perhaps that’s the problem. I’m reminded of something Udi Aloni said, “The liberal city, a very vibrant city liberal city in the middle of a colony, it’s not an exception of the colony. This is very important. Tel Aviv is the example used to show that, that the barbarians around the colony are in fact barbarians. Every colonization has its vital liberal city, which in turn is the essence of colonialism itself.”