Kristof’s conditional empathy

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Nicholas Kristof in the New York Times writes what is mainly a good column about refugees, then goes out of his way to insert a bit about how the Syrians appreciate Israeli volunteers, but European volunteers object. The article is titled, “Hysteria About Refugees, but Blindness on Guns.” The dateline is Greece.

Here in Lesbos, the fears seem way overdrawn. Some of the first aid workers Syrian refugees meet when they land on the beach are Israeli doctors, working for an Israeli medical organization called IsraAID. The refugees say they are surprised, but also kind of delighted.

“We were happy to see them,” said Tamara, a 20-year-old Syrian woman in jeans with makeup and uncovered hair. The presence of Jews, Muslims and Christians side by side fit with the tolerance and moderation that she craved.

Iris Adler, an Israeli doctor volunteering with IsraAID, said the refugees were often excited to receive assistance from Israelis. “We are still in close touch with many of them,” she said, including a mother whose baby she delivered on the beach after landing. Hostility to Israeli aid workers, she said, came not from refugees but, rather, from some European volunteers….

Historically, we Americans have repeatedly misperceived outsiders as threats. In 1938 and again in 1941, one desperate Jewish family in Europe tried to gain refugee status in the United States but failed, along with countless thousands of others. That was Anne Frank’s family.

There is so much going on in this you’d need an essay to point it all out, but here is one thing: In order to make Syrian refugees sympathetic they not only have to suffer at the hands of our enemies, but they have to share “our” views.  People over there are only worthy of empathy if they express gratitude towards Israelis, in contrast to Europeans who are cynical about Israeli motives.  That’s his message: we should feel empathy for people if their views don’t disturb our Western complacency in any way.

Kristof almost never writes about Palestinians and when he does it is with condescension. But he is a master at this sort of thing, being in favor of empathy, but showing his independence of leftist cant by adopting centrist cant. I think he thinks he is doing a good thing, but the way he inserted one irrelevant bit of hasbara in an otherwise decent (though still flawed) column is really cynical; and so if a reader writes a complaint you look like the unhinged reader with an obsession.

Well yes– but that’s how it works.  You can slip in anything this way.

Here is a link to the Israeli doctor he quoted— Iris Adler, writing about her experience for an American Zionist organization (the Schusterman Foundation) and praising the Israeli army as a humanitarian organization. Adler also treats the Zionist story as one of deliverance from Europe:

As a Jewish Israeli, it is easier for me to feel what the asylum seekers are going through. While I was never a refugee, my great grandparents were. As I stood on the shores of Lesvos, taking people off boats, I thought about my great grandparents and this helped me connect with them and understand their plight – probably more than many of the other teams that were there doing this holy work.

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“While I was never a refugee, my great grandparents were. As I stood on the shores of Lesvos, taking people off boats, I thought about my great grandparents and this helped me connect with them and understand their plight – probably more than many of the other teams that were… Read more »

Maybe I am a bit cruel, bit if Israel is a land of refugees, how come it has taken in zero Syrians?

I guess Adler’s unreconstructed racism blinds her to her own blatant hypocrisy.

Well, Kristof did go to Gaza earlier this year. His article was published in the NYT on March 7. A sample: “The suffering here has multiple causes. Israel sustains a siege that amounts to economic warfare on an entire population. Hamas provokes Israel, squanders resources and is brutal and oppressive… Read more »

“Historically, we Americans have repeatedly misperceived outsiders as threats. In 1938 and again in 1941, one desperate Jewish family in Europe tried to gain refugee status in the United States but failed, along with countless thousands of others. That was Anne Frank’s family.” As far as I can tell, nobody… Read more »

“As a Jewish Israeli, it is easier for me to feel what the asylum seekers are going through. While I was never a refugee, my great grandparents were. As I stood on the shores of Lesvos, taking people off boats, I thought about my great grandparents and this helped me… Read more »