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NYT op-ed describing Israel as a place of refuge is missing the word, Palestinians

Media Analysis
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In her New York Times oped “How Did Israel Become A Place of No Refuge?” Susan Silverman asks a rhetorical question. But it has a ready answer, one she steadfastly ignores in her piece though it’s staring her in the face.

Silverman, a rabbi and co-founder of Miklat Israel, or Sanctuary Israel, is rightly outraged over the recent decision of Israel’s government to deport thousands of African asylum seekers from Israel, which will clearly be a death sentence for many of them.  She quotes a refugee from Eritrea who is confident that “The people of Anne Frank will protect me.”  Here is a long quote from the piece that explains the puzzlement expressed by the title:

The first night of Passover, Jews around the world, including the Netanyahu family, will recite the same line during the Seder: “In every generation we are obligated to see ourselves as though we personally went out from Egypt.”

Our prime minister is on the wrong side of the Exodus story. But the people of Israel — a country built by those who fled Hitler’s ovens and the oppression of Arab countries where they were treated as second-class citizens — understand the injustice of the government’s policy in our bones. It is why 36 Holocaust survivors wrote a letter to the prime minister begging him to “learn the lesson” of our history. It is why Israelis from all parts of society — doctors, diplomats, rabbis, artists — have opposed this policy. It is why some El Al pilots have announced that they will refuse to fly planes bearing Africans being deported.

Jews, who have experienced expulsion and exile during most of their existence, she complains, should precisely be the people who welcome others who experienced the same fate.

But this is where my answer to her rhetorical question comes into play: we are the people who expelled over three quarters of a million people in our war of conquest in 1948, shooting thousands on sight as they merely attempted to return to their homes (see Benny Morris, Border Wars), and creating the longest continuous refugee crisis in the world today.  Notice the word “Palestinian” appears nowhere in her oped.

A nation that is built on an ethnic definition of nationality and arose on the ashes of another people’s existence in the land is actually just the sort of country to deport refugees.  When one’s primary concern is to preserve ethnic purity and sovereignty, any admission of “others” – especially non-European others – is bound to be seen as dangerous contamination and to be avoided at all costs.  So that’s why I answer her rhetorical question with: “It’s the Nakba, Stupid!”

Joseph Levine

Joseph Levine is Professor of Philosophy at UMass Amherst, member of the Academic Council of JVP, and member of Western Mass chapter of JVP.

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20 Responses

  1. Donald on February 9, 2018, 1:28 pm

    It was a bizarre piece. You have to wonder if she was conscious of the hypocrisy.

    • echinococcus on February 12, 2018, 1:55 pm

      “Hypocrisy” is not a worry for a female rabbia of a religion that has a thanksgiving prayer “for not having made me a woman”. Besides, that plea for non-Palestinian refugees to be allowed to stay is in support of the Zionist invasion. Expelling non-Palestinian refugees could open the door to the fully justified idea of expelling the Zionist invaders.

  2. Eva Smagacz on February 9, 2018, 1:59 pm

    Like cherry tomatoes, fleeting field hospitals in disaster zones, drip irrigation and outcrop of Nobel Prices, there is a sudden outbreak of handwringing of liberal Zionists in the all the usual media.

    The lament is about the threatened deportation for black skinned asylum seekers / immigrants in Israel (the deportation of caucasian infiltrators-immigrants from Ukraine and Georgia is not on the cards).

    The promises of selfless acts of civil disobedience are all written about at some length. You would almost leave with the impression that the government of Netanyahu has been forced on saintly Israelis by a vengeful anti-semitic God (/sarcasm). 90/101

  3. Liz on February 9, 2018, 2:16 pm

    Well said. Maybe Susan could do a show–like her sister Sarah, who travels around showing her compassion for Trump supporters–but with Palestinians. But she’d actually have to admit that they live there to do it.

    • pabelmont on February 10, 2018, 10:48 am

      “Admit they live there” is not quite it — “admit they live in Israel, under occupation, as refugees elsewhere, and in dispersion since 1948” would be more like it. Do not propose to wring small confessions from these people, but rub their noses in the problem.

  4. Keith on February 9, 2018, 5:08 pm

    SUSAN SILVERMAN- “But the people of Israel — a country built by those who fled Hitler’s ovens and the oppression of Arab countries where they were treated as second-class citizens….”

    Hitler built ovens in 1897? Helpless Jewish refugees were treated poorly by the Arabs in Deir Yassin? Well, Reb Silverman doesn’t deviate from the core meme, does she? Savoring her gilded victimhood?

    On another cheery note, over at CounterPunch, Thomas Klikauer warns against the new anti-Semitism. He quotes Auschwitz survivor Anita Lasker Wallfisch speaking before the German Bundestag “Anti-Semitism is a 2000-year-old virus and apparently it is incurable. Only, one does not necessarily say Jews anymore. Today, it is the Israelis.”

    Once again, throughout the media including “left” media, Zionist Jews are on the offensive weaponizing the Holocaust to bludgeon the opposition while claiming that criticism of Israel is anti-Semitism, a continuance of a 2000 year history of Jew hatred. I fear that Zionist Jews are disproportionately influential in our doctrinal system. Professor Klikauer is an Australian academic who gets around. In the article he links to “Inside the Anti-Semitic Mind,” which demonstrates that “Israeli” is a code word for “Jew.” Link to CounterPunch:

    I conclude by noting my deep conviction that anti-Gentilism is intrinsic to Jewish Zionism (obviously not Christian Zionism). This is consistent with Israel Shahak’s opinion that Zionism is a throwback to Classical Judaism in secular form.

    • Mooser on February 10, 2018, 12:58 pm

      “I conclude by noting my deep conviction that anti-Gentilism is intrinsic to Jewish Zionism”

      And yet Zionism absolutely depends on, and has an abiding faith in Gentile philo-semitism. Strange, ain’t it?

  5. Kay24 on February 9, 2018, 7:53 pm

    You have to realize the Palestinians are being thrown under the bus, and that their oppressors are going to be successful in stealing all they can from them, and getting rid of them, when you see headlines like this. Saudi Arabia is already the zionist’s best buddy.


    “Head of US Jewish group secretly visited Qatar
    Zionist Organization of America’s Morton Klein the latest pro-Israel figure to travel to Gulf state”

    Evil wins every time.

  6. JosephA on February 9, 2018, 11:50 pm

    I read that piece in the New York Times as well as another similarly silly piece in Bloomberg and was astonished by the lack of obvious reference to Palestinians that should have been there.

    The emperor has no clothes.

    • Nathan on February 11, 2018, 3:58 am

      JosephA – I don’t see why a reference to the Palestinians “should have been there”. A person who wishes for Israel to allow the African refugees to stay is not commenting about the conflict with the Arabs – so, Susan Silverman made no mention of them. It’s really strange that an anti-Israel activist (a professor of philosophy) expects others to share his outlook and logic. Well, Susan Silverman seems to connect the issue at hand with the story of the Exodus and the memory of the Holocaust, and it’s quite legitimate for her to see things as such. Prof. Levine can somehow forgive her if it didn’t occur to her to grind his political ax.

      It was VERY interesting to note that Prof. Levine speaks in the first person (“we are the people who expelled… in our war of conquest in 1948”). I’m assuming that Prof. Levine is not from Israel and did not participate in the war – and, yet, he tells us that “WE expelled” in “OUR war”. I’m so used to reading in the anti-Israel websites that “Israel doesn’t speak for all the Jews” and one often hears the chant “not in our name”. So, it was quite surprising to read that what Israel does is (in the eyes of Prof. Levine) in the name of the Jewish people. In his article, the Jews are a single collective identity (a peoplehood), and Israel is a reflection of this collective identity. It’s also very interesting to see that there are no comments protesting his line of thought. In short, an anti-Zionist can present a Zionist perspective, and other anti-Zionists won’t even notice.

      • eljay on February 12, 2018, 2:47 pm

        || Nathan: … I don’t see why a reference to the Palestinians “should have been there”. A person who wishes for Israel to allow the African refugees to stay is not commenting about the conflict with the Arabs – so, Susan Silverman made no mention of them. … ||

        In her article, Ms. Silverman condemned expulsion and said that Israelis must live up to their state’s “international and moral commitments”. That’s why a reference to Palestinians expelled by Israel and refused repatriation to their homes and lands should have been there.

        But you already knew this.

  7. pabelmont on February 10, 2018, 10:57 am

    LZ’s, when discussing (or refusing to discuss) Palestinians, exhibit what a friend called “deep shallowness”. And bad thinking (see Keith above). We were promised. It’s ours. They brought their sorrows upon themselves — by not accepting us, welcoming us. And, oh yes, the holocaust. And 2000 years of antisemitism. They attacked us, we didn’t attack them, so they deserve their sorrows.

  8. Maghlawatan on February 10, 2018, 4:55 pm

    Israel is a refuge from decency.

  9. on February 10, 2018, 11:31 pm

    In the hierarchy or ranking of races, Zionists clearly rank Palestinians below the recent African immigrants. Let’s not lose sight of the fact that the Africans would be seen and treated as second class citizens should they ever be allowed to remain in Israel – just ask the Ethiopian Jews.

    Susan Silverman is a disgusting bigot who is using her anti-expulsion stance to score some brownie points from her leftist friends. That’s what these liberal Zionists do – attach themselves to a leftist cause (anything that has nothing to do with Palestinians) to paint themselves as liberals or progressives. This PEP crowd, whom I loathe the most, do the most damage to the Palestinian cause and, imo, need to be called out as bigots and shamed for their hidden but very real racism.

    Wonder if there were any liberal or progressive Nazis – perhaps they were the ones that assisted the Jews in establishing Israel through such agreements as the Haavara Agreement.

    • Stephen Shenfield on February 22, 2018, 7:44 pm

      There were Nazis, even in the SS, who believed that Jews could regenerate themselves through Zionism and become worthy of respect in terms of Nazi values. Hitler would have none of it, however. Whether this counts as ‘liberal’ or ‘progressive’ is doubtful. It might have proven less genocidal.

      There is a Nazi group in Germany today (National Socialists for Israel) who argue that the State of Israel has fulfilled the promise that the pro-Zionist Nazis of the Hitler period saw in Zionism.

  10. Scott on February 11, 2018, 11:14 pm

    I read that some right wing Israelis passed out flyers with her address and told migrants to go there for food and shelter. On a more serious plane, I don’t disagree with Netenyahu’s policy re migrants. Palestinians should have civil rights in all of historic Palestine, and a state of their own , but the idea that you can just break into a country and live there seems nuts to me.

    • on February 13, 2018, 2:00 pm


      “…but the idea that you can just break into a country and live there seems nuts to me.”

      Agreed – absolutely nuts. Aside from the African migrants, can you think of another group of migrants that did the same thing in historic Palestine but were never deported?

      • Mooser on February 13, 2018, 3:01 pm

        ” another group of migrants that did the same thing in historic Palestine but were never deported?”

        Gee, “LHunter”, I think you’ve stumped him.

  11. Hussein Hammami on February 12, 2018, 7:34 am

    Hypocrites one and all. Today’s Israeli so called liberals defend African migrants from deportation, but not a peep is heard from them about the ethnic cleansing their parents visited upon the Palestinian owners of the land. Between a fake liberal minority and an alt-right majority obsessed with biblical fantasies they conveniently use to justify their outright thievery of the land, Israel is a sick society par excellence.

  12. ritzl on February 12, 2018, 2:26 pm

    I guess this is a perfect example of what I mean when I say that Jewish-Israelis don’t see Palestinians AT ALL. Palestinians simply do not exist in the collective Jewish-Israeli consciousness.

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