The inevitable cruelty of Hasbara

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Israeli militants murdered Eyad al-Halaq last Saturday in Jerusalem, and for many Israelis this particular murder– of an autistic person begging for his life in an outdoor garbage room where he vainly sought refuge, with his mentor screaming at the militants that he is an invalid, with him crying “I’m with her”– penetrated all their defensive layers. Defensive layers lovingly built by the hasbara apparatus for years, convincing people what they see is not actually what it seems, that what looks like murder is in fact a necessary military action.

Unfortunately for the apparatus, al-Halaq’s murder took place on the background of a series of murders of people of color by the American police forces. These murders, and the riots and demonstrations that followed them, now hold the world’s attention. The comparison between the policeman nonchalantly stepping on a citizen’s neck for nine minutes and one hounding an autistic person into a garbage room is automatic and immediate.

Which should not surprise us, because at the end of the day, the picture of a man in uniform and a gun killing innocents is universal. It is no accident that, when Israelis are taught about the Holocaust, they are taught essentially about the death camps, not the “pit Holocaust” where some 40 to 50 percent of victims were murdered by uniformed gunmen at the edge of a pit. Those sights, well-documented, of a soldier pointing a gun at defenseless people, may cause would-be draftees some unease. The comparison – exaggerated, inaccurate and yet containing a grain of truth – enters the mind of its own. The pictures are too similar. There’s a reason Israelis keep telling themselves for four decades “it is forbidden to compare”: The unconscious knows what It sees even when the government is spending untold millions on denial.

So, the murder of al-Halaq caused a problem for the hasbara apparatus. As it may be remembered, despite its operations abroad, this apparatus is mostly conducting its psychological warfare against Israeli Jews: Most of its publications are in Hebrew, of which most gentiles are sadly benighted. A prominent –  in Israel – hasbarist, Nave Dromi, immediately wrote an oped in Haaretz (Hebrew) telling us not to believe our lyin’ eyes. The Palestinians, she said, are incomparable with American people of color; they were never enslaved. It is forbidden to compare.

As I am by nature a gentle person, I shall do Dromi the kindness of noting she is not quite the sharpest cheese in hasbara’s larder. Her most prominent claim to fame, aside from her Haaretz column, is a giant billboard showing a burning Gaza, helicopters in the air, with Mahmoud Abbas and Ismail Haniyeh in the position Israeli officials like to see Palestinians: On their knees, handcuffed and blindfolded. (Hebrew) The Tel Aviv municipality took down the billboard, saying it is barbaric, and (natch) that it was reminiscent of the Nazis.

It is true: The history of the Palestinians is not equivalent to the American original sin of black slavery and the history of black oppression following their liberation – with the exception that black lives in the US were, and to a serious degree still are, almost as cheap as Palestinian lives.

Nave Dromi, from her twitter feed

But, as we used to say as children, everything in the United States is bigger than life, so the U.S. was blessed with at least two original sins. They came about at much the same time, but while we may debate whether the young U.S. could have enjoyed prosperity without slavery, there is no doubt that it would not have come into existence at all without an ethnic cleansing of appalling proportions of its natives, who when I was child were still called by the colonial name of Indians.

And that is the comparison: What Israel is doing – yes, still doing – to the Palestinians is similar, too similar, to what the U.S. did to the First Nations. Twenty years ago, settlers used to claim that the U.S. has no moral right to complain about Israel does to the Palestinians, because it did far worst things to its indigenous people.

You don’t hear this argument in public any more, not in so many words, but it is still a part of the thinking of the Jewish right wing. Dromi habitually denies Zionism is a form of racism; she claims it is a form of nationalism; but let’s take a look at how she treats non-Jewish Israelis:

“What would happen if the Palestinians ask to become Israel’s ‘blacks’? Well, there are already such Palestinians – Israeli Arabs […] They do not enjoy equality on issues of national identity, and we should not mislead them into believing they will. The American anthem speaks to blacks and whites alike. The Israeli anthem speaks to the throbbing Jewish soul, and such it shall remain.”

Generously, Dromi gives non-Jewish citizens exemption from singing the Jewish anthem. She leaves them partial citizens, citizens with no flag or anthem. So it goes in the Jewish State: Not everyone is born equal. We shall kindly leave aside Dromi’s assertion that the Star Spangled Banner speaks to people of color and whites alike; no one would ever claim Dromi is a Light Unto the Diaspora, but then most Americans are also unaware that the lines from the anthem–

“No refuge could save the hireling and the slave

From the terror of the flight and gloom of the grave”

Refer to slave uprisings and to escaped slaves supporting the invading English in the 1812 War. Those lines are not sung today; someone might dig into the issue and find out that Francis Scott Key was an ardent supporter of slavery. Awkward.

Today’s ultra-nationalists (you can easily discern them by their shrill support of the concept of the nation state, as if it was in serious danger) claim there is no relation between nationalism and racism. This is bullshit. A nation defines itself, inter alia, by separating itself from others. When nationalism finds itself in a struggle, it transforms into a form of racism in about three minutes. Let us take a look at two peaceful and cultured nations, the French and the Germans.

France and Germany went into a formal first quarrel in 1870. Prior to then, there was no Germany. The problem of German nationalism (okay – one of the problems of German nationalism) is that it came into being so late, and was composed of so many shreds. French nationalism was significantly more integrative, and it quickly and efficiently suppressed the languages of the south and Brittany. The French nation building was based on a very particular France, that of the Ile de France. Germany had an even tougher road to nationalism, because it was a collection of independent states, of which there were far too many. Heinrich Heine, who despised German nationalism, once snarked that you can’t walk in Germany without some stateling sticking to your shoe.

So, Germans had to create a new nationality from a series of nations and princedoms which historically were rivals, all too often enemies. When Bavarian nationalists tried to secede from the Weimar Republic in the early 1920s (an issue that came to a head in Hitler’s famous Beer Hall Putsch), that idea did not come out of the void: Bavaria had been independent 50 years earlier. So, how do you bridge this gap? You tell the nation that Germany is uber alles, that the German people is the best of all people, that it is the one destined to lead tired and decadent Europe to a new future.

Yes, there are some drops of nationalism here, but the ultra-nationalism is not even hiding. It takes very little work to arrive at plain racism: People of Teutonic blood are superior to those of enervated Latin blood. If you wanted to put a veneer of respectability on it, you would define it as Catholicism versus Protestantism (Catholicism is “southern”, hence lazy, and Protestants, being “northern” are inherently industrious). But racism is still there, and it doesn’t have to wait long. This train is never late.

So, when Nave Dromi is speaking of a “nation state”, she is obfuscating what she wants. She prizes two forms of a nation state. One of them is clearly a racial state. Your status is defined by birth. If you happen to be born Palestinian, your citizenship would be, at best, limited; at worse, you will be a subject suffering the whim of anyone in uniform. If you happen to be born right, to a Jewish family, well – then you are (to quote Jabotinsky) “whether a slave, whether a nomad, you’re born the son of a king.”

The other nationality Dromi seeks is nationality as defined between the Peace of Westphalia and 1939: The concept that a nation is a sovereign unto itself, that governments can treat their subjects as they will without intervention by other governments, and that the nation may exercise its will to power, that is to conquer other lands and people.

The engine behind this form of nationality was colonialism, the unbelievable violence effected by Europe against indigent people. It was quite common until the 1940s, among self-described civilized people, to openly speak of their national greatness being expressed in the subjugation of the lesser. British, Americans, French, Germans, Italians – all inhaled this toxic, heady gas.

Which is why the concept of self determination was moribund when it was introduced after World War I: Too many powers found it an annoyance. It became acceptable only after World War II. What shocked so many people in what the Nazis did was that they imported to Europe the same methods, the same systems, the same brutality whites were accustomed to use against non-whites (in Africa, Asia, Australia and, of course, America), and used them against white Europeans.

When most people in Europe and America reached the horrified conclusion that colonial methods were criminal and inhuman, colonialism lost its vitality and collapsed in a historic blink – less than 20 years. It is not at all a coincidence that the same period of time (1945-1965) saw the collapse of the Jim Crow system.

Dromi, and the rest of the people opposing the post-war world order, are unwilling to accept the new form of a national state: One bound by rules. One forbidden to occupy other countries, to begin offensive wars, to oppress ethnic groups.

Yes, forbidden: That is the meaning of membership in the UN, that is the meaning of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. All people have rights, and they come before the rights of nations. It is not an accident that both Dromi and the alt-right (the political correct term for Neo-Nazis, of which the occupant of the White House is one) want to return to the concept of nationality common in 1939. Those were the days, eh?

Dromi treats Palestinians as white invaders treated any indigenous population: The latter “missed opportunities” to enslave themselves, they “refused to compromise” on what was theirs, they “chose terrorism.” And yes, the barbarous heathen often refused to fight honestly and face the onslaught of machine guns and artillery they did not possess; they lacked the option to bombard populations with gas from the air; so they cravenly preferred the ambush, the sudden sniping, the hidden bomb, and occasionally the poison. And, being naturally devoid of culture, they also killed civilians of the invading colonial power. 

Granted, they killed far, far fewer of those civilians than the number of indigenous civilians killed by the colonial power, but, as you already know, it is forbidden to compare. We are “restoring order” (a term much beloved by colonialists), and they are “breaking the order”. And once there is a threat to that natural order, in which the invader is by definition stronger (otherwise, his invasion would have been repelled), there is no recourse but to use brutal force to restore order.

They only understand force, after all.

And it hurts us more than it hurts them, believe us. As Golda Meir said, we shall never forgive them for having forced us to kill their sons. But, oy vey, if we don’t do so, we shall face what Dromi terms as “a struggle for the dismantling of the State of Israel, or at least a change of its self definition”. See well what Dromi says: The struggle is not over the existence of the State of Israel, but over its existence as a Jewish supremacy state.

And in order to keep it, from time to time we shall have to hunt down a mentally unstable man and shoot him as he cringes, cries, looking for shelter from a world already barely decipherable, in a garbage room. So it goes. Dromi would have you believe what happened to Eyad al-Halaq (may the gods of the underworld avenge him, as the Israeli government will not) was a tragedy.

A tragedy is often defined as a clash between two sorts of justice; in our case, human justice and what Gold Meir termed “Jewish justice”. The one which ends with an unarmed man lying dead and people who live off hasbara telling us that what we see is not what we see.

Because, after all, if most Israelis understand that what they see is truly what happened, they may experience what Europeans did after 1945: A horrified stumbling away from the mirror unmercifully placed before them. And then what would Nave Dromi do? Where would she draw her feelings of national greatness, if she would be forced to endure being equal to non-Jews?

Be merciful, oh Lord, and lay not innocent blood unto us.

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Attention Nave Dromi!!
Video: “I am an Arab Woman”
Also, a little humour courtesy of Dr. Norman Finkelstein:

An excellent expose of the archaic nature of Zionism — a late form of colonial racism that due to the change in Zeitgeist can no longer speak its name. Its defenders tie themselves in knots as they desperately try to obscure its nature. Those who know too much and so cannot be bamboozled are bound to prevail in any fair debate. Therefore they have to be silenced.

“settlers used to claim that the U.S. has no moral right to complain about Israel does to the Palestinians, because it did far worst things to its indigenous people.”     I have never understood this type of argument. If X is committing a wrong act, that act is wrong regardless of whether or not Y has committee a similar act. And if Y points out that X is wrong, Y is stating a truth.… Read more »

This is a very good article but I have some criticisms.   The main difference between different forms of nationalism is between the nationalism of the oppressed and the nationalism of the oppressor. French nationalism took the form that it did, at least initially, because it was formed in the struggle against the aristocracy and feudalism.   German nationalism was formed in the struggle to create an imperialist monster, born out of Prussian nationalism in… Read more »

Interesting article but the term “gentiles” really makes my skin crawl