Monday, February 05, 2007

Israel & the 'Ex Wife' Effect

As a political and philosophical junkie, I frequent a few of the hundred or so online chat rooms and message boards dedicated to international politics. I cannot say how much of what we argue over causes any major shift in the real world politique, but I can tell you that a certain portion of the debate is bothering me a great deal. Ever since the onset of the American Invasion of Iraq for Oil, anti-Israel sentiment has steadily increased. Failure in Iraq and Lebanon has the Israelis, once again, looking the stooges of an imperialist American regime. I happen to agree that a vigorous critique of the Sharon and Olmert governments is in order, and I would be the first to say that taking sides with the American Neocons was a blunder of international and historic proportions. I do not see the State of Israel rebounding any time soon from the public policy and publicity nightmare that the Olmert government has created. I don't want Israel to go away, however. I wish for it to improve its relationships with its neighbors.

Most disturbing is who makes the most vicious and exaggerated remarks. These comments are not coming from toothless, backwoods, uneducated, beer-guzzling right-wing Neanderthals, nor from radical Moslem college students, as one might expect. The authors of this ridiculous anti-Israel vitriol are highly educated Manhattan liberals, Ivy league Boston progressives, and well-to-do California Democrats. They are people who know Jews, probably know a few Israelis and, as their education suggests, should know how to define the parameters of a discussion, avoid hyperbole, and establish those distinctions necessary to form a cogent analysis of the situation. I find that many of these people, some whom I have known for some time, have turned to generalizing statements about Israel and Jews. They should know better and I cannot, for this life of me, figure out what it is that impels this sudden loss of rationality.

These individuals are not painting similarly same wide brush strokes over the Palestinians, Iranians, Saudis, or anyone else. Some of my fellow 'lefties' are well aware the various political, economic and religious factions at work in those countries yet, when it comes to Israel, they fail to account for Chiloni, Peacenik, or Charedi, etc. All they see are the evil 'fascist Zionists' "Jewish Apartheid", and their 'illegal settlements'. If one were to know by asking them, Israel would appear to be the most unified nation on the planet, having just one opinion shared and acted upon universally by all Israeli Jews. The faults of Medinat Yisrael, many as they are, are not exclusive to Israel or Jews yet, to hear them say it, Israel invented the issues! Their selectivity in assessing guilts, blames, faults, and even offer credit where credit is due is a skill honed almost to perfection.

I am also a vocal critic of Israeli policy, right and left, but I am not an enemy of the state. I take the time to know the crucial differences because they are important to understanding how we arrived at this juncture and will provide information as to how both Israel and her neighbors can move past the problems at hand. I would never speak of the Saudis or Palestinians as 'they' or 'them' but define each group or ideal for itself in relation to the whole. Fatah and Hamas, for example, have some disturbing similarities, but also some glaring differences. The PNAC and the Bush administration failed to account for any differences between Shia and Sunni and look at the results in Iraq. Failure to grasp the intricacies leads to a failure in judgment and in problem solving. Success in Iraq, or Lebanon for that matter, was not dependent upon moral rectitude, but on whether or not the Americans or Israelis knew what they were doing and with whom they were engaging.

Another careful distinction that many decide not to make is who they are rooting for and why. Otherwise Pro-Choice, Pro Gay Marriage, Pro Women's Rights, and anti-death penalty persons choose to defend Islamic regimes over Israeli secularism. Now, I have no problem with extending the olive branch of love and understanding to the Moslem world, but let's be real. In their worldview, almost universally, homosexuals are executed, abortions are prosecuted, and women are still persecuted. This is not the case in Israel, whose domestic social policies look more like Holland or Denmark than anywhere else in the Mideast, certainly nothing like the repressive exploits attributed to the 'fascist Zionists'. To blindly take sides with religious ideals that oppose personal freedoms or human rights and only exist as nationalistic or religious entities over a nation that is fundamentally socialist and liberal to its core, simply boggles the mind. It reveals the depth of their anti-Semitism. I would not expect Israel to get a free pass because they are more western than other nations, but that the careful and important distinctions be considered before forming opinions of right, wrong, and redress.

These seemingly otherwise understanding and contemplative individuals cannot see Israel as a liberal western society imbued by higher education and European values and yet, caught between the 'rock' of survival and the 'hard place' of a world opinion that has never warmed up to a Jewish presence in the Mideast. This fervor doesn't permit them to see chilonim, discotheques, physics professors, Arab universities, Druze, Buddhists, atheists, Christian, Israeli Arab, or charedi kindergartens. The inherent diversity and tolerance within Israeli society means nothing in their eyes. That the Arab or Palestinian underdog they so ardently support possesses a value system diametrically opposed to leftism, human rights, and social justice matters not, but should. Consider that there have never been gay pride marches in the West Bank, Gaza, or through downtown Cairo is not for lack of homosexuals. They simply would never be permitted to gather and if they did, they would be met with horrific violence. As one gay Palestinian man told me "I hate Israel for what they have done to my people, but it is the only place for a 1000 miles that I can go out on Saturday night and be myself."

Similarly, the same arguments used to defend Palestinian violence against Israeli civilians does not carry over to Israelis defending their person or property. Any defense of AIPAC, the IDF, or Israeli policy is answered with "Zionist! Zionist! Imperialist! Fascist!" I dislike the stench of the corporate Israel lobby as much as I would any other, but to throw around jingoisms and slogans rather than rationally discuss the merits of the argument is childish, and for these seemingly educated Americans, of all people, to resort to such a low level of rhetoric tells me that this dislike of Israel is not about policy, but of Israel and Jews overall. The failure to make distinctions and recognize realities is what defines prejudice and racism. I am watching the best and brightest among us reveal their true anti-Semitism. They are beginning to sound like spokespersons for Fatah and Hamas rather than people who, like myself, are anxious to see peace and cooperation despite the stark differences in philosophy. Were I to make the same sort of comments regarding blacks, natives, or Mexicans, I would quickly be stripped of my ACLU membership.

These same individuals do not claim to be anti-Jewish. In fact, some of them are married to Jews, have Jewish friends and business associates. They say they love Chomsky and 'those chasidim who hate Zionism' and call them "real Jews" or the "good Jews", because they happen to also take an irrational and misguided opinion to its most illogical extreme without considering the important in-betweens. They are anti-Semites not because they say bad things about Israel, rather because they simply cannot find anything good or reasonable to say about it either, which shows the to extent and tenor of what appears to me a latent and pervasive prejudice. It is the same destructive approach that the Bush administration and its corporate cronies took in Iraq, and to see those who should know better behave in the same manner is telling.

I prefer to call this syndrome the "Ex-wife effect." In my divorce, for example, to hear my ex-wife tell it, I was the most vile, evil, angry, vicious, mean-spirited, lazy, good-for-nothing, raving lunatic on the planet without exception or equal. Twenty years later, her opinion of me hasn't softened one bit. It is impossible for her say a good thing about me, even though we all must know there must have been something, as she married me, bore children, and stayed with me for six years when she could have left anytime she felt like it. (In fact, it was I who left her.) Truth be told, I was not a great husband and I said and did many things that I wish now I hadn't. To garner the sympathies and the support of friends, the courts, and relatives would not have required her to be anything other than perfectly and plainly honest, but she couldn't do that without evoking some sympathy for her estranged husband. She had to 'pile it on' sort of speak and I became not merely an ex-husband with whom she could not agree, but legendary if not epic in the proportions of my nefariousness and deeds of evil. Oh. I smell bad, too. Attributing any decency to me whatsoever would have shaken her own delicate position and possibly threaten her support system. One should not have to lie where the truth is sufficient enough.

Same here goes with the critique of Israel. If someone has one thing bad to say about Israel, don't worry, because I have several they haven't thought of yet. However, if they cannot even manage to find or offer one positive or even-handed thought on Israel's behalf, then I have to wonder just how rational they really are and if it is even possible for them to make sound judgments in her regard. And since, as with my ex-wife, the 'truth' must correlate with an emotional predisposition, falsehoods must also be offered as justification. This is why you will hear anti-Israel rhetoric peppered with phrases like "World Bank", "Imperialism", "Fascism", and other 'isms' that have no relation to Israel or her neighbors, and a blatant disregard for the double standard that judges Israel with a very different moral meter than is used on her Arab neighbors or the rest of the planet.

"The worst mistake I made was that stupid, suburban prejudice of anti-Semitism." (Ezra Pound)

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