I first came to Israel six years ago, a Jewish-American child of the deep south enthusiastic about my Taglit trip. During those decisive ten days in my life, I was engulfed in awe at the country of my ancestral origin. My admiration for Israel during those 10 days was admittedly based on the superficial, specifically the attractive I.D.F soldiers hailed as Jewish gods during the duration of my trip.
As I have matured, so have my feelings of Israel. I now admire the history and struggle of its people. Situated in a hostile region, Israel has been successful in maintaining a sense of humanity through various initiatives such as ‘Save a Child’s Heart’. Despite hardships, and a need to focus on security, Israel has been committed to being a leading developer of scientific, medical and technological developments. Needless to say, I love this country — I have been greatly blessed in a myriad of ways by its numerous opportunities. It’s no surprise then, that I am disturbed by the growing number of initiatives directed at Israel and its people globally such as through the BDS movement. No movement however, is as upsetting to me as the numerous loathing foreigners graciously residing in Israel.
I am not writing to suggest that in order to live in Israel one must be a Zionist or Jewish, quite the contrary — anyone has the right, as a tourist, to enjoy Israel in whatever activity they are amused by. What baffles me, is not the tourist critical of Israeli government action, but the dogmatic persons choosing to take advantage of Israeli opportunity all the while aggressively criticising Israel and its supporters.
I recently overheard such a North American individual who particularly stood out to me do to their bold, one might interpret, racist statements. Despite clearly having a myriad of issues with Israel, this individual willingly resides and studies here. To hate Israel but willingly live here seems inconsistent. Nonetheless, the point is not to question life decisions, but rather to illuminate a greater issue: how anti-Israel speech, in many contexts, is frustrating — given Jewish history — to the Jews forced to listen. To reside in Israel without cultural ties to the country, does not afford one an excuse to criticise Israel hatefully as such “criticism”, as is highlighted below, often comes at the expense of Israelis (Jewish and Arab) or those with ties to this country. Essentially, like in all countries, I would expect to see the same cultural sensitivity afforded to other states be applied in the Jewish one as well. To illustrate, the various arguments I have heard in the past six from tourists living here is embodied by the arguments of the previously stated North American individual. Their argument, the argument of the the individual, follows below, their argument being written under the label ‘argument’, my interpretation under the title ‘rebuttal’.
Argument: “Israel is racist, there are too many benefits for Jews”.
Rebuttal: I have heard this complaint on numerous occasions with many assuming that dissimilar to other countries, Israel should roll out the red carpet to all. The idea is that Aliyah should be revoked so that anyone can be afforded the opportunity to be Israeli if they so choose. Several other states have the idea of nationality on the basis of identity – Poland and Ireland to name a few. The concept of Aliyah is the only one I know of where a Jew is welcomed; it is one of the few times in history where I (a Jew) feel welcomed. I share a history with this country and its people. Sweden has scholarships for descendants of Swedish citizens, are they too a racist state? Ireland allows those of Irish ancestry to obtain a passport, is this too racist? Is it really shocking that a Jewish state has benefits for Jewish people, especially since numerous countries also have uncontested incentives to persons that share in their history and identity? I can get a passport, a free trip, some money and a few scholarships, I don’t find these incentives to be any different than those offered by a myriad of other identity-based organisations and states. Franky, given the history of my people, I feel blessed that for once in history, I get any incentive at all! Essentially, asking the Jews to roll out the red carpet so that those who already benefit – North Americans and Europeans – can benefit some more, is offensive not only for the arrogance of the argument but for the clear insensitivity to Jewish history. In lamest terms, allow me to set down my glass of celebratory champagne, saluting Jewish sovereignty after thousands of years of oppression, just so I can discuss your place in my self-determination. No, I believe I’ll keep hold of that champagne flute just a little while longer sugar.
Argument: “Israel is the problem, when they (Israelis/zionist) want peace, there will be peace” & “I was tear gassed in an Arab town in the West Bank – Israel is the problem”.
Rebuttal: You’re telling me that billions of shekels spent, thousands of lives taken, the myriad of rockets that have rained down on children’s schools and in civilian towns, the continuance of the Jewish struggle for some semblance of peace… all of this could have been spared if I simply wanted peace? I wouldn’t have to cry my eyes out, worried for the lives of my friend’s during war, if I only wanted peace? Slight obvious statement, but we (Israelis/Zionist) don’t just want peace we need peace! Israel’s soldiers aren’t plastic and this conflict is no game; no one is having fun here. To even suggest that the population of Israel is amused by war is to make a mockery of those that have fought and died in the name of Israeli sovereignty. These soldiers are people we know, they are our family and our friends. To suggest that we send them – the ones we love – to a war for personal enjoyment is deeply offensive, inappropriate, and abhorrent. Furthermore, this certainly isn’t a one-sided affair, as the saying goes, it takes two to tango and I will leave it at that.
In regards to being tear gassed, as we say in the South, “G-d bless your heart, that is some kind of special”. Honestly, what individual willingly moves to arguably the most discussed country in the world due to conflict, yet is shocked by, wait for it, conflict!? Sugar, welcome to non-violent police tactics utilized globally to maintain crowd control. If Israel is “the problem” because of non-violent police tactics, then could someone please explain to me the proper label for the Palestinian Authority and Hamas? I mean both of the former are responsible for either taking part in or condoning violence against Jewish civilians. Israel isn’t “the problem”, we are people living in a hostile region with unhappy neighbours. Blaming the Jewish country as the source of a conflict and its continuance is easily identified as biased and perhaps even racist.
Argument: “Listen to me, I wasn’t educated in a Jewish school; I know better, I have the solution”; “You people are too sensitive about history to make decisions”; “The Jews are fine, there is no threat”.
Rebuttal: Said individual, ironically enough, is studying at an Israeli (Jewish) university. With that said, I have heard many others make the argument that a Jewish education is a biased education. The former is not a justification of a valid argument but an accusation beleaguering the Jewish people. Despite being 0.2% of the world’s population, we count for 22% of all individual Nobel Peace Prize winners. Clearly, we’re doing something right. Clearly, we don’t require the assistance of the outsider in order to review our issues sufficiently – to suggest as much is to suggest the Jewish people are intellectually inferior, a racist argument at best.
In regards to the “I know better” statement, I can’t help but view this argument in historical terms. Frankly, such an argument, in my mind, is the basis of imperialist thinking. It seems odd that the seemingly unimportant tourist would find themselves as “knowing better” than the current Prime Minister who happens to have acquired degrees from both MIT and Harvard. Israel is a country of people with a variety of opinions and ideas to generate forward momentum, it doesn’t require outside guidance from individuals to catapult itself in a direction of peaceful relations.
As it pertains to sensitivity, are the Jews too sensitive or are those responsible simply too embarrassed to analyse not so distant history? Frankly, every Israeli has a right to be “sensitive” to their family’s past grievances. To state that a Jew is too “sensitive”, thus is unable to be accurate in their perceptions of current affairs, is nothing more than an attempt to silence Israel and its supporters.
Lastly, to state that Israel is conscious of an unreal threat is to be either unaware or unconcerned with the national security issues of Israel and the Jewish people globally. The myriad of attacks on Jews in Europe, are those not threats? The call for the destruction of the State of Israel and the genocide of its people, are those not reason for legitimate concern? Were five Jewish people not targeted and killed in Israel just a few days ago? To deny the well-founded threats identified by Jews globally is to deny the existence of reported global anti-semitism and racism altogether; it is to deny the victims their voices and right to tell their experiences.
Allow me to be clear, I don’t assert that non-Jews or non-Israelis should be barred of their opinions when residing in Israel. My point is simple, being a tourist residing in Israel for whatever reason, does not entitle one to express their thoughts at the expense of the Jewish or Israeli people. I separate the two – Jewish and Israeli – as over a million Arabs are citizens of this country, with numerous Arab persons having willingly and proudly fought in the I.D.F. Again, my point is not to attempt to silence the opinion of the tourist. The idea I am attempting to portray is one in which respect is shown to the persons with a history and connection to this country. The opinion of the tourist does not in any way supersede the rights of every Israeli, or those connected to Israel, to respect and dignity. My history. My country. My culture. My future. My decision. My rights. The globally recognized norms of being culturally aware and sensitive, apply for the majority when travelling and residing abroad – I kindly request that Israel and the Jewish people be viewed as part of this global cultural norm. As we say in the south to the rude and inconsiderate, “sugar since you don’t seem to know better, G-d bless your heart, you’re welcome to borrow my copy of Emily Post”.