If I were a writer for Mondoweiss, that infamous peddler of anti-Israel (some might say, anti-Semitic) tripe, I would be awfully surprised too if the people of Tel Aviv were “eerily nice to me.” In her fresh-off-the-plane dispatch written in the style of David Livingstone telegraphing Her Majesty during his escapades in the heart of Africa, Allison Deger found the natives living by the shores of the Mediterranean quite personable, “morning beach-goers who looked like they had been transported from Coney Island” who greeted her and “cracked deprecating jokes.”
Not that the apparent friendliness of the locals did much to influence her reportage. “Tel Aviv is in every sense a ‘bubble,’” Deger writes, a “ghetto,” and a “failure of the Zionist dream.” The reasoning (if it can be so called) behind her dramatic conclusion? The alleyways “smelled of sun-dried urine” and “many buildings have tin roofs and shoddy construction.” The Zionist dream, evidently, was not a city and a state in which a united, national community could flourish in a condition of safety and security, independent of external pressures, but rather a Panglossian environment where the problems of urban living are non-existent, metropolises smell of lilac and lavender, and all signs of decay and fragility are eradicated.
Which alleyways and what buildings Deger speaks of I cannot be sure, though the south side of Tel Aviv and the area around the hideous Central Bus Station is indeed a tad run down and dilapidated. But I’m almost certain that whatever problems Tel Aviv has in this regard are failures of town planning and local government oversight as opposed to the founding ideology of Israel itself. Just as Deger wouldn’t blame Thomas Paine or Thomas Jefferson for the socio-economic problems that plague quarters of New York or Los Angeles (would she?), it would be unfair, to say the least, to hold Theodor Herzl responsible for the state of Shapira.
Not that specifics regarding Israel’s history matter much to Deger, for her findings drawn from her time in Tel Aviv read as if before her departure, she did not pick up any long book on the subject, at all. If she had, then it is unlikely she would have concluded that Tel Aviv’s “original sin” was “forcing Palestinians to leave” in order to create it. It rather seems to have escaped Deger that the whole point of Tel Aviv is that it was an entirely new, Jewish city, built upon land purchased and cultivated by pioneers at the height of the Second Aliya, its construction founded upon modern conceptions of architectural design and urban development. A brief trip to the “Land of Baron Rothschild” gallery at the Eretz Israel Museum could have informed Deger of this, though I suppose that exhibit could be part of a larger, insidious Zionist plot to cover up the truth behind Tel Aviv’s founding.
In addition to her lack of preparation, Deger, it appears, did not even bother to leave her hotel room, preferring instead to trawl the internet in search of the worse assumptions and suppositions about Tel Aviv, copying and pasting them into her article. “There are no Palestinians or even signs of their not so historic thriving presence,” she writes, adding strangely, “other than maybe Arak on cafe menus.” In this case, I would have recommended Deger visit Yafo – the center of which she could have very well have spotted from the beach where she met those rather kindly Jews – to see signs of thriving Arab culture in the heart of Israel.
Marooned on her hotel island, she probably also missed the scores of homosexual Palestinian refugees, forced out of the West Bank on account of their nature, living free and open lives in what is considered the gay capital of the Middle East. Then there are the Palestinians receiving treatment in the city’s hospitals or employed in Israel on work permits. As for the lack of Palestinian and Arab cultural heritage in Israel, I assume Deger never tasted hummus, shawarma, or falafel, among other delicacies.
This is not to suggest that Tel Aviv is without fault, of course, but Deger’s description of a city corrupted by capitalism, driven into a condition of beggary and ill-repute, and transformed into a gigantic open latrine, does not quite match the Tel Aviv that I recall. Then again, perhaps in the months that have passed since I was last there, all the quaint cafés and restaurants have shuttered, the boutiques, art galleries, and museums were closed, and the gloriously white Bauhaus buildings that won Tel Aviv UNESCO World Heritage status were demolished in order to make way for the shanty towns and piss-soaked passageways that Deger evokes. Ah well, so much for the Zionist dream…