An award winning idea

It is no secret that Israel is a very news-heavy country, so when an overnight shift as a Breaking News editor here at the Times of Israel passes without any major potentially earth-shattering events, I can’t help wondering (as per the soon-upon-us Passover): Why is this night different from all other nights?

And so it was this past Sunday night. I listened to the top of every hour news broadcasts, as is Israel’s national pastime, but it was just news had already been edited by the evening team and published before I came on duty, so I had a reasonably easy shift (well, as easy as a shift can be when it goes from midnight until 7:00 am).

Then it hit me – it was Oscars night. And while I had not thought the Oscars were such a big deal, apparently I was mistaken, because what else could possibly explain for the night’s wonderful quiet?.

Of course there was one aspect of the Oscars that was of particular interest here – the Israeli film “Footnote” was nominated for Best Foreign Film. It was the fourth time in five years that an Israeli film has been so nominated and many of us were hoping that this time would be the charm.

Alas, it was not to be. As was widely expected, the Iranian film “A Separation” took home the award.

I haven’t seen either movie, so I have no opinion, but several friends who have seen both have said that they thought “A Separation” was the better film. They all spoke very highly of “Footnote”, but recognized that the film more deserving of the award actually won it this year.

But many folks were quite upset. They could not believe how blatantly anti-Israel the Academy obviously was to have voted against the Israeli film, and for an Iranian film, no less! These are friends who I like and respect very much. They are deeply committed to Israel, the Jewish people, and pretty much anything connected to Israelis and Jews. However, this commitment of theirs, like that of many others is so intense that they automatically see everything Israeli as superior to anything non-Israeli – especially if it’s Arab or Muslim.

I have long found this attitude among Jews problematic. And I realize that I am putting myself out on a limb here and risking an onslaught of very uncomplimentary labels (liberal, self-hating Jew, enemy of Israel are among the more gentle epithets that may be coming my way), but it is important to try being realistic here.

Yes – I am fully aware that there are plenty of Muslims out there who would love to see every Jew in the world dead and the remaining infidels under sharia law. I have seen the footage of celebrations and candy distribution in Gaza after 9-11, and other terror attacks. I have also seen the “public opinion” polls from among the Palestinians showing that the overwhelming majority support continued terror attacks against Israelis.

Of course these are all very disturbing. Whether or not it is an honest reflection how Palestinians truly feel about us is a topic for another time (hmmm – I have found my next blog topic…), but I do know that it is not the full picture. For all of our cousins next door who are ready to do whatever it takes to kill us all, I know that there are also those who basically want what most of us want out of life – to raise and support their families, and eventually grow old with their grandchildren.

Of course, we don’t – and won’t in the foreseeable future – hear many folks living in Gaza say any of this, because to publically express anything other than complete support of Hamas and devotion to the destruction of Israel is akin to signing one’s own death warrant. But some of the people there would say it if they could. I know – I have met and worked with more than a handful.

But in the public eye, the hatred remains in the foreground. And many of us respond in kind. Of course this is understandable – when we are looking at our own potential destruction how can we be expected to react otherwise? And that response, the hatred and anger naturally carry themselves over into realms that really have nothing to do with security and survival.

For example – the Academy Awards. Many supporters of Israel did not even stop to consider that maybe – just maybe the Iranian was a better film than the Israeli one.

So, while this attitude among many of my fellow Jews, Israelis and Zionists irks and disappoints me, it enabled me to really appreciate and connect with something I read yesterday. This 2-week old op-ed piece in the National Review by Lee Habeeb, an American of Lebanese descent, describes how I often feel to a proverbial T.

He recalls the first column in which he defended Israel’s position, after which he was bombarded with anger and hatred from his fellow citizens of Arab descent – how could he possibly speak out on behalf of Israel, the mortal enemies of the Arab people? He was even called a “self-hating Arab” (sound familiar…?)

He offers the opinion that Arabs are instinctively opposed to anything and everything Israeli primarily due to fear, envy and their own self-doubt. The article is a fascinating example of how it truly is possible to disconnect our own nationalistic prejudices from how realistically we can relate to the world around us. Habeeb doesn’t express a particular “love” for Israel, rather he admires what Israel has managed to accomplish despite its diminutive size and tough surroundings.

He supports many of Israel’s claims not out of love for us but because the facts – when seen with an open mind and open heart – warrant such support. He does not need to reject his own Arab background in order to relate to Israelis and Jews as actual people rather than the personification of evil. He was singing my tune.

I believe that Israel has the historic and moral right to exist.

I believe that we have the right to take whatever steps are necessary – diplomatically, militarily, whatever in order to defend our citizens, land and right to exist here in peace (if and when it eventually comes).

I believe that the UN, the majority of world governments and majority of international media can’t get enough of crapping all over Israel and refusing to give us a fair shake or hearing in the court of world opinion.

And I believe that these beliefs need not automatically translate into hatred for everything Arab, or even for the Palestinians as a people. The individuals who actively work to hurt me, my family and my people – they are my enemies, and I will fight them with everything I have. But the majority of Arabs, who, no matter what they say publically, never actually act in any way against me – they don’t bother me. And I can also accept the idea that something or someone is not automatically inferior just because they are not Jewish, or lovers of Israel.

Who knows? Perhaps the key to real peace in the Middle East is for the majority of Arabs and Jews alike to be able and willing to adopt the self-analysis and understanding that allows us to see ourselves and our enemies not as has been ingrained in us, but as we truly are.

If anyone can find that road of tolerance and self-acceptance that eventually leads to peace, that person should get a Nobel Prize – or better yet, an Academy Award.

About the Author
Asher Zeiger grew up (well, sort of) in North Carolina and moved to Israel in 1988. He lives in Modi'in with his wife and two daughters, and works as freelance writer, editor and translator. In his spare time, he tries hard at not taking himself or life too seriously (successfully) and at unwrapping himself from around his daughters' little fingers (not so successfully).