There are only two kinds of people, and one shade of Zionism, in the world. You’re either a pro-Israeli philosemite with a relentless affection to the holy land (and people) and an undeniable pro-settlement stance – or you’re a dirty anti-Zionist, an anti-Semite, and – worse of all – a critic of Israeli settlement and the policy that encourages their proliferation. That, in a nutshell, is what Saadia Novik – and Benjamin Netanyahu’s government, the most Right-wing one in Israeli history, mind you – will have us believe. Now, this is quite a conclusion to arrive at after reading but one blog post, and one that deals with Airbnb of all things, but it’s also the truth.
For you see, Caroline Glick and Michael Oren – both shining examples of Right-wing “Hasbara” fighters who would find it hard to criticize the Israeli government (of which the latter is a proud member, too) even if Netanyahu sang Linda Sarsour’s praises – can scream and shout about Airbnb’s hypocritical antisemitism until kingdom come. They might even have a point, in that the fact Airbnb chooses its battles so as to fit popular trends (and what’s trendier than bashing Israel?) is conveniently easy, and ridiculously self-righteous. But, as Novik so eloquently diagnosed, Airbnb is not the issue. The issue is us: Jews. More specifically, Zionist Jews. And even more explicitly, how we define what it means to be an Israeli, a Zionist, a member of the Jewish people.
Let’s break it down.
Israel’s current government is unique. Unprecedented even. For the past 3 years and 8 months, this government has reigned supreme, seemingly unchallenged. Its majority remained solid, even if it has had to lean on MK’s like Oren Hazan or Dudi Amsalem. Its policies faced little to no opposition. It’s laws – when Netanyahu wished it so – passed with ease in the Israeli parliament and met little to no resistance from the courts. Yet and still, it didn’t truly fulfill any of its promises. The economy didn’t break hard to the Right; The supreme court remains largely unscathed, though the fight to subordinate it to the government is still ongoing. No refugee or immigrant, legal or otherwise, was deported. Hamas’ reign of terror in Gaza, the one PM Netanyahu famously promised to destroy, is alive, well, and well-funded (by 15 million Dollars or so, that is) – by Netanyahu’s government, no less. Even the Oslo accords, vilified as horrible, traitorous acts of shameful withdrawing from our fatherland that for at least one man and several rabbis, seemed to justify the assassination of PM Rabin, are still a reality.
While the reasons for the Right’s reluctance to make good on its promises are plenty, including the understanding that talk is cheap, that a war in Gaza can only end in tears and the hard realization that making Avigdor Lieberman Israel’s Secretary of Defense perhaps wasn’t the best of ideas – they don’t matter here. What does matter is what the Right has done to hide its failures: blame it on everyone else. The court, the police, the press, The New Israel Fund, Breaking the Silence, Be’stelem, Benni Gantz and the IDF as a whole, the opposition, the Arabs, Ofira Asayag, Obama, the UN, just you name it. You’re either with us – that is, with Netanyahu – or you are a dangerous, self-hating, shameful person. And in this war of propaganda, all is fair: it is OK to make friends with anti-Semites, as long as they are willing to turn a blind eye to our policies. It is great to have a Right-wing president in the White House, even if big parts of his base are anti-Semitic and proud of it. It is OK to call anyone, yours truly included (Lieutenant Dembin, at your service) a fifth column, a traitor, an enemy – if they criticize us. Right –or wrong. Black, or white. Bibi, or everyone else.
The inescapable result of this is the unification of Israelism, Zionism, and Judaism into one ultra-flexible term, and what’s worse – the automatic identification of these three terms with the Israeli government and its policies. Put plainly, in this new reality, any criticism of Israel’s policies is perceived no as criticism of its current government, but instead as a criticism of Zionism as a concept, ergo an anti-Semitic act. To say the occupation is wrong is no longer to say Israel is wrong, but instead, it is to say that Israel shouldn’t exist and that Zionism is inherently evil. And if you think Zionism is bad, you are clearly an anti-Semite, even if your lawyer is Jewish and your daughter converted. And as long as you aren’t the US President.
Sure enough, some of Israel’s detractors have made the mistake of accepting this notion, and thus, by perceiving Zionism as Bibi-ism, by identifying Israel with the occupation (and nothing more) and by seeing Zionism, Semitism and the current government as one, have succumbed to this government’s own striving – that no criticism be allowed, and that all criticism be automatically branded hate speech.
Yet and still, the fact remains that the masterminds behind the assimilation of Zionism into Jewish Nationalism (as opposed to Patriotism, for instance) are the same people who, in the name of Zionism, are willing to vilify anyone who poses but the slightest of threat to their consolidation of power. In that sense, Airbnb does the Israeli Right a great service: it once again shows Israelis that the world is against us, is hypocritical, is anti-Semite – and that only mister security himself, the man, the myth, the legend, PM Netanyahu, can protect us. He is the Protector of Israel, after all.
But the truth is a lot more complicated than that. For you see, in truth, Israel is a complex, nuanced state. It is a democracy, with many different views, ideas, perceptions, ideologies. It is a nation-state for the Jewish people and a Zionist state for sure. But not everyone in Israel agrees that Zionism means forever holding onto the West Bank (Judea and Samaria). Not everyone subscribes to the notion that we can do no wrong. Not everyone buys the idealistic myth of a people with no country coming to a country with no people. Not everyone sees the Right as, well, right – and the Left as wrong. And not everyone is as easily manipulated to assume that a commercial company’s refusal to accept a territory under military occupation for the past 70 years as a natural part of the state which occupies it.
Heck, even Netanyahu’s own government can’t bring itself to cancel the Oslo accords, break up the PNA and annex the disputed territories and the millions of Palestinians living in them. And to think we Jews, as Saadia Novik so passionately reminds us, set the agenda. Oh, well. Maybe we really are nothing but a group of self-hating auto-antisemites. Or maybe we know deep inside that the problem isn’t Airbnb’s hypocrisy, but the Israeli government’s inability to see anything but the imagined enemy it has built in its attempts to justify its own actions and policies. And maybe, just maybe, we know that not every criticism of Bibi’s policies is anti-Semitic, not every disagreement with Israel is anti-Zionism, and the West Bank simply is not part of our sovereign state. Who would’ve thought it?