Gefen Bar-On Santor

In the shade of a thornbush?

Source: iStock, cristianoalessandro

In Judges 9: 8-15, Jotham, whose family has just been massacred, responds with a parable: one day, the trees decided to anoint a monarch over them.  The trees went to the olive tree first, but the olive tree declined because it wanted to focus on its mission of producing “rich oil.”  Next, the trees went to the fig tree, who similarly declined because it wanted to focus on providing humanity with sweet and delicious fruit: “Have I stopped yielding my sweetness, my delicious fruit, that I should go and wave above the trees?”  Third, the trees went to the grapevine, who likewise rejected political power, declaring that making others happy is its life’s mission: “Have I stopped yielding my new wine, which gladdens God and men, that I should go and wave above the trees?”  Finally, the trees went to the thornbush, who accepted the offer to rule over them: “And the thornbush said to the trees, ‘If you are acting honorably in anointing me king over you, come and take shelter in my shade; but if not, may fire issue from the thornbush and consume the cedars of Lebanon!’” (The Jewish Study Bible).

In the post-October-7 world, some Israel haters have been emboldened to disturb the peace of mind and to challenge the safety of people who wish to focus on the productive virtues of peaceful life and work.  With aggressive rhetoric that makes false claims about Israel as a genocidal apartheid state, we are invited to sit in the non-existent shade of the thornbush—with the implicit threatening reminder that, should we decline the invitation, the thornbush will use its power to consume the cedars of Lebanon, a symbol of strength and quality.

Out of Berlin, a reminder recently came of what could happen to people who dare speak out for Israel in today’s 1930’s Germany:

In The World of Yesterday, Stefan Zweig describes the tragic role that universities played in facilitating the rise of Nazism:

What the S. A. men, who broke up meetings with rubber clubs, attacked their opponents by night and felled them to the ground, accomplished for the National Socialists was provided for the German Nationals by the Corps Students [Tr.: Students’ Club or Association with distinctive colors and emblems, such as caps and ribbons] who, under the cover of academic immunity, instituted an unparalleled campaign of violence, and who were organized as a militia to march in, at beck and call, upon every political action. Grouped into so-called Burschenschaften [Tr.: German Students’ Association founded in 1815 in opposition to the Corps], scar-faced, drunken, and brutal, they dominated the University Hall, for they did not wear the cap and ribbon like the others, but were armed with hard, heavy sticks. Unceasingly aggressive, they attacked the Jewish, the Slavic, the Catholic, and the Italian students turn by turn, and drove them, defenseless, out of the University. On the occasion of every Bummel (as the Saturday student spree was called) blood flowed. The police, who because of the ancient privilege accorded the University were not allowed to enter the Hall, had to look on inactively from without and see how these cowardly ruffians worked havoc, and could do no more than carry off the wounded who were thrown bleeding down the steps into the street by these nationalist rowdies. Wherever this tiny though loud-mouthed party of the German Nationals wished to obtain anything by force in Austria, they sent this student storm troop on ahead.

(p. 73-74.  Good Press. Kindle Edition.)

The relative lack of physical violence and instead the focus on verbal aggression and manipulation among Israel haters in North America derives from an understanding that physical violence is unlikely to be tolerated by society at large.  However, verbal aggression should not mislead us about the inherently destructive nature of much anti-Israeli activism.

Even before Israel’s military response to the most horrific massacre of Jews since the Holocaust on October 7 began, a pseudo-intellectual celebration of Israel hate asserted itself across some academic institutions and other places in the public sphere.  What was hidden before now became overt: Israel has indeed solved the problem of Jew hate—but not for Israelis.  Israel has solved the problem of Jew hate for the Jew haters who believe that they can falsely claim that they are not Jew haters but are only “against Israel.” To a lesser extent, Israel has also solved the problem of Jew hate for some Jewish people who believe that they can protect themselves from Jew hate if they “criticize Israel.”  In this way, the ancient and persistent addiction to Jew hate has magically vanished (I have never heard anyone in elite circles say that they may be struggling with Jew hate), while the delectable pleasures and tropes of Jew hate may be abundantly and lavishly enjoyed.

Among the demands of activists, there is one that I agree with—that we should study more Palestinian literature, something that I have done very little myself.

I am grateful to Marcia Aaronson for forwarding me this link, which I have not read yet:

My reflections that follow, which are critical, are based on a piece that is not in the above link.  Indeed, the corpus of Palestinian literature should be studied more closely with attention to the nuances of each work.

In her introduction to Palestine +100: Stories from a Century after the Nakba, a collection of stories that imagines Palestine in 2048, Basma Ghalayini, who was born in Khan Younis, says about Palestinian writers that “their writing is, in part, a search for their lost inheritance, as well as an attempt to keep the memory of that loss from fading. In this sense, the past is everything to a Palestinian writer; it is the only thing that makes their current existence and their identity meaningful.  And the Nakba, of course, sits at the heart of this” (p. 8-9).

Ghalayini’s choice of words tends toward the absolute: “the past is everything”. . . . “it is the only thing.”  Palestinian inter-generational memory as Ghalayini describes it is impressively vivid and detailed:

“Four generations on, any Palestinian child can tell you all about their great-grandfather’s back garden in Haifa, Yaffa or Majdal. They can tell you about their great-grandmother’s kitchen, the patterns on her plates, and the colours of the embroidery on her pillows. They can tell you about their great-grandparents’ neighbours, the musky smell of the local shop and all the handmade goods it sold. This child has never been to any of those places, of course, but so long as they keep the memory of them alive, then, should they ever get to go back, it would be as if they had never left; they could pick up exactly where their great-grandparents left off. Indeed, wherever Palestinian refugees are in the world, one thing unites them: their undoubted belief in their right to return.” (p. 7)

“Any Palestinian child”—again, the language is absolute, not describing the possibility that perhaps there are many Palestinians (who perhaps do not tend to publish books) who mostly want to get on with their lives and live and work peacefully.

“Wherever Palestinian refugees are in the world”—what does that mean?  “Wherever” potentially transports us into a grand global scale.  Does this mean that citizens of Western countries who are of Palestinian origin have the right to “pick up exactly where their great-grandparents left off?”  And does “the right of return” mean, as was demonstrated on October 7, murdering, raping, torturing, burning and kidnapping citizens of the sovereign state of Israel (over 20 percent of whom are Arab)?

The vision that Ghalayini articulates is the antithesis of moving on: “Every day spent away from Palestine, in the life of a Palestinian refugee, is one that they believe brings them a day closer to their return.” (p. 7).  I am assuming that Gaze and the West Bank are in fact considered to be a part of Palestine, and that therefore “away from Palestine” might in many cases mean as citizens of Western countries.

As a proud Canadian citizen who lives and works in Canada and who is also a proud Israeli citizen, I can picture only very vaguely the lives of my grandparents in Europe. If I were to insist on my right of return to Hungary, for example, I would have to consider not only the innocent residents of Szombathely, who I don’t think need my help, but also all of my great-grandparents Alice and David’s Braun’s living grand-children, great-grandchildren and great great-grandchildren.  With the help of my family’s WhatsApp group, I have calculated the number of those who would have “right of return” to the Braun home to be 60.

In the aftermath of World War 2, millions of people were displaced—and somehow moved on.  But to keep Jew hate alive, many intellectuals around the world are happy to support and idealize a “right to return” that flies not only in the face of the human rights of Israelis but also in the face of common sense, while also involving an implied devaluation of other blessings and opportunities.  It is as if Jew hate is sleeping beauty, and time has frozen in place and stood still to preserve its freshness.

Ghalayini writes that “on the fifteenth of May 1948, Israel declared itself a new-born state on the rubble of Palestinian lives” (p. 6).  This is her description of what happened to her grandfather:

“When I was a child, my grandfather would tell us about his shop in Yaffa, a business he owned with his brother until 1948 before being expelled to Egypt. He told us that, on their departure, they only packed a few days’ worth of clothes for him, his wife and children, having been told they would be able to come back as soon as it was safe.  They left their sheets on the clothes lines, chickpeas soaking in water, and toys in the yard. He locked the door, put his key in his pocket, and headed to safety as instructed. They never returned, and his key stayed in his pocket until he died in Cairo sixty years later.” (p. 6)

“Having been told;” “as instructed”—this is the passive voice, which is grammatically structured to not name the active agent.  For this reason, the passive voice is often used to conceal accountability.  It is true that once war started, the Zionist soldiers did commit some expulsions, but the war could have been avoided if there was willingness among Arab leaders to accept the existence of Israel.  There are accounts of Arab leaders encouraging the Palestinians to leave temporarily until the Zionist state was defeated.  This tragedy could have been prevented had Arab leaders accepted the existence of Israel.

My concern about writing that emphasizes “the right of return” is that it takes the gold of dignified family oral history—some parts of Ghalayini’s introduction are truly moving—and turns it into the straw of perpetual victimhood, which in turns runs the risk of knowingly or unknowingly acting as a muse for the murder, rape, torture and kidnapping of Israelis.

The commitment to victimhood idealizes the past while implicitly distorting some realities on the ground—for example, the opportunities available to Israeli Arabs “from the river to the sea,” or the billions of dollars that have been flowing into Gaza over the years only to be misused by a highly corrupt leadership—not to mention the significant privilege that many Palestinians enjoy as citizens of Western countries.

Ghalayini describes how “In Ghassan Kanafani’s Returning to Haifa. . . we follow the unlikely visit by two Palestinians, Said and Safeyya, to the city they fled twenty years earlier, where they get to know the Israeli woman, Miriam, now occupying the house that was stolen from them. Instead of portraying her as a zealot, a woman self-convinced of her people’s holy right to the land, Kanafani presents us with a sensitive, compassionate individual, someone who, when confronted by it, is ashamed of what her people did to the Palestinians.” (p. 9)

One of the moving and thought-provoking moments in Ghalayini’s introduction is when she notes that “the absence of an ‘enemy’ isn’t the only absence in Palestinian fiction. You might even say absence generally is one of the defining features of Palestinian fiction – which is where science fiction might be able to contribute” (p. 10).

Source for all Ghalayini quotes: Ghalayini, Basma; Maarouf, Mazen; Dabbagh, Selma. Palestine +100: Stories from a Century after the Nakba (pp. 8-9). Deep Vellum Publishing. Kindle Edition.

I too was educated to be apologetic and respectful of Palestinian traumas, realities and narratives.  And like many people who love Israel and love peace, I woke up on October 7 to the realization that my education has been challenged more than ever by the empirical facts of Israel hate, as brilliantly explained in the following lecture by Einat Wilf, as well as by another Instagram personality in the short video in the second link below:

One way to read Jotham’s parable is to regard the olive tree, the fig tree and the grapevine as one group of productive trees, each of equal value, standing together in contrast to the empty thornbush, the corrupt politician.  But it could also be that the parable describes a descending hierarchy of virtue among the productive trees and that the vine is asked to be ruler third, after the olive tree and the fig tree have declined, because its declared sense of purpose, to make others happy by giving them wine, can indeed be a virtue—but it can also be a flaw that under certain circumstances might make manipulative actors drunk with power.

Also, by rejecting leadership positions, are the productive trees neglecting an important duty?  Do we have a duty to not be silent in the face of Israel hate?

My name, Gefen, means grapevine in Hebrew.  As I read my name spoken by Jotham thousands of years ago, I recognize in myself the destructive flaw of trying too hard to please—or of being silent and stepping aside to make room for the thornbush.

The sobering effects of the massacre of October 7 (which Hamas hoped would have been a total war against Israel had the Hezbollah and Iran joined) are not allowed a place around the table in the Dionysian and power-oriented feast that has characterized anti-Israeli activism since October 7.  This flurry of action wears the mask of concern for Palestinians (a concern which I share), but its real purpose is to get drunk on Jew hate.

Thought leaders who love to hate Israel have been extending an invitation to the Palestinian people who are genuinely suffering to sit in the shade of a thornbush.

People who love Israel and love peace should strive to offer real fruit instead.

In Canada, the vine grows in harsher conditions than those abundantly available under the Mediterranean sun.  The Canadian grapevine yields delectably tart grapes.  It also gives us fine wine after being frozen under a sheet of ice.  Instead of doing everything we can to please, instead of infantilizing and patronizing those who hate us and feeding into their addiction to Jew hate, we should meet hate with a layer of ice while articulating productive facts and analysis—with the hope that all those who want to live in peace and live productive lives (and who are often not fully represented in elite circles) may do so:

When people claim to speak out of concern for the Palestinian people from a position of Western safety, we may ask them: who gave you the authority to speak on behalf of the Palestinian people? I care about the Palestinian people, and what I can see when I speak to you is hate of Israel.  Did the people of Gaza ask you to speak on their behalf just as the trees asked the thornbush to rule over them?

When we are told, not exactly in these words, that we seem like nice people, but that Bibi and the settlers are Satan: So why did the Hamas choose to murder, in a meticulously planned attack, some of the most peace-loving Israelis on October 7 instead of targeting the in-your-opinion “evil” settlers? (many of those murdered on October 7 were peace activists, and some of the intelligence in preparation for October 7 was collected by people from Gaza whom these well-meaning Kibbutz members invited into their homes to work).  And when it comes to the settlers and to corrupt politicians: Yes, some people on the margins of the settler movement are destructive, and some Israeli politicians are corrupt—in the same way that some politicians in every country are corrupt.  Clearly, “from the river to the sea” figures Israel as a whole as a settlement.

When someone self-identifies as not antisemitic, only anti Zionism: I understand that Israel has solved the problem of antisemitism for you.  You can partake in the pleasures of Jew hate while claiming that you are only critical of Israel.  By existing, Israelis and people who love Israel are helping you to enjoy Jew hate.  You are welcome.

To Jewish people who embrace Israel hate:  Are Israelis your sacrificial lambs?  Has Israel solved the problem of Jew hate for you too?  Don’t you understand that Jew hate is an obsession that will do whatever it takes to stay alive and that without Israel, Jew haters would not be able to say that they are “just against Zionism” and would instead seek to quench their thirst by further elaborating false narratives about YOU—about your imagined greed, about your imagined desire for power.

To people who say cease fire: Why only cease fire? Why are you not calling for peace?  Do you mean cease fire “until the next opportunity to seize fire comes along, which means deceive and manipulate until the Hamas once again can murder, rape, torture and kidnap?”  Peaceful people do not want only “cease fire,” which implies the continuation of war at some “convenient” point in the future; they honestly work for peace, which must also include the release of the hostages and the defeat of Hamas, who want nothing but war.  It is my opinion that many of the people who claim to care for the Palestinians do NOT represent the true interests of the Palestinian people.  Intellectual Israeli haters might unintentionally add to the suffering of the Palestinian people by reminding the most destructive leaders among them that they can count on intellectuals around the world to ignore, excuse or celebrate the mass murder, rape, torture and kidnapping of Jews.

About the Author
Gefen Bar-On Santor teaches English at the University of Ottawa, as well as adult-education literature courses at the Soloway Jewish Community Centre in Ottawa, Canada. She is an enthusiastic believer in life-long learning and in the relevance of fiction to our lives. She also writes at
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