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Just don’t call us traitors

A response to a poll that found nearly half of Israeli Jews say left-wingers are not loyal to the state

Last night I saw this eye-catching headline in the Times of Israel: “Nearly Half of Israeli Jews Say Left Not Loyal to the State — Poll” and the first thing that came to mind was a line from an old Shlomo Artzi song: “Half the nation hates the other half.”

This sentiment, which was brought to light in the Midgam Research Institute’s telephone survey, is not a uniquely Israeli problem. It resounds with the recent shocking elections in the United States, which roused Donald Trump’s “silent supporters” to scorn anyone who embraces tolerance. It also rings true in England, France and other democracies where all those who question certain backward-looking policies of their governments are branded as disloyal, with little or no distinction between “disloyal” and “traitor.”

The only difference between American, English, French and Israeli dissidents and their counterparts in undemocratic regimes, Iran, for example, is that the former groups have the right to criticize while the latter dissenters rot in dungeons. But what the Israeli poll didn’t probe into may be more disturbing: some, hopefully not most, right-wing Israeli “loyalists” wouldn’t mind silencing the critics of our own ultra-religious nationalist government the way the Iranians do.

In an Israeli context, the science of testing the pulse of the nation with presumed accuracy by questioning the loyalty of millions of its citizens has yielded results that are as clear as a ringing alarm bell. An Israeli pollster can pick up a phone and blatantly ask anyone if he/she thinks Israeli leftists are disloyal, and many will answer: “Yes, they are traitors!”

And so, my response to “nearly half” of Israeli Jews is: How dare you!

How dare you suggest that anyone who holds dear to them Herzl’s vision of the rebirth of the Jewish nation in their ancestral homeland a traitor?

How dare you imply that your ultra-religious nationalist misrepresentation of the secular liberal Jewish State and its founding fathers, Herzl, Weizmann, Katznelson, Ben Gurion, Sharett, et al, is somehow more valid than the modern perspective of the Israeli left? And if you lack the debating skills to argue your point, how dare you call them traitors?

How dare you call any Israeli who seeks to normalize relations with the Arab world, believes that this hope is a vital part of the Zionist dream and is willing to pay the price, a traitor?

And on a more personal level: How dare you suggest that I’m a traitor? Because, without knowing anything about me and many more like me, that is precisely what you’re doing with your hateful words. You’re saying that the son of a holocaust survivor who was fed Jewish suffering with mother’s milk is a traitor. You’re implying that an Israeli-born Jew who was raised in the “goldene medina” and returned to Israel because the Israeli half had more meaning and substance than the American half is a traitor. And you’re also suggesting that the father of two IDF soldiers is a traitor. At least give me as much credit as, God forbid, a terrorist who would sentence me to death for being a Zionist.

Since we’re all in the same boat, and before that boat sinks, I have a suggestion: Let’s agree to disagree without all the name calling and traitor talk. Let’s at least come to an understanding that our reason for being here in this would-be paradise in the Middle East is a sign of a common denominator that’s supposed to bind us. And in the spirit of dialogue, please explain to us how Greater Israel has accomplished more than Lesser Israel, as you probably look down on Tel-Aviv and its environs on the right side of the green line. Explain to us how successive right-wing governments of your own choosing have failed consistently to bring us any closer to security and normalization with our neighbors. Explain how the security cooperation we now have with the Palestinian Authority leaves us worse off than the good old days before Oslo, that belittled Rabin-Peres legacy that your chosen leaders have depreciated and are so unwilling to fulfill.

And while you’re doing all your explaining, remember: whatever you think of me and my kind, keep it to yourself. Just don’t call me traitor. And I won’t call you what I think of you.

About the Author
Avi Shamir is a freelance writer, editor, translator and the author of "Saving the Game," a novel about baseball. A Brooklyn College graduate with a BA in English, Avi has contributed to the Jerusalem Post, The Nation, Israel Scene, In English and The World Zionist Press Service.
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