The Middle Is a Tough Position to Play and Win At


There’s a famous rule in the world of retail: those on the high end and the low end do well; those in the middle get killed. It seems like the same is true in political commentary and debate.

I publish a daily email with summaries of some of the day’s top (and not so top) Israel news stories. I try to maintain a balanced viewpoint when choosing which stories to report and how I choose to report them. But staying “balanced” means sometimes leaning a bit to the right and sometimes a bit to the left (you’ve ridden a bike before, right?). And in today’s hyper-polarized community of people interested in what goes on in Israel, that could be problematic.

If you look at the Israel related activity on social media, you tend to see stuff that swings either extreme left or right. Israel can either do no wrong, or is doing everything wrong. It hard to find people brave enough to discuss Israel’s successes alongside its failures. That would be a balanced view, in the middle. And that could get you “killed”, at least figuratively (but you never know anymore these days).

Being in the middle can get you called either a fascist or a traitor, depending on who just read your comment or post. Say Judea and Samaria and you’re a right wing fascist extremist. Say West Bank and you’re a leftist traitor to the Jewish nation.

Here are a couple of examples from today’s email that should clarify the point I’m trying to make.

A few days ago a major German department store in Berlin removed wine from its shelves that was made in the West Bank. They claimed that it was in order for the importer to relabel the bottle according to the new EU regulations requiring distinct labels for Israeli products made in the West Bank and the Golan.

In response, Prime Minister Netanyahu lashed out at the store saying,

This store was owned by Jews, and the Nazis took it away. Ironically, this store is now marking products from Jewish communities in Judea, Samaria, and the Golan Heights.” He added, “It began with marking products, and now we have been told that the products have been removed – a boycott for all intents and purposes. We strongly protest this morally, factually, and historically unacceptable measure. We expect the German government, which opposed marking the products, to take action in this serious matter.

The store apologized and reinstated the products. They also mentioned that they sell over 200 Israeli made products in their stores.

After reporting this story I posed this question: If the store did actually just remove the products temporarily for relabeling, was the PM justified in calling the move a boycott and invoking Holocaust comparisons to bolster his point?

One of my regular readers emailed me to ask how dare I criticize the PM for defending Israeli business. I’m sure she’s not the only one who feels this way. Social media is on fire with cries of how Europe is boycotting Israeli products, just like the Nazis did. That’s basically what the PM did too.

As much as I am against the EU’s labeling decision, it simply is not a boycott. People, Jew and Gentiles, are going to continue buying products regardless of where they are made. When was the last time you looked at where a product was made before buying it in the supermarket? If you like it, you buy it. In any case, most of the Israeli wines made in the West Bank already tell you that in their names or descriptions (Judean Hills, Hebron, Golan etc). Israeli economists have said that the potential financial impact of the new labeling will be minimal. In some cases Jewish consumers are buying even more of these products as a show of solidarity.

So is saying that the PM might have gone a bit too far with talk of boycotts along with holocaust imagery so crazy? From where I stand in the middle, no. But those on the right think it’s close to blasphemy!

In another example, I reported the story of the female terrorist who was stopped by the former head of the Samaria council who hit and knocked her down with his car, and then shot twice by a bystander and then twice again by a soldier. I asked, “would it have made more sense for them to have captured the terrorist, who was already on the ground after being hit by the car, in order to interrogate her to find out who else, if anyone, was involved in planning the attack?”

It seems like a logical question to ask. Well, not so to the people who reprimanded me for accusing the police of brutality and criminal behavior and for not “honoring the heroes” who shot the terrorist. First of all, the police are trained to capture terrorists when possible in order to get useful information out of them which can save lives in the future. But purely from a security perspective, did the civilian and soldier do the right thing by killing a terrorist who was seemingly immobilized instead of handing her over to the Shin Bet for interrogation? It’s possible that they thought that she had explosives which she could detonate. It’s also possible that they acted without thinking through the implications of their actions. So are they heroes? Maybe, maybe not. I leave that up to my readers to decide. I just present them with the facts, and the question.

I think I’d have a lot more email subscribers if I picked one extreme, either right or left, and consistently interpreted the news from that perspective. It would make my life a lot easier. But the truth isn’t always right or left. Sometimes it’s left, sometimes right, but more often, it’s somewhere in the middle.

So that’s where I’ll stay, as middle as I can get, even if that means getting slapped on both sides of my face, depending on the day and the story.

Want to slap my face? You’ll need to subscribe to my emails first!

About the Author
Arnie Singer is a writer, rabbi, marketer and founder of IsraelAM, a daily Israel news email that you can read in less than 2 minutes. He believes in balanced reporting and telling it like it is.
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