When I read the latest string of protests related to a recent Tweet by Ayelet Waldman, I too felt the need to respond. I have never read her novels but I have read her explosive Tweets and interviews about Israel as well as her published work; her child-like tantrums when things have not gone her way are hard to ignore and provide much comedy for both my husband and I.
When one of her novels did not make the NY Times Book Review’s list of 100 notable books for 2014 she went ballistic: “I never complain about this sh*t, but there are MANY books on the notable list with reviews that were NOWHERE near as good as mine.” But this specific Tweet is on the mild side as Ayelet, it seems, is very prolific when it comes to her feelings even when dealing with sensitive issues such as terrorist attacks against Israelis. In fact, her notorious expletives remind me of a spoiled brat but it’s also behavior that smacks of narcissism, which helped me determine, a while ago, that she is full of hot air and I should ignore her ideas completely.
During a recent flight to Israel, Ayelet made a disparaging Tweet about Israelis and I found myself staring at my computer screen, trying to digest her message. It’s one of those rare moments in life when you want to say something but the words remain lodged in your throat, they refuse to come out; you’re angry, but you remain calm and rational, you want to step away and forget about everything but the words and their message wallow in your mind.
Waldman, Ayelet (@ayeletw). “Only on a flight to Israel will people refuse to swap one aisle seat for another so a couple can sit together. #nationalcharacter #” 7:28 PM-2 Apr 2016. Tweet.
“And 2 b clear I say that out of love. After all, I share that national character. Life: a constant struggle to restrain inherent dickishness” 8:08 PM-10 Apr 2016. Tweet.
You may think that I have overreacted to a silly Tweet by a woman whom I had already sworn off as unreasonable and irrational, and that it’s nothing but an innocent observation of badly behaved passengers on an airplane—something that many of us have witnessed at some point in our lives. But I disagree, completely, and all you have to do is become familiarized with Ayelet’s previous rants about Israel in order to realize that she belongs to that distinguished group of individuals who think that their focused criticism of Israel is nothing more than a healthy open-minded expression of antipathy towards a seditious, oppressive and imperial aggressor. In fact, Ayelet has gone out of her way to explain that she does not care about any wrongdoing on the other side, what she cares about is the behavior of Israel and Jews, and she accepts that Israel should be held to a different standard. She uses our past history to justify the double standard but, strangely, she doesn’t use our history to try and understand that the Palestinians are not the only victims here either.
I wonder how her recent Tweet about the “inherent dickishness” of Israelis helps bring a resolution to the conflict. Well it doesn’t, it’s a complete non-sequitur and it fortifies the rest of our critics with more ammunition. You know what I’m talking about, the “experts” who dedicate their lives to the Palestinian cause and they do so systematically by vilifying Israel at any given opportunity. And how they love, absolutely thrive on pitting one Jew against another because they see it as undeniable proof of Israel’s wrongdoing. They have an inherent elitist attitude towards life and when it comes to Israel, anyone who dares to voice a pro-Israel stance is relegated to the sidelines and viewed as a lunatic or religious zealot. However, many of these anti-Israel proponents express the type of criticism that quickly transgresses into something else completely. I don’t see any difference between Ayelet and them.
It is a shame that when Ayelet visits Israel all that she sees is disharmony and ugliness, a completely antagonistic view of the country and its people. You have to be out of your mind to ignore the beauty of the Israeli culture and not be tickled by the friendliness of its citizens. When I’m at the airport on my way to Israel and I approach the gate where other Israelis have already started to gather, there’s a certain buzz in the air—it’s loud or at least louder than the nearby gate where perhaps passengers await a flight to Switzerland or Germany, but so what? Why does the quiet segment of society think that theirs is the ultimate, best example of the right, more acceptable type of behavior? You have to be so arrogant and patronizing to think that your way is superior to others. For me though, before I have even boarded the plane I already know that a wonderful adventure awaits me and I can’t wait to get there.
I hate to use clichés, but in Rome one should indeed behave as a Roman and I adopt this mantra firmly when I travel anywhere in the world where the culture is different than what I am accustomed to in Las Vegas, Nevada. When it’s time to board the plane to Israel it’s more like a stampede, and I feel lucky to survive the boarding process at times, but so what? Once on the airplane it feels more like a family reunion than a gathering of strangers in one confined space; the conversation flows from all directions, there’s laughter, people often block the aisles when engaged with their neighbor, and there’s the strained voice of a mother who yells out to her child from the opposite side of the cabin. But there is also a convivial camaraderie that is unique to Israelis and people helping each other, always, especially when an elderly person is involved. I know this for a fact because I have flown back and forth to Israel many times in my capacity as a flight attendant working for El Al and boy, could I tell you about human nature and behavior of people from all walks of life and many different parts of the world. Bin-hogging passengers and refusal to switch seats are not behaviors exclusive to Israelis I’m afraid, neither are passengers who awaken you from a deep sleep when they lean into your seat while attempting to get out of their own seat, and Jewish babies don’t cry any louder than non-Jewish babies that keep you up during your flight when all you want to do is shut your eyes undisturbed for five minutes. I’ve witnessed this aspect of flying with every nationality that I’ve experienced on board an airplane.
When the airplane lands at Ben Gurion, the Israeli passengers always clap their hands—so relieved that the pilot has made a smooth landing, and before you know it there is always that one individual who behaves as though they didn’t hear the purser’s instructions to remain seated until the airplane has reached a complete stop. But we are talking about one or two passengers and not the 450 on board the plane, and certainly this does not represent a national character. They’re eager to get home, excited; perhaps they really didn’t pay attention, who knows, but who cares? After passport control, as I wait for my suitcase together with the rest of the passengers, there will always be someone who will offer to help me without hesitating; they grip my suitcase as soon as they see me struggling to get it off the baggage carousel. That’s when I know that I’ve arrived in Israel.
The driving habits are horrendous, true, so are the driving habits in LA, NY, London, and Paris. There too, you will find restless drivers and honking cars as part of the everyday din that follows you from morning till night. I remember lining up at the bank in Herzliya and the person behind me was too close for comfort, but he was friendly and didn’t think he was invading my space so I let it go, not a big deal just not what we’re used to abroad, that’s all. At the beach, the lifeguard used his megaphone to call me to his lifeguard stand in order to thank me when he noticed that I had fished a piece of trash from the water and threw it into a bin. Come on, where on earth do lifeguards act this way?
When you walk down any street in Israel it’s hard to ignore the friendliness of the people, the random conversation that leaves you wondering why people cannot be this friendly back home. You forget that in Israel it’s common for an elderly man or woman to offer your child a piece of candy or stroke them on the head, but it’s so refreshing when you experience it all over again. When I attended Brandeis Middle School in Herzliya, it was the custom for the teachers to assign us to visit a sick friend, to make sure they kept up-to-date with school work and homework; over here one depends on their parents for a random play date with friends. At the beach it’s crowded at certain times of the year, especially on a Saturday but there will always be someone you can trust to watch your things when you want to go for a dip in the water, instead of ignoring you as though you do not exist. Similarly, there will always be someone offering you a bite of food, sharing with you their goodies from home. Neighbors say hello as they pass you by instead of driving their cars into a garage and shutting the door tightly behind them so there is no chance for anyone to see them or for anyone to strike up a conversation. That’s where distance and privacy are the norm, but not in Israel. I can go on and on, I have many more examples but I think you get the picture. You also understand why Ayelet Waldman’s recent Tweet had managed to stir a few feelings and why I feel that her supposed concern for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a way for her to hide behind a complex, multi-layered issue that is probably plaguing her life and has nothing to do with Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians and more to do with her own identity as a Jew in a world that is continuously critical of Jews and Israel.
I have news for Ayelet: in Israel you will also find thieves and crooks and murderers, just as you would find anywhere else in the world; you will find a government in turmoil over national and international affairs, and you will find good and effective politicians as well as corrupt and useless ones. You will find Jewish husbands who cheat on their wives and mothers who neglect their children, you’ll find racism and all sorts of other unpleasant scenarios—in Israel they have it all, but so does the rest of the world. And this double standard that she likes to wave around as the new, higher standard that Jews must adhere to because of their history of disparity in the Diaspora should perhaps extend to something else. Perhaps she should reacquaint herself with Jewish history and literature and I don’t mean poetry by Mahmoud Darwish; how about getting familiarized with early antisemitism, say, the writings of Latin thinkers such as Seneca, Cicero and Juvenal, to name a few. And I suggest this bunch because they belonged to a large majority of writers and intellectuals who were so critical of Judaism and what it stood for—they too were so disturbed by the Jewish dickishness of the times. They expressed disgust with Jewish traditions such as circumcision, dietary laws, strict observance of the Sabbath and holidays etc., to such a degree that they saw it as a threat to their own existence. This type of sentiment has only repeated itself throughout history time and time again and today, sadly, it sounds so familiar.
I too embrace a double standard, but my reason for doing so is different; our history is indeed unique and nobody could argue to the contrary. Jews are the recipients of the longest hatred on earth and this is something that cannot be ignored and all you have to do is view the unfolding events around you without bias and read history for once and for all instead of silly Tweets in order to be able to get a firm grasp of the picture, the entire picture that is. Oh, and did I mention that in Israel they have the absolute, best hummus in the world?