Jonathan Howard

Who’s Your Daddy?

Why hating Israel may come from hating your parents…

Plenty of intelligent, educated Europeans and Americans go pale and start shaking with rage when they talk about Israel, but the murder of a million innocent Tibetans doesn’t put them off their chow mein.

Angry Westerners demand submission displays from me, personal apologies for something that has nothing to do with them, and they won’t let the conversation go anywhere unless I perform elaborate self-flagellation rituals over all kinds of Israeli wrongs, real or perceived.

Otherwise, they tell me, “I can’t, I just can’t”.

OK, so don’t, just don’t. Have another Tibetan dumpling, and relax.

What’s going on?

Anti-Semitism is the stock answer, but it’s too easy, and it strikes me as a shallow excuse. Most times, I don’t even think it’s true. A lot of the people I’ve spoken with are too intelligent and open-minded to be genuinely anti-Semitic, and I don’t believe that they are. So there’s something else going on – something more hidden, and more powerful.

I was chatting to an Irishman in New York, and asked him how often he went back to Ireland.

“Ooh, never”, he said, “I haven’t really spoken to my folks for a long time. It’s their way or the highway, know what I mean?”

Then a news item came up about Israel on TV. He said, “I’ll tell you the problem with the Israelis. It’s their way or the highway, know what I mean?”

A Jewish woman weighed in with, “Those goddam Israelis. They never give the Palestinians any dignity.”

Later she was shrieking at a friend, loud enough for half of Midtown to hear: “My goddam father never gives me any dignity”.

Suddenly I understood something.

“Israel” equals My Parents When They’re Being Nasty.
“Palestinians” equals Two-Year-Old Me.

“What’s your number one problem with Israel?” I started asking people, as soon as things got ugly. “We all know there are a thousand things you can point to, but which one really sticks in the throat for you, personally?”

And then the moment of truth comes, when I ask them, “Did your parents ever do that to you?”

The answer is always Yes.

“And is there a connection?”

The answer is always Yes.

I know, it sounds a bit pathetic. But it is, when you think about it.

  • A British student thinks the Israeli Army is corrupt. When I asked him about his dad, he said, “Well, we’re not exactly close… I think he’s a bit corrupt.”
  • A Frenchman hated how his parents always found a way to listen in on his phone calls, and his big problem with Israel is about the IDF’s electronic surveillance unit.
  • The son of a Russian teacher hates the way Israel never listens to anyone, and his father never listens to him because, as a teacher, he thinks he knows best.
  • A Swede, whose principal beef with Israel is that it’s erasing traditional Palestinian culture, had his first big scandal with his parents when they painted his bedroom in a colour he didn’t want, and erased his childhood graffiti.
  • The daughter of two Canadian professors was never allowed to be intelligent, because her parents kept contradicting her about everything. She can’t stand how clever Israel thinks it is.
  • A Welsh plumber’s son, the first in his family to go to university, thinks Israel’s behaviour is “brutish and coarse”. No prizes for guessing what he thinks of his dad, who changes his vest about once a month.

None of them had casual criticisms of Israel: they were all rabid about it. Interestingly, their hatred of Israel – and it was real hatred – died very fast, as we talked it out.

Why is Israel the mirror for the West’s daddy issues?

Well, here’s my two shekels’ worth. Uniquely in the Western world, Israel is a symbol of divine power in human hands. Every kid thinks mummy and daddy have the perfection and the power of gods. And there comes a moment when we realise that even though they still have the power of gods, they’re not perfect, and that can be traumatic.

Whatever the specific things are that annoy us about our parents – those are the things that get us worked up about Israel.

Even Israelis do it. An Israeli friend hates her own country, but loves her parents, and on that basis she dismissed the theory. So I asked her what she hates the most about Israel, as an Israeli who knows what she’s talking about.

“I hate the way we try to manipulate the world’s emotions to sympathize with us.”

I asked her, “When your parents were getting divorced all those years ago, did they ever try to manipulate your emotions?”

“All the time!” she said. “It’s the one thing I really hated them for.”

It’s not a pretty theory, and it’s not nice to point it out. I don’t even like it myself. It disturbs me, because there’s not much that Israel can do about it. But it helps to explain why the world demands saintly perfection of Israel, and anything less than perfection is terminally unforgivable.

At the same time, the West endows the Palestinians with the moral responsibilities of a two-year-old. In other words, no responsibilities at all. Just screamy, shouty, violent rage.

The Terrible Twos is the age when the child starts to differentiate itself from its parents, trying to assert a separate status as something more than just a living doll; establishing an identity, however primitive and incomplete it may be. They try on different dominance strategies for size, forcefully and clumsily.

Why is it called the Terrible Twos, and not the Terrific Twos? Those of you with kids know the answer. The behaviour is all screamy and shouty, and sometimes violent. They attack their siblings and destroy their possessions, turning everything that’s not bolted down into projectiles. Give them food and they refuse it, throwing it on the floor, before demanding more.

It’s normal for kids to go through a version of the Terrible Twos. But what’s not normal, healthy, or in any way acceptable, is when it finds expression in international politics.

Israel-bashers do more than permit this stance among the Palestinians – they practically demand it. It incites incitement, and it gets people killed.

And yet, most of the Israel-bashers I’ve met don’t seem to have a problem with Jews as such. Genuinely. They just have a problem with thinking things through. Every time somebody tries to reason with them, all they hear in the lizard brain is, “you know, your dad’s not such a bad guy. He was never horrible to you. Your mum was never unfair. You’re wrong.”

The exception to this Unified Field Theory of Anti-Zionist Daddy Issues is among people who’ve had a parent die very young.

In most such instances that I’ve seen, the individual loves Israel unconditionally, whichever country they’re from, whichever religion they follow. I’ve witnessed British Catholics, a French atheist, two Latvian pagans, a Swedish not-sure-about-anything, American Protestants, Lithuanian Lutherans, Lebanese, Egyptian, Iraqi and Kuwaiti Muslims, and even hipsters, liberal to the core, passionately defending Israel against its bashers – beyond reason.

For them, the State of Israel is often a highly idealised concept, rightly or wrongly. When I say, “come on, Israel’s far from perfect”, they snap. They won’t hear a word against it.

What can Israel do about this phenomenon? Not a lot, except to point it out. But people don’t like it when you name the game, because it strips them of a lot of status, especially if their status comes from their sense of outrage. It bursts the virtue balloon. And when a balloon bursts, it goes bang.

If you insist on throwing thunderbolts at Israel beyond reason, with no sense of perspective, then be aware that maybe, just maybe, your emotional intensity comes from finding a convenient psychological proxy to explore your unresolved issues.

I know it’s not nice to hear it, and it’s not nice for me to say it. But as soon as you talk about genocide, apartheid, colonialism and all the beauties that come with those labels, you’re not really talking about Israel itself in any meaningful sense, and you’re contributing to the Palestinian leaders’ senseless incitement of their own people.

So forgive your parents, tell the Palestinian leaders to grow up, and pass the chicken chow mein – unless, of course, you’re boycotting China.

About the Author
An adman, IDF soldier, start-up entrepreneur and investor, creativity coach and anthropologist. Proudly British by birth, proudly Israeli by choice. Reasonably sane.
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