A few weeks ago, despairing at the recent news of the four teenage murders, and the waves of ugly protests and riots that accompanied them, I tried consoling myself. “In all fairness”, I thought, “how could things get any worse?”. What a difference a few days made-we are now in the middle of another campaign in Gaza which has brought about another round of rockets, bombings, and human suffering. It’s hard not to look at “Protective Edge” as yet another rerun in a long line of Israeli offensives that produces the same results, with varying levels of damage and deterrence. Tragically, there are far too many Israelis who believe that this act of “mowing the lawn” is sustainable in the long run, or simply a necessity for lack of a better choice. No creative solutions are proposed, nor is anyone eager to address the slight possibility that the vacuum created by the collapse of peace negotiations has helped lead into this current spiral of violence. When the dust settles, we will be back where we were a few weeks ago, with the likelihood of another massive flare up perhaps two years down the line unless real changes are made to the status quo.
There is another casualty of this war, however, that rarely gets discussed. Working with PPI’s social media, I have been exposed to an uncomfortably large amount of vitriol aimed at Israel and Israeli since this campaign began. I wasn’t at all surprised by its presence, sadly recalling what had been said during operations in 2009 and 2012.
Despite my past exposure, there is little one can do to gird oneself in the face of such hateful statements; they run the gamut from the old chestnut of comparing Israel and Israelis to genocidal Nazi war criminals ad naseum, to a new hashtag, #hitlerwasright which advocates….well, you can use your imagination. Shockingly, they also include open mockery of Israeli suffering and they psychological toll taken by rocket attacks. As this operation has dragged on and on, such statements have only grown in their number and intensity, and show no signs of abating.
As a member of this organization, I would like to believe that we pride ourselves on our liberal Zionism, our ability to be both patriotic and introspective about Israeli misdeeds. The outpouring of criticism regarding this operation is welcome, even necessary; as I’ve stated above, it’s hard to see what another prolonged round of fighting will achieve other than more dead or angry Gazans, an emboldened Hamas, and perhaps another year or two of false security. But there is a stark difference between criticism of Israeli actions, however harsh they may be, to the vile demonization that seems to rear its ugly head the moment missiles start flying from our direction. How, I wonder, does the firebombing and storming of Parisian synagogues aid the cause of Palestine? The unholy alliance of neo-Nazis, Islamists, and far leftists in Germany calling Israelis ‘Jewish beasts’? Protests in Antwerp calling for the slaughter of Jews? Moreover, how are ordinary citizens to react to the violence when high-ranking politicians either routinely accuse Israel of Nazi-like crimes or lionize Adolf Hitler?
Just as our actions do not exist in a vacuum, so too do these events have an effect on the Israeli psyche far greater than many care to admit, effects that are far more dangerous to well-being of the state than any rocket or missile that Hamas can get its hands on. Israelis are nothing if not astute; despite all the stereotypes of aloofness, Israelis care very much what the world, and the West in particular think of them. As Hugo Rifkind in the Independent aptly points out: “when the voices of the liberal West…calls this a country of butchers, murders and baby-killers, what do you think it does? Does it make Israelis desirous of avoiding such condemnation in the future? Or does it leave them slightly thinking that…whatever they do, they might as well deserve it?”
To say that such appalling rhetoric is unhelpful is an understatement; more likely it will simply reinforce, not unjustifiably, the notion that the world is truly against the Jewish state, and must never be trusted with its security. Israelis see the way in which the world is silent when rockets are aimed at its citizens. They see the way in which they are demonized, the way in which vulnerable Jewish communities in the Diaspora become scapegoats for their own actions in the name of ‘anti-Zionism’. And then they look to the mass carnage being undertaken in neighboring countries and scratch their heads as to why activists couldn’t be bothered to throng the streets for the thousands of Syrians killed on a regular basis.
Regarding this last point: I have, for years, avoided comparisons to Israel’s neighbors as I believe that such comparisons were either cheap distractions by apologists for every Israeli action, or that simply tarnished the notion of Israel as a Western-style democracy that had to strive its utmost to be just in its behavior. But, I must admit, even I find myself despairing and groping for answers when I see how Gaza can bring 10,000 protestors to the streets of London, while Syria brings none. Imagine, then, the psychological toll it must take on an Israeli that has internalized the international community’s hatred?
It’s often said that Israel plays directly into the hands of Hamas with every innocent Palestinian killed in the conflict, infusing relevancy to the organization after every military offensive. If indeed, as some predict, the government collapses in the near future, the Avigdor Liebermans and Naftali Bennetts of the world will gleefully exploit these images and statements that treat Israel as a pariah as concrete proof of the world’s hatred for their own political ends. Despite my anger, when the time comes I will most likely vote for a party that seeks a realistic alternative to these tit-for-tat confrontations with Hamas. Sadly, I fear that many others will be taking their cue from these recent events to keep in power far-rightists eager to maintain a sense of eternal victimhood. If I were prone to conspiracy theories, I might even believe that this entire operation were just a ploy by the right to win over voters. Sadly, with rhetoric like this, they need no help.