Israel Is Not Special
Friend of the blog and semi-frequent Jewschool commenter Yaakov shared the following piece with me, about the reactions in some quarters to the news coming out of Haiti about what an incredible job the Israeli rescue team and field hospital are doing.
In it, Bradley Burston contends very simply: if you can’t give credit to Israel for one good act, there’s something wrong with your approach. As he puts it (emphasis added, quote is taken mid-way through the essay):
“… Over the past week, the work of the Israeli medical team has become a kind of Rorschach for how people view Israel and Israelis. Most of the comment, it must be said, is supportive. Even on the part of those who cast the humanitarian misery in Gaza in contrast.
But for a shocking number of others, the bottom line is simple: Israel, and Israelis, can do no right…
The contention is that Israel sent aid to Haiti on purely cynical motives, harnessing public relations to divert attention from the Goldstone Report, to divert attention from Gaza, to divert attention from its never-ending, always expanding internal crises.
The implication is that Israel, and Israelis, are constitutionally incapable of doing good for its own sake. Or that whenever they appear to do good, people of conscience should recognize that the evil designs behind it render any good that may be done, complicit in wrongdoing.
True, it is willful blindness to contend that Israel can do no wrong. But it is nothing short of racism to maintain, in Haiti and in general, that Israelis can do no right.
Israel, like all countries where war is endemic, like much of the unfortunate world, and like Palestine, is a nation whose people have been ruined, distorted, permanently traumatized, emotionally stunted. Yet Israelis, like people in all countries where war is endemic, and like Palestinians, have demonstrated enormous reservoirs of humanity under inhuman stresses.
As Palestinian-American journalist Ray Hanania wrote of the Israeli aid effort this week: “200,000 Haitians died in an earthquake. They sent doctors and supplies to help. That is a good thing. Just because we are fighting with Israel doesn’t mean we should sneer at that assistance to people in need. YES, I wish Israel could show the same compassion for Palestinians. But Israel and Haiti are not at war and Israelis and Palestinians (mainly Hamas and the settlers) are.” …”
It’s been a needle stuck in my craw for a while, a background scratch of fingernails on chalkboards, just how many human beings live on this Earth for whom Jews, and for whom Israel, are not “normal” — who relate to us, all of us, not as fellow human beings with agency, opinions, and not-particularly-outlandish existences, but as:
- characters from the Bible, archetypes who exist to fulfill prophecies;
- lucky talismans, who can do your taxes right or channel God’s blessings onto you;
- demons, who steal children and organs and can barely help their own warmongering;
- angels, who can do no wrong, who are something even more than human;
- political tools, a good route to cash, to elected office, and a good scapegoat when your plans go awry.
Some things are just obvious, but they seem like special wisdom when they burst through the ever-present fog of agendas and caricaturization. (Jews &) Israelis can do bad things. (Jews &) Israelis can do good things. Just like everybody else. (Incidentally, that’s also why I believe in working to make Israel and Jewish society more just places — if they were essentially evil or already perfect, there’d be nothing to improve.)