Why I'm Disgusted by Online Conversations About Israel/Palestine
Some years ago I got into a relatively casual conversation about Israel/Palestine outside the synagogue on erev Shabbat. Dude said to me: you have no standing to demand that Israel give up more for peace.
Me: Well, I’m Israeli.
Dude: Well that may be, but I can tell from your accent you didn’t grow up in Israel.
Me: I spent twenty years there after arriving at the age of six.
Dude: Did you serve in the army?
Me: Um…. not that it matters, but yes.
Dude: Which unit? My friend who was a combat engineer said [in effect] that you are wrong and he should know.
And there you have it. One American Jew to another demanding that one not listen to American Jews. Or even Israeli Jews, unless they served in the army. In a high-virility unit. Recently. If not – screw you, you don’t know what you’re talking about.
This is actually a left-wing script. When David Levy became foreign minister in Israel in 1990, the fact that he didn’t serve in the military didn’t even come up. But Americans are used to the theory that only the ‘affected’ have standing to certain opinions. If only black voices are valid when it comes to racism, and only women’s voices are valid when it comes to sexism, and only gay voices are valid when it comes to homophobia, then it stands to reason that only Israeli voices are valid when it comes to concerns about Israel’s safety. Right?
Oh, except for the pesky Palestinians. I frequent the Palestinian solidarity blogosphere, and I’ve met the opposite version of my Dude friend many times over. ‘Who are you to say X’ is a frequent comment. Because – if you aren’t Palestinian, or quoting a Palestinian voice, then you only have validity only by borrowing legitimacy from one. And it matters which Palestinian voice: if they are a leading politician from the moderate camp, then they are associated with the Palestinian Authority, those treacherous fuckers. If they aspire to a two state solution, then they are sell-outs willing to betray the refugees. If they oppose BDS (because they support partnerships with Israeli civil society) then they merit only contempt.
Both camps are unhealthily obsessed with who gets to say what. If you say things I agree with, then your standing is fine. If you dispute some fact or conclusion, then I’ll go after your motives, background and legitimacy. As a result the silliest, most hyperbolic and counterfactual pablum provokes a ‘job well done’ from the choir. Challenge some fact or inconsistency, and the hate faucet is turned on.
Christopher Hitchens did a good job of describing what I’m talking about, via Hannah Arendt. The ‘Stalinists’ employed a tactic of accusing someone of being ‘objectively’ something or other despite how they felt or what they said. They brought up the question of motive, usually hidden, which they helpfully shifted the conversation to focus on. The victim of such a dishonest attack is reduced to defensively babbling, ‘but I didn’t say that…’ or ‘that’s not what I meant…’ and the attack has worked. This kind of attack relies for its success on a choir to affirm it.
The inescapable conclusion is that among those who care the most about the future of Israelis and Palestinians (as viewed through the prism of online chatter) are the most likely to enjoy polarized cheer leading and Der-Sturmerish assaults on the character of their opponents.
Sometimes I think the very best outcome is whatever will dismay the online hordes – on both sides – the most. I too would like Palestine to be free and for Israel to be safe. But I’d love to disappoint their most vicious online partisans.