Back in 1942, George Orwell pointed out matter-of-factly that “so-called peace propaganda is just as dishonest and intellectually disgusting as war propaganda. Like war propaganda it concentrates on putting forward a ‘case,’ obscuring the opponent’s point of view and avoiding awkward questions. The line normally followed is ‘those who fight Fascism become Fascist themselves.’”
Just substitute “terrorist” for the “Fascist” or “Nazi” in Orwell’s text.
We have no way of telling whether said text was perused by Zeev Degani, current principal of Gymnasia Herzliya (the Herzliya Hebrew Gymnasium, or in its Hebrew moniker, HaGymnasia HaIvrit Herzliya). If he didn’t read this particular Orwell essay in the Partisan Review, Degani should.
Peace-propagandists, Orwell noted therein, “evade quite obvious objections” with “propaganda-tricks” which include “pooh-poohing the actual record of Fascism,” while “systematically exaggerating” alleged “Fascizing processes” within Allied ranks.
Orwell was intrigued by the “psychological processes by which pacifists who started out with an alleged horror of violence end up with a marked tendency to be fascinated by the success and power of Nazism.”
“Even those who don’t,” he wrote, “imagine that one can somehow ‘overcome’ the German Army by lying on one’s back” and they shun “discussion of what the world would actually be like if the Axis dominated it.”
Sound familiar? It should.
We have too many peace-propagandists among us who cunningly skew our reality and dodge discussion of the ramifications of their recommendations. Degani is one and he is influential beyond his pro forma position.
Degani recently told Channel 2 interviewers that the fault for all that provokes ballyhooed local tongue-clicking is Israel’s resort to force: “A nation which employs violence for years against another nation shouldn’t think that the violence only remains in the neighbor’s field. It comes back to us. We are now at one of the peaks of the enhancement and reinforcement of violence which radiates outward and returns inward.”
In this quintessential encapsulation of left-wing conceit, Degani professed to know instantly and smugly who to blame for loutish manifestations on our society’s margins.
He harbored no doubts.
By the criteria of his pedagogic omniscience, everything untoward – from teen rowdies disrupting the Cameri Theater’s performance of Ghetto to football hooliganism – emanates from “occupation.” Regardless of sanctimonious linguistic obfuscation, the ultimate logic of Degani’s analysis leads to the denigration of Jewish self-defense.
According to Degani’s facile outline, everything is neatly black and white, with no complexities, subtleties or suggestions of soft shading. Israel is the villainous ogre and the Arabs under its hobnailed boot are the randomly terrorized victims.
It’s a simplistic formula sure to impress juvenile minds placed under Degani’s charge. Therein lies the danger of his crude, one-dimensional distortion. There’s no depth, no background, no history, no whys and wherefores, no hint of justification for anything. It’s sloganism at its shallowest.
Degani gives voice to anti-Israel propaganda, even though he’s sure to indignantly deny this. He teaches his susceptible pupils to see Israel as its enemies portray it. In our region that’s a recipe for self-destruction no matter how ornately and pretentiously garnished with human-rights palaver.
Yet worse than the affectation of virtue, is the plain fact that Degani is wrong (or perhaps demagogically misleading). Disrespectful and disorderly behavior in our midst doesn’t arise from those segments of Israel’s population of whom Degani most disapproves. There’s no infestation of oafish and boorish outcroppings where ideology, tradition and values are high on the scale of priorities.
The thugs who couldn’t contain themselves at the theater didn’t come from the national-religious school system, for instance. But a disproportionate number of volunteers for IDF combat officers’ training and for crack commando units do hail from that environment. Fewer and fewer come from the milieu favored by Degani.
Conceivably the excessive political correctness of the Degani-model school breeds nihilism. Indeed, in 2010 Degani refused to allow IDF officers into Gymnasia Herzliya in the framework of a program geared to stress the importance of “significant military service.”
The results of Degani-like indoctrination aren’t difficult to detect. In one Tel Aviv school ceremony, around the time of Degani’s barring of the officers, students adamantly refused to sing the lyrics to “I Have No Other Country.” Their ties to this country are by inference tenuous and conditional.
Tel Aviv’s educational institutions have descended very far from those of the city’s visionary beginnings and subsequent trailblazing.
Tel Aviv sprang up around Gymnasia Herzliya. Its building was the first public structure erected in 1909 on the shifting sands that would become the first Zionist urban creation. The Gymnasia was Tel Aviv’s central hub. It was founded four years earlier in Jaffa, dedicated to the premise that all subjects can be taught in Hebrew. It served for decades as a magnet for Jewish youth and as the embodiment of Zionist fervor.
But as per the old adage, it appears sadly that Gymnasia Herzliya’s old age shames its youth.
One would have assumed that given the unique circumstances of its birth, this school’s successive stewards would be particularly cognizant of the historic duty entrusted temporarily in their hands.
Instead of posturing as postmodern guardians of other people’s consciences, they ought to remember that the only reason Gymnasia Herzliya ever took off from its ultra-humble beginnings was an insatiable hunger for Jewish nationalism, as distinct from today’s universalist zeitgeist.
Dr. Yehuda-Leib Metman-Cohen and his wife, Fania, founded the school in their own narrow two-room flat off a winding dark and dank alley near today’s Clock Tower in Turkish-ruled Jaffa. Following the then-predominant European pattern, their secondary school accepted pupils aged nine to 19 and offered a nine-year program.
Fania, the author of the country’s first-ever Hebrew arithmetic textbook, taught math while stirring the pots in her makeshift kitchenette and peeling onions. After class, both husband and wife washed down the floors each day.
The original teaching staff of four and student body of 17 soon mushroomed. The Gymnasia especially flourished after its relocation to Tel Aviv. Jewish parents the world over sent their offspring to receive Zionist education in “the first Hebrew city.”
It took nerve and verve to forge ahead with an all-Hebrew curriculum when no modern teaching material existed in Hebrew. Everything had to be fashioned from scratch.
“There was an ecstasy of creativity and pioneering that gripped both children and teachers,” recalled the late Dr. Baruch Ben-Yehuda who was enrolled in the school in 1906 and stayed with it for most of his life, studying there, teaching, becoming an inspiring principal and then president. I interviewed him in 1975, when Gymnasia Herzliya celebrated its 70th birthday.
“Everything we did was revolutionary and we were flushed with the importance of our every accomplishment. Our kids roamed the length and breadth of the county, venturing to neglected far-flung corners to form a bond with Israel’s past and present. This school stood in the vanguard of the Jewish national revival and partook in all our national battles. If Mikve Yisrael epitomized the tie with land, Herzliya epitomized the tie with our nationhood and culture,” Ben-Yehuda argued.
He went on: “There’s no major Zionist ideological movement whose activity cannot be traced to Gymnasia Herzliya. Our students also figured in the practical side of the Zionist endeavor. They guarded Tel Aviv when the Ottoman Turks expelled all its residents in WWI. Our students and graduates – like Eliyahu Golomb and Dov Hoz – were among the founders and driving forces of the Hagana. Many in this school took part in Lehi and IZL underground struggles. Our alumni underpinned Israel’s independence and self-defense.
“Our students fought in the ranks of the Jewish Brigade in WWII and set the IDF in motion. We produced outstanding scientists like Prof. Yuval Ne’eman and national poets like Natan Alterman. A great spirit hovered over this institution – the spirit of a national rebirth,” Ben-Yehuda summed up. “This was a miniature Jewish state – the embryo Israel full of dreamers and fighters. If I seek one word to describe Gymnasia Herzliya it’s patriotism.”
The then-novel passion for Hebrew appears to have nowadays been replaced with a penchant for Orwellian Newspeak, produced prodigiously by Israeli Doublethinkers.
Their misuse of the word “occupation” inculcates in the listener’s ear the notion that Israelis willfully, with no provocation, crossed the blessed Green Line one sunny June morning in 1967, snuffled out Palestinian sovereignty (nonexistent though it was) and sadistically subjugated the ancient Palestinian nation (invented only lately).
Heaven forefend we mention that the territory in question isn’t foreign but directly contiguous to our incredibly narrow-waisted state – an integral part of our ancestral homeland – yet we hadn’t taken it until forced to defend ourselves against attempted genocide and ethnic cleansing.
The prattle in latter-day Gymnasia Herzliya about how “occupation corrupts” advocates relinquishment by Israel of its deterrent potential, making instead do with containing would-be annihilators and reacting to their initiatives.
Yet by not utilizing the capabilities we possess, by not opting for decisive victories and by acquiescing to prolonged conflicts of attrition, we embolden our implacable foes to introduce deadlier means and escalate terror. Half-hearted responses invigorate enemy resolve and increase noncombatant casualties and suffering.
That was Orwell’s observation precisely. Despots, he concluded, “can stand ‘moral force’ till the cows come home; what they fear is physical force.” Ramallah’s and Gaza’s death-mongers fear physical force. They want Israelis to flee. Israelis who preach withdrawal and protest intermittent IDF actions, help fulfill the enemy’s wishes.
Degani and fellow holier-than-thou peace-pontificators are our present-day counterparts to the antiwar activists of Orwell’s day.
Orwell regarded them as “objectively pro- Fascist. This is elementary commonsense. If you hamper the war effort of one side, you automatically help that of the other. Nor is there any real way of remaining outside such a war as the present one. In practice, he that is not with me is against me.”