I wish more Israelis were with me in outlying County Kerry, Ireland, just recently. There, in the tiny town of Cahersiveen, my doubting compatriots would have been reminded of what we face in the international community and why it has nothing much to do with how liberally we conduct ourselves, how many confidence- building concessions we make at the expense of our physical safety or how much we sacrifice of our rights to our historic homeland.
It’s all gallingly beside the point.
Our image has exasperatingly little to do with who we are. Distortions about us are blithely disseminated to the most susceptible and gullible members of society. Israel’s role as a scoundrel is made an axiomatic given, a premise for decent but distant folks, who know next to nothing (least of all Israel’s actual size) and couldn’t care less about the Mideast and its staggering complexities. But they are convinced that we are the bad guys.
That plays right into the hands of foreign leaders who are not, to resort to understatement, overly understanding of our cause. We were, for example, direly warned, via what appears like carefully timed hearsay, that US President Barack Obama doesn’t like our prime minister and holds Israel’s electorate responsible for the country’s isolation. We bring upon ourselves all the ill-will we encounter in the global arena.
Not to be outdone, Europe fully lives up to all the antagonism we have come to expect from the continent’s denizens. They were always highly adept, especially in the darkest epochs, at dressing up their intense bigotry in holier-than- thou sanctimony. It’s no different now, as warnings emanate from a plethora of EU capitals about an impending offensive to coerce Israel to capitulate to all existentially threatening Arab demands. Getting the Jewish state to sign its own death warrant will apparently buoy sagging spirits in the Euro zone.
Been there, heard that. It’s nothing new. Deep inside, most of us Israelis are inured to diplomatic discrimination, which is the latter-day genteel face of Judeophobia.
But some of us are bent on haughtily pooh-poohing anti-Jewish undercurrents, to say nothing of outrightly hostile motives. It matters little whether the likes of Tzipi Livni actually believe that there’s no thinly disguised prejudice against our vital interests and indeed against our very survival.
Tzipi lectured us in her most stentorian tones against subscribing to theories that anti-Semitism stokes anti-Israeli fervor. Yet to deny a grotesque double standard against Israel is either to misperceive reality or to deliberately misrepresent it for narrow political purposes.
I wonder how Tzipi would have reacted to what I saw in picturesque Cahersiveen, home to a population of some 1,300. It beautifully straddles the Ring of Kerry, a tourist trail in southwestern Ireland. The town’s imposing Catholic church is the only one in Ireland named after a lay person, Daniel O’Connell. Famed as the Liberator or Emancipator, he campaigned in the 19th century for Catholic rights, thereby in effect triggering the Irish struggle for independence from Britain. In our terms he can be described as Ireland’s Herzl.
One would assume that there, near O’Connell’s birthplace, we’d find sympathy for a far more ancient nation that won its independence from Britain, after a struggle no less bitter. Moreover, our underground fighters – foremost the IZL (the Irgun), whose leadership included Tzipi’s own father, Eitan Livni – patterned itself openly and proudly on the Irish Republican Army. The late prime minister Yitzhak Shamir’s nom de guerre in the LHI underground (a.k.a. the Stern Group) was Michael, his homage to Michael Collins – the revolutionary Fine Gael leader, who headed Ireland’s provisional government in 1922.
But the warm affections that members of our own “fighting family” felt for Ireland were a galaxy away from Cahersiveen. There were no hints of affection there for us. On the town’s main thoroughfare, Church Street, I was buttonholed by three boisterous teenagers in Santa hats, carrying a collection box and big signs reading “Free Palestine.” They solicited my contribution.
I asked: “Free Palestine from whom?”
The cheery trio’s swift answer was unambiguous: “The Jews.”
I pressed on: “Do you know where your money would go? “
The boys: “To plant olive trees.”
“Are you sure,” I continued, as kindly-looking little old ladies generously opened their purses and dropped coins and bills in the collection box, “that this money wouldn’t fund terrorists and murderers?” Their retort threw me for a loop: “What do you have against Palestinians? What have they done to you? They are only against Jews. Jews are evil.”
I pried more. I asked what they know about the conflict. It was nothing except that Israel is the horrid ogre and the oppressed Palestinians are unquestionably worthy of compassion. Indeed the boys never stopped to question any of this.
I inquired who gave them these ideas and who sent them out to seek contributions in the town center. It turned out that it was a school-organized affair and that their teacher brought them all out, as a group, on a school day, during school hours, to do a pre-Christmas Christian good deed by “collecting donations for Palestine.”
I asked if they knew of the Palestinian Authority’s and Hamastan’s persecutions of Christians, but my youthful interlocutors had never heard of the Palestinian Authority and didn’t know that Palestinians are overwhelmingly Muslim.
There was little point in lumbering them with elementary information. Any data seemed entirely alien to the boys, their strongly held opinions notwithstanding. Politely they pointed me down the street where their teacher stood with some of their other classmates.
The teacher, who unsuspectingly volunteered his name to me, said he took out his pupils, all from the town’s single secondary school, as part of a class project “to further a humanitarian goal.” The goal was to collect money to enable the Palestinians to replace olive trees because “Jews stole their lands.”
All around him the cheery kids hoisted “Save Palestine” placards. There was a lot of hilarity. It was a lark. A good time was had. Outdoor frolic on a mild winter’s morning sure beats lessons in a dreary classroom.
I asked if this was a sanctioned school event and was solemnly assured that it was, all part of inculcating in the children a commitment to charitable work. I wondered aloud if something else wasn’t being inculcated. The teacher remained remarkably unperturbed when I repeated to him what the three boys said earlier about Jews “always being villains,” along with one youngster’s aside that “they crucified our Lord.” In fact, the teacher nodded in agreement, without a solitary word of objection.
“Isn’t there another side to this story?” I asked. I was shown a handwritten poster that boasted the Palestinian flag and proclaimed: “There’s a conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians that began in the early 20th century.” That was the one simplistic token to seeming objectivity.
But it was meaningless and ended there. Another homemade placard read: “Together we’ll get rights for Palestine.”
The squawk was all about rights, but distinctly not about the rights of Jews, which are excluded from the official curriculum. The violated rights are those of Palestinian Arabs and the violators are Israeli Jews. And all this is crudely imparted under the auspices of a state’s school system.
The bottom line for Cahersiveen’s juvenile fund-raisers, without one redeeming exception, was that the Israelis are the tyrants and the Palestinians the sainted victims. It’s black and white, with no grays, no depth, no background. There was no qualm about who deserves the unstinting sympathy of decent folks.
And herein lies our problem – the one too many Israelis avoid, be it out of ignorance or political machination. We, as a people, face bias we can do nothing about. There’s powerful predisposition against us. It’s not fueled by our behavior, because nobody knows much about how we behave and nobody cares to learn.
The Cahersiveen youngsters will surely grow into charming decent adults, but ingrained in their psyches from a young age will be the vague notion of Jewish villains and Palestinian martyrs. Indoctrination of impressionable minds – who can’t answer back and who regard their instructors as respected experts – creates biased adults.
Their bias, because it was formed so early, is intangible and impervious to all Israeli public relations and learned discourse. Historical dissertations are too convoluted to dispel preconceived antipathy. Facts are irrelevant.
There’s sadly no remedy for that unwitting indecency of essentially very decent folks. Its parades as high-minded but is irrational.
Some may of course argue that Ireland is a special case. It has a history of anti-Semitism without having ever had a sizable Jewish population. Cases in point are the 1904 pogrom in Limerick, the refusal to allow fleeing Jews (even children) refuge before and during the Holocaust, the fascist Blueshirts, the quasi-Hitlerjugend groupings during the Nazi era and even Taoisseach (premier) Eamon De Valera’s messages of condolence to the German people following the news of Hitler’s demise.
De Valera made a pilgrimage to the German legation in Dublin and visited the home of German envoy, Eduard Hempel, to commiserate with the loss of the Third Reich’s leader. There was no defense for this gesture made after the liberation of Auschwitz, Bergen-Belsen and Dachau. The Irish government’s censor anyhow allowed no reporting of the Holocaust. On the other hand Dublin gave safe haven to fugitive Nazi war criminals.
Ireland’s hyped ethical imperative was demonstratively missing when it came to Jews. It still is when it comes to the Jewish state.
Until 1975, Ireland had refused to establish diplomatic relations with Israel, accusing it of contravening UN resolutions. Only literally in the last days of 1993 did it allow an Israeli embassy to open in Dublin. That was after it hosted Yasser Arafat and agreed to a Palestinian legation.
Cashed-strapped Ireland contributes heftily to Palestinian causes. Calls to boycott Israeli products and expel its diplomats are rampant. Decent folks don’t dissent.
But for all that, Ireland isn’t unique. What’s bon ton there is very bon ton in other countries, with other sordid pasts and intrinsic predilections against our sort – predilections that our homegrown left-wing and post-Zionist politicos persuade naïve and complacent Israelis to forget, so we may persist in our self-flagellating ways.