Sunday, August 09, 2009

Stop Shooting The Messenger ( English )

The following article appears on Ynet today.
Stop shooting the messenger
While I was planning and preparing a trip to Holland for my wife and our two eldest children, I was looking for information about an interactive museum of the human body, near Leiden. I came across a tourists' forum in Hebrew. Besides useful information about the museum, I also read something that really offended me. In Holland , access to about 400 museums can be bought with just one card, the Museum Card, for 35 Euro a year. The card pays off already after three or four museum visits, and most of the museums that tourists tend to visit are included. The card bears your name, but no picture. Enters the Israeli commercial and criminal ingenuity. On the forum people offer to 'rent out' or sell their card to other tourists. Just send an e-mail if you are interested. One forum visitor denounced this un-kosher business. He (or she, you never know on such fora) pointed out that giving, renting out or selling such a card to somebody else is a form of theft: “Afterwards we do not understand why they hate our guts, and why our state looks and functions the way it does. […] We can always cry that the whole world is against us anyway, but our image abroad is largely also our own responsibility, or our own fault”. Not surprisingly (s)he was attacked quite fiercely for using the phrase "the ugly Israeli", and for criticizing those outstanding citizens who, of course, only want to help their fellow travelers and whose intentions are pure as snow. This verbal attack reminded me of the way in which Israelis often deal with criticism. We hate to hear that we are far from perfect, and love to shoot any messenger who tells us that something, anything, is not right in the Holy Land . When outsiders critize us and show us some of the seedier sides of the reality that we have created and live in, we can always claim that those outsiders do not understand that reality, that they do not know what we know, or that they are simply anti-Semites. Such accusations become slightly less plausible when Israelis with impeccable zionist credentials voice their criticism and concerns. For such men and women labels like 'traitor' or 'self-hater' are often used. When abuse within the armored corps is exposed, rightwingers try to convince new recruits that they should keep information about abuse to themselves. When an Israeli NGO reports about possible violent excesses during the war in Gaza, Israeli diplomats complain that that organization receives funds from EU governments. A large part of Israel's official, semi-official and private hasbara-efforts is aimed at griping about the messengers. There is no doubt that some, maybe even many of the outsiders who follow and cover events in and around Israel are biased, and that that bias is often expressed in the media abroad. Also, some of the Jews and Israelis who denounce Israel in international fora might very well suffer from a certain degree of self-hatred or a highly complex form of anti-Semitism. Still, we should stop focusing on attacking any messenger who tells us something that we do not want to hear or see. Nobody seems to believe that maybe, just maybe, we ourselves should try to change the reality that is reflected in the negative messages. No matter how biased messengers can be, there is a limit to how far they can bend or invent the truth. We ought to be wise enough to distinguish between Israel/Jew-hatred and genuine criticism from foreign friends and true Zionists. If we have nothing to hide or to be ashamed of, we should be confident enough not to push the panic button whenever an in- or outsider washes Israel 's dirty linen in public. Let me finish by quoting the forum visitor whom I mentioned earlier. His or her words express what I often feel when I see, hear, or read about the not so pretty sides of the country where I chose to live, marry and raise my children. Probably other proud but critical Zionists, born here or elsewhere, will recognize these feelings: “Obviously most Israelis are perfectly all right. It is a fact that I live here, and not in Europe , where I was born. I would not be so annoyed […] if I did not love this country and this state so much. Some ugly people ruined and continue to ruin it, and they would not be able to do that if we had not gotten used to it, if we did not find all kinds of excuses that ‘explain’ why this is not so bad, and if we did not call black grey and grey white. What I denounce most is the fact that we prefer to justify illegal and unjust behavior, rather than to admit that we are talking about some ugly phenomena that eventually hurt ourselves and our state”.

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