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
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
But some of us are bent on haughtily pooh-poohing
anti-Jewish undercurrents, to say nothing of out-rightly 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
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.
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
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 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 Stern Group underground 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
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.”
pressed on: “Do you know where your money would go? “The boys: “To plant olive
“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.
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
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
There was little point in lumbering them with
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.
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.”
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 word of
“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
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.
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
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
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
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
Ireland’s hyped ethical imperative was demonstratively missing
when it came to Jews. It still is when it comes to the Jewish
Until 1975, Ireland had refused to establish diplomatic relations
with Israel, accusing it of contravening UN resolutions. Only 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
Cashed-strapped Ireland contributes heftily to Palestinian
Calls to boycott Israeli products and expel its diplomats are
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