We Jews are famous for overthinking, for analysis-paralysis, for hair-splitting ourselves to distraction. We can complicate the simple, mind-bogglingly confound common-sense and convolute the straightforward like no one else. No other nation reacts like us. Period.
We’re the only ones who can come up with inanities like the notion that inaction signifies strength. We’re the only ones for whom combating implacable foes isn’t knee-jerk. Only we strain to guess how other nations will judge our responses to insufferable provocation. We are the only nation threatened with genocide but only we seek to win the world’s love and end up losing it by also trying to stay alive. We are the only ones whose survival prospects must be counterbalanced by our craving for international approval.
Human evolution has produced no one like us. And for all our pains to be liberal and likable we are despised and demonized.
Predictably, on the day Eyal Yifrach, Gil-Ad Shaer and Naftali Fraenkel were laid to their eternal rest, our talking heads spent hours of air time dissecting the dilemma of whether we should do something now about the enemies who bay for the blood of all of us – not just for that of the three youngsters they stalked, snatched, and slaughtered.
The kibitzers’ consensus was that it would be a crying shame to waste the maybe-morsel of understanding tossed our way abroad. It was as if these three victims – who never made it home from school – constituted a sacrifice, albeit an unintentional one, on the altar of our reputation within the dysfunctional family of nations. That sacrifice, decreed the know-it-alls, mustn’t be squandered by going after Hamas too effectively, lest that would unleash upon us all the censure we have grown accustomed to whenever we lift a finger in our defense. Therefore, advised the advice-givers, let’s hold onto our meager gains and lap up the little compassion belatedly shown us.
So, to examine just how popular overseas the untimely loss of three lives has made us, I decided to channel-surf and watch how foreign TV broadcasters were covering the funeral, the mass turnout of ordinary Israelis and the manifest solidarity in heartbreak. Our one-large-family ethos was inspiring to us, but will others be even a smidge moved?
Fox was preoccupied to its eyeballs with the Hobby Lobby victory over Obamacare. France 24 had the Sarkozy scandal to salivate over. But then I got to Sky News. Here I hit the mother lode. This outlet was hooked on the funeral with live feed and constant commentary. At first glance, it looked friendly. No wonder – it’s owned by Rupert Murdoch (who also owns Fox, but you can’t win them all).
Kay Burley was the comely anchor and Tim Marshall, Sky News’ foreign affairs editor, functioned as the authoritative guide to the perplexed, introducing the viewers to the intricacies of our strange ways (including wardrobe tips like the fact that average Israelis shun suits and ties even at formal occasions).
It soon became evident, though, that there was nothing remotely kind or caring about the banter of Kay and Tim. It’s not that this pair matters in the least but what does matter is that journalists like them become the filters through which our agony, our struggle – our entire existential saga – must seep to reach the masses in other lands. And we for some reason persistently presume that these masses actually tune in and weigh every nuance with the gravity with which Israel’s homegrown omniscients yammer.
This, therefore, makes Kay and Tim significant to our domestic discourse. It’s worth our while to see how our message emerges from their sifter.
First off, it needs be stressed that Kay and Tim aren’t the worst among opinion-molders. In fact, odds are that they would indignantly rebuff any suggestion that they aren’t even-handed, or are – heaven forefend – anti-Israeli. Doubtless, they are probably better than some of the more overtly hostile sorts who proliferate in the global media. So let’s hit the highlights of the several hours I spent watching the Kay and Tim show on the afternoon of the funeral in Modi’in.
There was a lot of back-and-forth about what language we speak. Tim referred to the distress call Gil-Ad made to the police. Deadpan, sounding very well-versed in the minutiae of esoteric Israel, Tim shared his wisdom: “I assume he was talking in Hebrew… Both his parents have Israeli Hebrew names.” Deep!
Later on Tim also assumed, with equal erudition, that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu would address the mourners in Hebrew, “although many people in Israel speak English.” Really deep!
These profound linguistic insights were accompanied by abundant mispronunciations of everything from victim Gil-Ad’s name (he became Jilad some of the time) to Tim’s lack of familiarity with the name Etzion (which came out something like Zion). It was defined as an illegal settlement deep in the Palestinian heartland, which the boys had visited…
Okay, so Tim the expert didn’t know that Kfar Etzion was a well-established Jewish community before the state of Israel was born on May 14, 1948. Kfar Etzion was besieged by the Jordanian Legion – British-trained, British-equipped and British-led. It was the last stand of the few against the many. In the end, however, undermanned and underarmed, its defenders surrendered on May 13, 1948. They had put down their weapons, lined up in front of a school and were even photographed. Then sub-machine fire and hurled grenades mowed them down. About 50 of the group managed to flee to the cellar of a nearby old monastery but the Arabs blew it up. There were a mere five survivors. The massacre victims numbered 128.
Nineteen years after the carnage, Jews – many of them descendents of the butchered prisoners of war – came back to the ruins of the village and resurrected it. By the skewed scales of international justice, this is deemed illegal occupation by a foreign invader. The conquest of and subsequent bloodbath at Kfar Etzion weren’t likewise condemned. But why should an esteemed editor know any history? Ignorance is forgivable if it’s politically correct ignorance and Tim is politically correct if he’s anything.
Still, the boys’ story was out there for 18 days. It stands to reason that Tim would have boned up on the gist of it and explained to his audience that these kids were coming home from the school they attended in Kfar Etzion. Yet apparently, a handle on events may be too much to expect.
Hence, Tim confidently claimed that there’s no evidence Hamas did the dastardly deed. According to his take, the very fact that these hostages were killed right off, actually serves to absolve Hamas of suspicion as its modus operandi is to keep its hostages alive. If Tim had even rudimentary acquaintance with Hamas’s homicidal record, he’d have known that the diametrical reverse is true. Tim plainly had no inkling about Avi Sasportas, Ilan Sa’adon, Nissim Toledano, Yaron Chen, Ehud Roth, Ilan Levy, Shachar Simani, Arik Frankenthal, Sharon Edri, Oleg Schaichet, Eliyahu Asheri and many unfortunate others.
But even a smattering of knowledge is clearly not a prerequisite job qualification in these postmodern times.
Undaunted by cluelessness, Tim was busy supplying us with what passed for fair-minded perspective, which Kay then kept hammering in unremittingly. Both stressed that while the three “young men” (as Kay called them throughout) were being eulogized, “Arab families too grieved.” We were treated to scenes from the riotous funeral procession in Jenin for (again in Kay’s words) “a 19-year-old boy… The Israelis accuse him of having thrown an incendiary device and for this they shot him” she informed us with a stern stare. The footage from Jenin was played over and over.
Then commentary was sought from PA politician Mustafa Barghouti who blamed Netanyahu for the tragedy because he, Netanyahu, sent the boys to occupied territory, broke off the peace talks and runs a racist regime far worse than apartheid South Africa. Straight-faced, Barghouti depicted the Palestinians as nonviolent followers of Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King (his words), except that Israeli oppression messes with their inherent pacifism. Presenter Kay listened to this malarkey wide-eyed and never challenged her interviewee on any assertion, no matter how outrageous. In the end, she solicitously asked him with childlike credulity: “Do you think you’ll see peace in your lifetime?”
It was clear that Barghouti is the good guy and we know who the villains are. After all, Barghouti told Kay he himself was shot eleven times by the Israelis.
As the camera panned across Modi’in’s cemetery and served up close-ups of the seated mothers and fathers, teary eyes but dignified, Kay asked in ostensible innocence: “Can you see anything else than the escalation of violence, given the scenes we’re seeing?” All I could see was stoic restraint but Kay spotted something evidently sinister.
Then it dawned on me. The sad farewell to three schoolboys was exploited to drum up crass sensationalism. The viewers were recurrently reminded that Netanyahu is about to address the multitudes and that fire and brimstone are to be anticipated.
Will he attack Gaza? Doubtless Israel’s reaction would be ruthlessly disproportionate and thus merits denunciation a priori. According to prescient Tim’s two cents, our excessive retaliation will provoke Hamas to rocket the vicinities of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. To the best of my recollection, Jerusalem wasn’t ever in the range of Gazan missiles but what the heck, it’s a good story. No need to mention the ongoing daily unprovoked rocketing of the Negev.
Bottom line: Kay and Tim were building up to a bogeyman shocker by Netanyahu but he disappointed them insensitively. Their hype notwithstanding, there was zero hysterical hyperbole and horrific hectoring on his part. Ah, well, tomorrow is another day. The show must go on. Kay and Tim aren’t really bothered but Israel’s image emerged from their talk-fest battered and bruised.
And the truth? It was downright immaterial to Kay and Tim.
These are the people we Israelis obsessively seek to impress even against our best interests. All our sophisticated simulations drown in their syrupy shallowness. Their smug superficiality stifles our sorry aspiration for a scrap of sympathy out there. And that’s assuming there’s no ill-will to boot – which in the case of the beleaguered Jewish State isn’t always a realistic assumption.
Debunking the Bull, Sarah Honig’s book, was recently published by Gefen.