The sweet 18-year-old on the plane, idealistic but a bit scared, who was volunteering for the IDF. The Iraqi woman in the laundrette who invited me to Friday night dinner. The young man in the second-hand bookshop, who asked me to read to him out loud from David Copperfield so that he can hear Dickens in an English accent.
However, in leaving behind my old life to make aliya, I am finding that you lose some friends as well. Since arriving in Israel, I have been “de-friended” by four people on Facebook, and I have had what you might call “warnings” from others.
Even before I left the UK, there were the funny remarks.
The assumption was always that “something” had happened to me. I had “changed,” and not in a good way. I’d be back when I saw something called “The Truth.”
Nice, liberal, public-sector- working Jews, are not supposed to like Israel. Or, at least, things are OK as you don’t talk about it.
Others, I have noticed, face no such inhibition. As I hope to show in what follows, it is perfectly acceptable to throw the most outrageous accusations around about Israel, but if you reply, then you are the evil racist.
Here is a sample of what has crossed my Facebook page, unsolicited, but posted by friends and online acquaintances.
An image, headlined “Zionism: The True Face of Israel!” of a demonic dog draped in a sheep’s fleece. Another depicting a dagger in the shape of the country, being stabbed into the chest of a child by an Israeli soldier.
Israel has killed “one million children,” writes a Turkish man living in London. It has committed “mass murder,” writes a woman from Australia.
An activist of the center-left Liberal Democrat Party in the UK squeezes all the left-wing buzz words into a single post: “apartheid,” “Zionist Israeli lobby,” “far-right Netanyahu Israeli government,” “ethnic cleansing,” “Israeli lobby dosh,” “horrific war-crimes,” “inhumane Warsaw-like ghetto of Gaza,” and for good measure: “the new Wall...reminiscent of the wall around the Warsaw Ghetto.” He signs off “peace love respect” [sic].
Now, all of this is socially acceptable talk from liberals and leftists. Responding is not.
When I respond to counter these claims, four things happen. First, I am accused of racism and betrayal.
One friend writes: “You someone who I have always respected and admired I feel like you have changed into something u would have never dreamt” [sic].
This is from an old school friend: “I have been really sad to read so much anger and hatred in your Facebook feed.”
Another Liberal Democrat activist (I will call him Liberal Democrat Activist 2) writes: “You and I used to be political allies. Which is why I don’t understand why you have turned into an apologist for a racist, far-Right government.”
Later, he complains: “you make no attempt to disengage yourself from Netanyahu’s mob.”
In other words, Jews have to prove their right to take part in the debate, by declaring that they are one of the “good Jews.”
LDA 2 goes on to call me a racist several times, specifically: “You appear to have turned into a racist liar. Enjoy your time supporting your racist mates. Bye.” “I do not know why [you have] turned into such a twisted and poisonous individual... evidently [you have] been captured by the forces of racism.”
“You were once an honourable person and have become a lying racist bigot.”
Second, within a very few posts in any discussion on Israel, the real anti-Semitism starts.
A woman from Cardiff, Wales writes to me as follows: “A great deal of history tells us that most countries where Jews have congregated eventually they have been expelled by the indigenous population [sic]. We have to ask ourselves why.”
LDA 2 writes: “Go to the Sea” [sic]. He gets angry when I remind him of the origins of that phrase, amends it to “Buzz off,” then deletes the post completely. Then he blocks me.
Third, people start wishing you actual harm.
I remonstrate with two Pakistani men and an Australian woman over a story claiming that a pork chop was placed on the face of a dying Palestinian man. I suggest that it is perverse to focus on this unlikely (who has a pork chop to hand in Israel?) aspect of the story while ignoring the fact that the “dying man” is one of a wave of knife attack terrorists targeting Israeli soldiers, police and civilians.
One of the Pakistani men calls Israel “that ugly country” populated by “murderers and land-grabbers.” “Maybe you could learn to share with those who have had the land before 1948 & have been displaced by people like you,” an Australian woman throws in, adding: “If one corners a wounded animal one should not be surprised if one gets bitten. Enjoy your new country.”
My Australian correspondent relishes what she reads as my “fear” at the prospect of “getting bitten,” i.e. stabbed, shot, or run over in a vehicular attack. Enjoy!
Fourth, and quite early on, I am told something like: “I have no wish to discuss this with you,” even when the person saying this started the conversation in the first place.
It is painful to watch parties I once voted for – the center-left Labor and the Liberal Democrat Parties in the UK – overtaken by ideas and a language that would be unacceptable if used about any other country or national group. Imagine refusing to speak to a Pakistani before he first declares his hostility to the Pakistani government.
Or describing China as an “ugly country populated by murderers and land-grabbers.”
It is more painful still when friends no longer take your humanitarianism for granted based on their knowledge of you as a person, but assume that you have been “captured” by a sinister force when you begin to explore and express an intrinsic part of your identity.
Zionism says that there should be one small country in the world that really wants us. A country where we can live as of right, and not on sufferance.
Perhaps the discourse on Israel/ Palestine is the greatest proof of all that this idea still matters.The writer worked for a Liberal Democrat Member of Parliament in the UK House of Commons for five years, 2000-2005, before becoming a politics educator. He made aliya in 2015 and is writing a book on the Left’s attitude to Israel.