I recently threw a group of social justice tourists out of our synagogue in Efrat. Like similar groups with which I often meet in our “illegal settlement,” these 18 adults, representing which organization I still do not know, expressed its wish to listen and learn something about the “settlers” side of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. While these groups do not hide their pro-Palestinian sentiments, they are generally civil in spite their often prickly questions. I say generally.
Upon the conclusion of my short standard personal introduction, and the background to the beginning and development of Efrat, I, as usual, opened the floor for questions. Staring back at me were 18 dour faces, but no questions. I tried to lighten the atmosphere by saying, “Well, goodbye and thank you all for coming.”
That quip apparently elicited the first question. “Why don’t you let Arabs come into your settlement?” I responded immediately and correctively noted that approximately 1,000 Palestinians enter Efrat each day, mostly to work, although some take advantage of local medical services and some shop. The woman who asked this question shook her head as I spoke, indicating her rejection of my response.
The next question came from a man. “Who was here first, you or the Arabs?” I answered that this land is historically the biblical Land of Israel that fell to Roman rule. Beginning with the Emperor Constantine in the 4th century CE, Christianity began to transition to the dominant religion of the Roman Empire. The region was conquered by the Muslims only in the mid-7th century. Jerusalem fell to the Caliphate in 636 CE. Prior to this, there were no Muslims in Israel, as there was no Islam.
So the Jews were here first, I said, and added that we never completely left. Again, I witnessed my readily verifiable answer being dismissed with a roll of the eyes. The man repeated the question with some belligerence. “Who was here first?”
“The Jews,” I said. For a third time, as if interrogating me, he repeated the question, now with his voice raised. “Who was here first?”
“THAT is my answer,” I said, and looked away.
Another woman blurted out: “But Jesus was a Palestinian! They taught us that in Catholic school.”
I retorted that Jesus was in fact a Jew who was born 10 minutes from Efrat in Bethlehem, which is in Judea. I further noted that this information is found in the Gospels. Looking at the group, I asked for someone to cite even one verse in the New Testament in which the word “Palestine” appears. There was no response, only more dour and cynical expressions.
FOR ME, the line was crossed shortly afterward, when a middle-aged woman in the group charged that the recent rape and murder of Ori Ansbacher (may her blood be avenged) was a lie. That’s when I abruptly put an end to this farce of a dialogue.
Underlying the hostility in the antagonistic questions was the palpable sense of something darker. It should come as no surprise to learn that this group came from Belgium. And I was not surprised, therefore, when the next day I learned of the openly antisemitic float in the March 3rd Aalst Carnival in Belgium. According to The Jerusalem Post, the float “featured two giant puppets with sidelocks and shtreimels, hats favored by some Orthodox Jews, in pink suits. One is grinning while smoking a cigar. That puppet has a white rat on his right shoulder. Both puppets are standing on gold coins and have money bags at their feet.”
The honorable and well-intentioned attitude of a great number of Jewish liberals is that we must engage in dialogue with those who disdain us, even those who seek to harm us. As Jews, we are obligated to try to settle our differences with others, we must seek a way to educate those who oppose us and show them that we, the Jewish People, mean them no harm.
As noble as this attitude is, my experience with this group of hard-left European activists illustrates that there are occasions when grounds for dialogue are non-existent. When respective versions of historical events contradict one another, when definitions of reality between parties are radically divergent, and when emotions run high, attempts at dialogue are futile. They are a waste of valuable time, energy and human resources. As unattractive as it may be to those who truly seek conciliation, the adversarial parties might as well just agree to disagree and then part ways.
One of the Belgian visitors angrily criticized what he referred to as Israel’s “apartheid wall.” As a point of fact, just one more evidence-based fact in which this group had no interest, many thousands of Palestinians, non-citizens of Israel, cross into the Jewish state each and every day for employment and medical treatment. But this group’s deeply ingrained biases made it impossible for them to consider any facts that contradicted their narrative, which was the Palestinian narrative.
In reality, they came only to indict, not to listen. Their own wall of emotions, contempt and of ignorance exposed their pretensions. And when you find yourself talking to the wall, any attempt at dialogue is futile.
The writer is the founder and director of iTalkIsrael in Efrat.
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