Parameters of Israeli independence

My Word: Israel has its faults of course. Just ask Israelis. Complaining about the country we love constitutes a hobby in its own right.

Staff at Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem wave at the IAF flyover on Independence Day.  (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Staff at Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem wave at the IAF flyover on Independence Day.
A psychologist once told a friend “everybody needs an enemy.” It’s not a positive approach to life. Personally, I think everyone should have a hobby – something to focus on beyond the normal tasks related to work, family and life. Lately, I can’t help wondering what happens when the chosen hobby and obsessive hatred combine.
Part of the difficulties of dealing with the novel coronavirus is that there is no visible enemy to fight. Globally, people seem to be finding that frustrating and confusing. The result is a clash of extremes. On the one hand, there has been ugly, uncontrolled hatred – a surge in antisemitic attacks, because it’s always useful to be able to blame the Jews, and despicable assaults on those with Asian features. On the other hand, there has been an outpouring of love and solidarity, a need to do something to help and to feel part of the overall effort of fighting the battle beyond wearing masks, washing hands and refraining from hugging grandma.
Gradually, the expressions of support have moved from clapping for medical teams from balconies, to waving national flags and praising the armed forces. My Facebook feed filled with invitations to share photos of myself in uniform from my days of military service. I resisted the temptation. Although I’m proud of my service in the IDF, and I am anything but humble despite my lowly rank of corporal, I didn’t feel this was the right response. True, soldiers were helping distribute food to the housebound and backing up the police enforcing stay-at-home regulations, but in this particular struggle, they weren’t on the frontlines the way the medical staff are.
Finding a way to salute both the military and the medical teams, in Israel, the traditional flyby on Independence Day earlier this month was transformed into a tribute to hospital staff. Israel Air Force planes whizzed over medical centers instead of above packed parks and beaches throughout the country, as was traditional in years gone by.
Elsewhere, the commemoration of 75 years since VE Day spilled over into reminiscences of fighting a clear and present enemy compared to staying home as far away as possible from exposure to COVID-19.
There has been a national pride at the same time of a feeling that we truly do live in a global village. “We’re all in the same storm, but not in the same boat,” as a friend put it.
Israel celebrated a low-key, corona-era Independence Day, Yom Ha’atzmaut, in its own way – on the Hebrew anniversary which this year was April 29. The Palestinians mark Nakba Day, the Day of the Catastrophe, on May 15. The very phrase “Yohm an-Nakba” turns the event into a zero-sum game. For the Palestinians, the greatest tragedy is Israel’s creation – and its survival despite the repeated wars launched against it by the Arab world. The Arab rejection of the UN partition plan of 1947 and the expulsion of some 800,000 Jews from Arab lands play no part in the narrative of the Palestinian as perpetual victims.
Over the past 72 years, blind support for the Palestinian cause has turned into blind hatred for Israel – and many have turned a blind eye to Palestinian terrorism in the process.
The Jerusalem Post columnist Gil Troy recently wrote of a student “who defined herself to me as ‘an Israel critic.’” He noted that Israel-bashing “has become an international pastime – and a popular identity.”
It is neither productive nor healthy when this type of hatred becomes an all-embracing hobby.
FORMER SOVIET dissident Natan Sharansky developed what he called the “3D Test” to help distinguish legitimate criticism of Israel from antisemitism. The triple Ds are: Demonization, Double Standards, and Delegitimization.
“When Israel’s actions are blown out of all sensible proportion; when comparisons are made between Israelis and Nazis and between Palestinian refugee camps and Auschwitz – this is antisemitism, not legitimate criticism of Israel,” he determined in the forward of  the Jewish Political Studies Review, Fall 2004.
“When criticism of Israel is applied selectively; when Israel is singled out by the United Nations for human rights abuses while the behavior of known and major abusers, such as China, Iran, Cuba, and Syria, is ignored... this is antisemitism.
“The third ‘D’ is the test of delegitimization: When Israel’s fundamental right to exist is denied – alone among all peoples in the world – this too is antisemitism.”
Israel has its faults of course. Just ask Israelis. Complaining about the country we love constitutes a hobby in its own right. But those who can only see the bad are harming themselves as much as they are harming Israel.
A few years ago, I came up with my own model to test for myopic vision when it comes to taking only a narrow, dark view of Israel. I call it “The IP Test.” It goes like this: Take a country beginning with the letter “I” created at the end of the British Mandate, in the late-1940s; this country is involved in an ongoing territorial dispute with a people starting with the letter “P;” the establishment of I and the clash with the Muslim-majority P led to a massive flow of refugees; the dispute has sometimes flared into all-out war.
Instead of ‘Israel” and the “Palestinians,” think of India and Pakistan. Now see how much hypocrisy is at play. Nobody today would query whether India has the right to exist. The UN doesn’t fixate on its faults the way that the United Nations Human Rights Council’s Agenda Item 7 mandates that the UNHRC debate “Israeli human rights abuses against the Palestinians” during each of its sessions. And there is no separate body and budget whose only purpose is to keep Pakistanis who fled India as permanent refugees, like UNRWA (the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East).
The result is that the millions of Hindus and Sikhs who escaped Pakistan for India and the Muslims who fled in the other direction – whether from fear or violent coercion – have not spent over seven decades as “refugees,” nurturing the illusion that they will move back and destroy their enemies.
Instead of helping the Palestinians become self-sufficient members of the Arabic-speaking, Sunni Muslim societies where they live, the UN body has created a welfare culture and dependency. Earlier this month, for example, UNRWA launched a special $94.4 million appeal to cover costs for COVID-19-related assistance to Palestinians.
A tweet by The New York Times last week went viral for all the wrong reasons. To promote an article by David Halbfinger, the Times tweeted: “The Israeli Defense Ministry’s research-and-development arm is best known for pioneering cutting-edge ways to kill people and blow things up. Now it is turning to saving lives.” I didn’t join in the Times-bashing, although judging by their reaction on social media, it’s a favorite pastime of many friends. The idea of the feature itself was positive, Israel is firmly and creatively in the race to help control COVID-19 for the benefit of all. It was a pathetic way to introduce the story, a bias barely hidden, but there was also an element of admiration. It’s sad that this was the best they could come up with in an effort to be cute – a shame as much as shameful.
Every country is tackling the novel coronavirus in its own way. Sharing information on the strengths and weaknesses of the experiences, measures and policies is vital to prepare for the much dreaded possibility of a second wave.
This year it seems that everyone’s favorite hobby has been becoming an amateur virologist. I would like to play amateur psychologist. My motto has always been “pick your battles.” It’s time to expand that to “choose your foes.” There are real dangers out there and those are the ones that we should be concentrating on. We need neither imaginary friends nor enemies that exist in our heads. If you keep your balance, you’re in less danger of falling down.