Meme: a pervasive thought or thought pattern that replicates itself via cultural means; a parasitic code, a virus of the mind especially contagious to children and the impressionable.
I am a left-leaner. What must be said here, then, is particularly painful for me.
Recently, I watched a British TV series about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict called The Promise. The Promise uses a dual story device. In one story, a young woman visiting an Israeli family is exposed to the gritty violence of today's conflict. The second story takes us back in time, where the young woman's grandfather is a British soldier during the British Mandate of the Palestine prior to the 1948 partition. The title plays both on Israel as the Promised Land to which Europe's ravaged Jewish remnants fled after World War II and a promise made by the grandfather character to a dying Arab child hit by an Irgun bullet as he was fleeing Palestine in 1948. My reaction to this series prompted a huge conversation on my Facebook wall. I admit, most of the conversing was mine. I was pretty shaken by the production. I've posted the entire exchange below, and hope you'll take a look.
The Promise is a riveting show, really well acted and directed, and "factually-based." Except so many facts about Israel's actions are missing - or worse, given a back story that is factually inaccurate or incomplete. I outlined a fair number of these on the Facebook posts below, so I won't repeat it here. And many facts about the Palestinian role are simply left out. Those left in are contextualized for viewer sympathy - even suicide bombings.
The overall effect is to demonize Israel and Israelis, and to suggest that the entire mess is Israel's fault, and has been since before U.N. partition of the area that resulted in the Jewish state of Israel. For example, the young soldier character of the grandfather, who was present at the liberation of one of the German camps before arriving in Palestine, writes in his diary,
"What about the Jews and their bloody state for which they fought so hard? Three years ago I would have said give them whatever they want, they deserve it after all they've been through. Now I'm not so sure."
Back in the present, even the story's "one good Jew" (my terminology) - good because he reaches across the Israeli - Palestinian divide to search for peace - is ultimately unable to escape his inherently malignant Jewishness when push comes to shove. He picks up a gun to defend himself during a terrorist attack on his army base. When challenged by the granddaughter for firing on Palestinians, instead of saying, "Well, there's a difference between the Palestinians I work with for peace, and the terrorists who just tried to take our lives. I don't apologize for trying to save the lives of my unit and myself," he simply says, "It's called 'loyalty'," insinuating that Jewish loyalty to Jews will always take precedence over doing the right thing. Which further implies that doing the right thing between Palestinians and Israelis means Israelis should stand by and let themselves be killed. Wait, how about if we just walk ourselves into the sea, eh?
And, oh by the way, never again.
But maybe that is the right thing to do, if you believe that the Jews brought all this onto themselves, this movie's premise... and, the premise of the current leftist Israeli-Palestinian conflict meme. Because this post isn't about The Promise. It's about an existing meme that's been successfully sold to us who inhabit the ideological left. The Promise did not create this meme. It is already pervasive in our culture. This meme looks at the relative strength of the Israelis compared to the Palestinians, and on that fact alone, denounces the Israelis as illegal occupiers, responsible for the entire middle eastern mess. The meme is the biblical David and Goliath meme. We on the left love the underdog. Me included. There's some irony in that, since here Israel is the Goliath.
Take, for example, Code Pink, a woman-initiated group whose mission is anti-war. Code Pink claims not to take sides in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but nevertheless claims the Israeli occupation is the root cause of the conflict. Reading all the other good stuff on their web page, this one small denouncement of Israel may sound minor. Yet it spins out as a denial of legitimacy for any of Israel's actions, discounting even highly validating information from sources you think they'd trust. For example, Code Pink disagreed with a U.N. decision not to open talks with Hamas because Hamas is on its list of terrorist groups. Considering that the U.N. is notorious for taking anti-Israel positions, you'd think that if even the U.N. thinks Hamas is a terrorist organization, Code Pink would take that seriously. This link, by the way, will take you to a thorough discussion of Hamas by CNN.
Code Pink is not the only organization out there that believes Israel owns the problem. They have been joined by the Presbyterian Church, the Canadian Union of Public Employee, and several other generally credible academic institutions. It's difficult not to accept a meme outright when it has been embraced by such "legitimate" organizations.
Don't you feel compelled to doubt me now, knowing that the intelligent, compassionate Presbyterian Church is embracing it? Even I feel compelled to doubt me! But I suggest you read this piece by a Presbyterian insider, or this one from the Baltimore Sun, or this op ed from the Stanford Daily before swallowing the meme whole.
While there is no doubt that Israel has the physical upper hand, it is not a given that it prefers its situation or that it could easily back away. This is the fallacy of the meme.
I could spend a lot of time here showing you why it has not been able to back away, looking, for example, at what happened when Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005. You can read about what was supposed to happen here, and what did happen, here and here. You need to read both of the last two articles to have a full story, as the academic analysis significantly downplays the fear-mongering and the large increase Hamas rockets flying into Israel from Gaza after withdrawal. I trust my reader to read both articles and put the truth, which is no doubt somewhere in between the two versions, together for yourselves.
But my point is not in that digression. My point is that, for the meme to be true, you must accept as given that Israel being bigger and stronger automatically makes Israel the bad guy. Let me ask you to take a short digression, and check this article on guerrilla warfare. Little "Davids" manage to have the upper hand over "Goliaths" more than you'd think. I'm not saying that makes Palestinians winners in the current scenario. I'm simply saying it makes it more difficult than you might guess for Israel to either solve or back away from the problem. Especially when none of the three Palestinian political powers, Fatah, Hamas or Hezbollah, have as yet verbalized a willingness to accept a Jewish state alongside a Palestinian one.
Today I read an article in Algemeiner about a Palestinian NGO whose mission is to promote dialogue and peace within Palestinian society and also between Israel and the Palestinians. This NGO published an article asserting that Jewish blood libel does occur. Blood libel, in case you've never heard of it, is the [non-existent] practice by Jews of using the blood of non-Jewish children in their ritual Passover food preparation - to make Matzo or wine. This has NEVER been true, as Jews abhor and have always abhorred human sacrifice. Check the biblical story, "the binding of Isaac," at Genesis 22:5, where Abraham binds Isaac and lays him upon a stone to sacrifice, until an angel stays his arm. You will not find human sacrifice in Jewish tradition anywhere. Anywhere.
Nevertheless, the claim of blood libel has been used against the Jewish people extensively - during the Crusades in Europe and the middle east, and later during pogroms in Russia and in Nazi-held areas of Eastern Europe - to justify turning civilian populations out to massacre their Jewish neighbors. When asked to denounce the article, the NGO simply said it was "promoting open dialogue." Although it eventually took the article down, it did not denounce the idea that blood libel is a Jewish practice. It is one thing to promote open dialogue. It is quite another to promote hateful antisemitic falsehoods that rouse hatred and push peace even further away - and that under a banner of a supposed peace organization.
Blood libel is a meme that is not useful for garnering western support because we are disinclined to believe that Jews kill children and bake their blood into Matzah. But it has been quite a useful meme through-out history for fomenting hatred where anti-Zionism or antisemitism are already in full bloom.
But "open dialogue," on the other hand, is also a meme. It's a meme that's much loved and much called for by those of us on the left, and so it is a perfect antidote to ease our discomfort with the blood libel meme that was never supposed to reach our liberal western ears. It helps us overlook the blatant antisemitic falsehood. It helps us avoid questioning the meme we've already accepted.
About two weeks ago, one of my dearest non-Jewish friends asked me a question about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict framed such that the question itself assumed Israel as the demon in its very wording, and the Palestinians the innocent victim. When I pointed out that the way she framed the question created a foregone conclusion for an answer, she apologized, said she's really very uneducated about the topic, and asked me to help educate her. When I saw today's article about blood libel, I thought of my friend and the way she's accepted the meme without much thought. After all, we liberals - and I include myself in this statement - like underdogs and hate oppression. Oh, and we love open dialogue.
Friends, you have never, ever heard me say that Israel is blameless in its conflict with the Palestinians. And as we get further and further away from the concentration camps, it is harder and harder to remember not to hate. Israeli children are being brought up with hatred all around them, just as are Palestinian children. This hatred exacerbates the problem from both sides.
Yet, it is a slippery slope from the reality that Israelis do, indeed, contribute to the Palestinian-Israeli problems, to a meme that claims Israelis are fully and malevolently responsible for the situation, while Palestinians are completely blameless and helpless.
These two powerful media events - a riveting British part-fact, part-fiction TV show, and a libelous, antisemitic article published and promoted by an NGO with peace as its mission - use the legitimacy of their organizations coupled with bold-faced lies to perpetuate dishonest memes about the Israeli role. These memes are incredibly effective in villainizing Israel, particularly with certain groups of people whose hearts - understandably so - go out to the underdog.
But memes created from twisted facts do not change facts on the ground. They do not change Israel's need to protect its people, and they do not help us get to peace.
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I just got through watching a BBC production called The Promise, a skillful but virulently anti-Zionist production that portrays all Israelis as rich, loyal to the Jewish cause no matter what, ok with needless violence, and the situation inIsrael, which is referred to as Palestine throughout, as entirely the fault of the Jews. The first part in the four part series does show the suffering of the Jewish people by the hand of the Nazis, and also the fact that the British rounded up the Jews who came from Germany and put them in camps. But after that, there is only the story told from the perspective of the Arabs. No wonder so many people think Israel is the bad guy. Nothing is ever that black & white.