The right to dissent

After writing the last post, I flew to Barcelona for a scheduled trip to visit a dear friend. It was interesting to exchange some ideas about Israel, the way people live, the differences between cities like Tel Aviv and Barcelona. In Spain, Zara is a real bargain and women go topless, something unheard of on the otherwise liberal and funky Israeli beaches. Of course, given the recent global uprise against Israel, we also talked politics. And opinions.

In the afternoon of May 31st, the same day that people were shot dead aboard the flottilla, I went to attend the conference of Gad Lerner, an eminent Italian journalist of Jewish origin. He was visiting Israel to promote his new book at the IIC (Italian Institute of Culture). Although the meeting was framed around literature, a reference to the deadly operation on the flottilla was inevitable. The public expressed a certain relief, while terror filled the eyes of the organizers who understandably would have preferred to avoid politics in the debate. Someone in the public offered a tentative diversion: “but let’s look instead at Muslim in Kosovo burning down Orthodox churches“.

Fortunately, no one followed this diversion, preferring to stick to what needed to be looked at. Instead, questions were fired to Gad Lerner, who never hide his criticism for Israel interventionist tendency. The journalist spoke in a very honest and straightforward style, refraining from pleasing the public (“as if because now that I am in tel Aviv I had to necessarly leave a good impression“) or to sedate the debate. To those resenting the lack of information, which gave raise to the attacks of the type to whom Israel is prone, Mr. Lerner replied the following:

It is important to remember that many journalists and owners of newspapers in Italy are Jews, with close bonds to Israel. That is not enough to spare their criticism. It is not enough to spare my criticism, although I love this country so much. People will start respecting Israel not when information will be improved, but when Israel will be right.

I thought this sentence rang strong and true, not in contradiction with his “love declaration” for Israel. To dissent from the political behavior of a country is not to hate: it is a right and a privilege of the citizen.

So when I get the why-do-you-live-here-if-you-hate-Israel talkback , I honestly do not follow. The logic would be that when you live in a country you have to love all about it, including misbehavior and abuse of power? Or else, leave? Should Italians leave Italy knowing that the mafia is killing a man every three days? Or Americans the US, when it plays with fire and with the civilian population in Iraq? I was shocked and angered because I thought a little restraint and a better political intelligence could have spared human lives, not because I reasoned in terms of “good” (pacifists) and “bad”(Israel).  I was in shock that Israel would end up killing political activists, angering the whole world, endangering the life of soldiers while exposing its citizens to acts of retaliation, rather than allow a few bags of humanitarian aid to reach Gaza. Incidentally, the bags have now been scanned and delivered to destination, but it is too late to claim merit. The flotilla mission voiced a loud protest to the prolonged blockade imposed by Israel. In this, the mission symbolically reached its goal, despite (or even thanks to) the blood spill.

That said, it is undeniable that judgments against Israel tend to indeed be formed very soon, and with little or no knowledge of facts. The few people I spoke to in Europe seemed unaware of the dynamic of the facts. They had not see the video which portrays so clearly the aggressiveness of the activists, deliberating beating IDF soldiers with metal sticks, and attempting to stab a few. Maybe they bought into the idea that Israel shoots pacifists for the sake of it, because it is a cruel and violent state by nature.

French philosopher Bernard Henry-Levy denounces “the flood of hypocrisy, bad faith and, ultimately, disinformation that seems to have just been waiting for this pretext to flow into the breach and sweep across the media worldwide” and warns us “not to forget the sacrosanct distinction between a stupid or wrong-headed government and the masses of those who do not identify with it” (It is time to stop demonizing Israel, in the Haaretz).

While the world prefers to see only one side of the story, and possibly a distorted one – a respected photo agency like Reuters have gone as far as re-framing pictures to intentionally crop out the knifes weaved by the activists (see here) – pressure on Israel is heightened. Artists who were scheduled to play in Israel are canceling their gigs in a chain of protest: the Pixies followed Gorillaz, Costello and Gill Scott-Heron. French cinemas ‏(Utopia‏) decided to cancel the release of a film, “A Cinq heures de Paris,” simply because its writer is an Israeli citizen.

So how do the people of Israel feel these days? Offended by boycotts, some responded by boycotting back, like YNET journalist Assaf Wohl who wrote an open letter to singer Costello, where he takes the opportunity to insult him as an artist and as a person for canceling his concert. Anger seems to be the prevailing feeling: first of all, anger for the unilateral demonization, but also for the stupidity of their own government. Anger for having had to cancel those long-awaited, packaged-deal holiday in Turkey, which has already been defined the “loss allied”.

Some chose to express their point of view through satire, like the authors of the already famous parody video circulating on YouTube (1 million 800 hundreds views as of today)-  posted in the wake of the Gaza flotilla raid, with the participation of senior contributing editor of the Jerusalem Post,  Caroline Glick. Although the video can be viewed as superficially funny – playing smart with stereotypes and accents – to happily sing that “there’s no people dying” in Gaza, or that Gazans basic unanswered needs are limited to “cheese” and “missiles for the kids“, is not satire: it is a lie and a poor taste joke.

** for the article which Gad Lerner wrote after his visit to Israel, see here (in Italian) **

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