Are you Israel's friend?

DAN-CHYI CHUA
Sep 17, 2010
*Special to asia!

The government of Israel consistently speaks out against its enemies: Hamas, Hezbollah, Iran and so on. But does it actually know who its friends are?

Zionism: the movement for an independent homeland for the Jewish people first begun in the late 19th century, which eventually helped push for the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948.

Looking at these posters, where would you think they are being put up?

 

Anti-Zionist posters

Iran? Syria? Gaza? The Palestinian West Bank?

No. This is a photo taken in Jerusalem, the city Israel proclaims as its capital.

Here's another one.

 

poster showing arab states

Anti-Zionist poster naming Arab states

It makes a list of all the countries hostile towards Israel. Iran, Syria, Libya, you name it, it's up there. The whole point of the message is that it is better for Jews to live in these countries, because unlike in Israel, they do not destroy Jewish tombs. It may be a bit irresponsible to say, “No, they do not fill Jewish tombs, they simply fill them,” but their perspective is also just as, if not more naïve.

It is in dispute just who is responsible for these posters. Some say it is Neturei Karta, a Jewish group that denies the right of Israel to exist, while others claim it is put up by those living in this neighbourhood.

This, by the way, is Mea Shearim, an extremely religious and conservative community of ultra-orthodox Jews in the heart of Jerusalem.

 

Mea

One of the religious families living in Mea Shearim, Jerusalem

Here, men are dressed in their black suits and hats, and women in long-sleeved shirts and long skirts. It is like walking through the streets of Iran, where it is mandatory to cover up, except that in Iran, you would be more colours.

 

Sign

Sign greeting visitors to Mea Shearim, an ultra-Orthodox Jewish neighbourhood in Jerusalem

But this is a people concerned not with the exterior, which could explain why the streets are filthy and stacked with abandoned crates and cardboard boxes. For most of their waking hours, the men spend it studying the Jewish holy books. Their preoccupation is not with this life, but with God.

It is from this staunch belief in God's word that the dogma of a group like Neturei Karta is derived. They object to the establishment of the state of Israel. God alone, as it has been stated in the Torah, will restore the Jewish people to the holy land, not a bunch of Zionists.

This is why they find it neither contradictory nor offensive to be sending delegations to a Holocaust-deniers conference in Tehran, and being embraced by Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmedinejad.

When the State of Israel tolerates a group that supports its annihilation, is it adhering to the principle of freedom of expression obligatory under the democracy it proclaims itself to be?

It would be nice to believe that, except that it is not true.

What Neturei Karta expouses is not that different from what Israel likes to say Hamas preaches: the destruction of the state of Israel. While the Israeli government waxes lyrical about the Hamas threat,  it lets a radical group like Neturei Karta be.

It accepts these radical Jewish elements but rules to expel democratically-elected Hamas-affliated Arab lawmakers from Jerusalem. (See "Sheikh Jarrah: The Holy CIty's telling battle on two fronts - Part One")

This is not democracy. This is hypocrisy. This is saying, he's a son-of-a-bitch, but he's our son-of-a-bitch.

'Premeditated act of treason,' screeched Israel's Interior Minister Eli Yishai.

A couple of weeks ago, a group of Jewish actors refused to perform in an Israeli settlement which is situated on occupied Palestinian land to protest against the Israeli occupation. They were roundly criticised by the Netanyahu government, along with academics in the universities who too spoke out against Israel's occupation of the Palestinian people.

There was also the call to remove Israeli Arab minister Hanin Zuabi's citizenship for taking part in the Free Gaza flotilla in May.

“Premeditated act of treason,” screeched Israel's Interior Minister Eli Yishai.

The message Israel is conveying seems to be that democracy in this country tolerates a freedom of expression, but not objection to its occupation of Palestinian territories, which even international law pronounces as illegal.

You are either with us in the occupation, or against us.

Sounds familiar?

 

Friending and de-friending Israel

A few weeks ago, there was a conference titled “What makes a friend of Israel?”

Among the heated discussions between the panels and the audiences, one point was constantly raised:

Is a friend of Israel one that wholeheartedly accepts all the policies of Israel without criticism, or one that will stand up and say it is wrong, when it does something questionable?

On a personal level, what would you want your friend to do? Tell you when you are making a mistake, or just let you commit a heinous crime?

A couple of Jews like New York Times' reporter Roger Cohen and editor of the centre-left Israeli paper Ha'aretz Aluf Benn spoke out against Israeli right-wing policies against the Palestinians.

One of the audiences shot back that their stances were akin to being Israel's enemies.

There is a term that Israeli supporters like to bandy around: a self-hating Jew. Obama's chief-of-staff Rahm Emmanuel has been called that, along with many other Jews who have dared to criticise Israel's policies or activities.

Yet perhaps as Israeli historian Tom Segev puts it, there needs to be a distinction between being anti-Israel and being against the government of Israel.

dan-chyi chua

Dan-Chyi Chua was a broadcast journalist, before forsaking Goggle Box Glitz for the Open Road. A three-year foray led her through the Middle East, China, SE Asia, Latin America and Cuba, and she's now grounded herself as a writer for theasiamag.com, content with spending her days in Jerusalem.

Contact Dan-Chyi