For years I’ve been listening to people (Jews and non-Jews, Israelis and Americans) complain about Israel’s lousy hasbara. They slammed Israel’s explanation of why it went to war in Operation Cast Lead two years ago. They groused about the flotilla fracas. They are kvetching now about Bibi’s supposed intransigence in making peace with the Palestinians (or at least his refusal to make them an offer the likes of which Barak made in 2000 and Olmert again in 2007, knowing full well that Abbas will turn them down).
But it wasn’t until a recent exchange with an American friend on Facebook that I stopped and thought about all this. He complains that it’s getting increasingly difficult to defend Israel and its non-cooperation with Obama and Abbas to reach a settlement. He warns me that support for Israel is fast slipping away in America, with pictures on the TV news of Arabs at checkpoints, the Wall of Shame, and Bibi’s refusal to renew the settlement freeze. He defends Obama’s insistence on ramming a peace—any peace—down Israel’s and the Arabs’ throats, ready or not, saying that Obama is more committed to facilitating peace here than his predecessors.
It’s hopeless arguing with someone like that. He visited Israel once, for a short time, many years ago. As Ariel Sharon once said, מה שרואים מכאן לא רואים משם (what you see from here, you don’t see from there). And it’s not just that where my friend lives, he is surrounded by goyim who don’t have a clue what Israel is about. It’s that living in America is almost like living on another planet. (How my British and South African friends would cheer if they heard me say that!) The insulation—from the rest of the world, from the proximity to hostile enemies like Turkey, Iran, and Gaza, from the closeness of how everything feels here (one or two degrees of separation from fallen soldiers, victims of terror attacks, people burned alive on a bus in the recent fire in the North)—cannot but create a sense of distance and distortion of perspective for someone living there. I read the news too, but there is always another side to the news that one gets here because someone always posts something to a chat list here about what really happened, or what got reported inaccurately, or who was actually there and saw what happened with their own eyes, not to mention things that happen here that never get reported in the press.
But the take-away for me from this interchange with my friend is this: Why should Israel have to explain, justify, apologize, or make excuses for what it does? Where else in the world is the word hasbara used in the context of a governmental obligation? What other country is expected to stroke the press, go on the defensive all the time, or have its prime minister stand up in front of the cameras and say, “My government has decided on the following action because…”? (And when Israel does explain itself, the explanation never manages to convince anyone; it merely opens Israel up to more criticism and derision.) Does anyone complain about Turkey’s hasbara? Anyone get an explanation from Erdogan about why his government took part in sponsoring a boatload of terrorists armed with knives to confront a sovereign nation at sea? Anyone see kingpin Khaled Mashaal on telly explaining why Hamas continues to lob missiles into Israel? Has anyone gotten up in front of the General Assembly to make excuses for why Africans continue to flee their homes and countries to escape slaughter (often perpetrated by Arabs), often coming to Israel for refuge?
I think no one expects explanations for these things because they’re obvious. Turkey is becoming more Islamist and cozying up to Iran. Hamas exists to try to destroy Israel. And who in the international community has ever given a hoot about Africa? People are always dying there of something. First AIDS, then starvation, and now murderous, government-sponsored gangs. Ho hum. These are all “normal” things that need no elaboration. But Israel—oy, Israel! Whatever Israel does is exceptional, remarkable, rogue, and requires investigation, condemnation, sanctions, and all the rest.
I for one am sick of hearing these complaints about Israel. If other countries have the right to do what is in their best interest, then so does Israel. If Bibi doesn’t renew the housing freeze in Yehudah, Shomron, and Jerusalem, it’s not just because he’s worried about holding together a coalition; it’s because it runs counter to his party’s platform, his own beliefs, and the will of the voters (not to mention that the first freeze was agreed upon by Bibi with the proviso that it be a one-time freeze, by definition unrenewable). Israel gets plenty of stuff wrong, and is perhaps one of the most communications-challenged places I’ve ever seen. But to obsess about it the way the world does—it makes me think of an apartment building where there’s one family that everyone is always watching, commenting on, whispering about, criticizing, yelling “Hey! Where ya goin’?” every time they leave the building. There’s nothing terribly remarkable about this family, no more than any other in the building. But everyone else’s behavior toward them reveals an obsession, a hyper-vigilance, an absolutely cuckoo attitude that no one can see for what it is. “Why’d you drive your kid to school today? Why’d you change the color of your briefcase? Why did your wife make chicken soup on Thursday last week instead of Monday? She always makes it on Monday!”
Get a life, people.