Last Tuesday night I sat in the only bar that serves alcohol in the whole of northern Sinai, surrounded by dozens of journalists and aid workers from around the world, and tried to engage a member of the International Solidarity Movement in conversation.
I have to admit to a sneaking admiration for the ISM volunteers. While disagreeing with most of what their organization stands for and being rather suspicious of its hidden agenda, you have to hand it to them. While most critics of Israel and its policies in Gaza and the West Bank vent their spleens from the safety of living rooms and television studios in the comfortable capitals of the western world (the more adventurous make it as far as the cocktail garden of the American Colony hotel in East Jerusalem), the ISM members are in the thick of things, risking their necks.
Whether or not they are simply using non-violent methods to help the Palestinians fight Israeli occupation on the ground, or as many, including Israeli and western intelligence agencies, believe, actively aiding Hamas terror activities is not the point: In real terms, their threat to Israel and their benefit to the Palestinian cause are both negligible. But I still have a degree of respect for anyone who is willing to put himself (or herself) in the line of danger rather than just talking. It was a painful discussion, though.
I won't belabor you with the actual details of our stilted conversation. Not because of what the thin, earnest and bespectacled activist had to say - I've absorbed more acrid vitriol against Israel in the past - but the way that he wasn't open to any real debate, talking instead in clipped sentences punctuated by tight-lipped smiles and the recurring question: "Why do you think that is?" as if he really did not want to hear, but knew the eternal truth and was simply challenging me to justify my entire existence.
I felt sorry for him. I really wanted to try and understand, and in an attempt to lighten the atmosphere I asked him what he thought of what was being shown on the bar's television: the scenes of festivity on the streets of Washington following President Obama's inauguration. "Do you think that with Obama things will get better in Gaza?" I asked, more than once. But while most of us were watching the coverage, he sat with his back firmly to the screen, practically refusing to look. "Why do you think it will?" was all he was prepared to say.
I have also indulged in my share of Obama-skepticism over recent months, but this was something of a different order. He had already decided long ago that the United States was the ultimate source of evil in the world, and nothing the American people could do - not even elevate a black liberal to the presidency - could ever change that. He just couldn't bring himself to watch it, for fear of shaking his certainty. Did I mention that he had a very strong Scots accent?
Some of the most violent attacks on Israel in recent years and especially over the past few weeks in the wake of the Gaza operation have been in places that seemingly have little connection with this region, with relatively small Muslim communities and even smaller Jewish ones. In the aforementioned Scotland, the local Palestine Solidarity Campaign held a Holocaust remembrance day event in Glasgow with Hamas supporters, which is good because in Barcelona, the regional Catalonian government decided to cancel their event altogether, as "marking the Jewish Holocaust while a Palestinian holocaust is taking place is not right," according to a local official.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is an old hand at accusing Israel of inflicting a holocaust in Palestine, and finally got around last week to cutting off diplomatic ties. Thanks, Hugo, for saving us the cost of a superfluous embassy. The president of Venezuela's Jewish community, Abraham Levy Ben Shimol, said this week that "where we live, the anti-Semitism is sanctioned. It comes from the president, through the government and into the media."
Scotland, Catalonia, Venezuela: All nations with a strand of radical nationalism, a visceral hatred (especially in the cases of Scotland and Catalonia) of what they view as oppressive and imperialist central governments, and virulent anti-Americanism - but not countries that historically have been instinctively anti-Semitic. Indeed, no one in these countries or among their supporters in less radical regions will admit to being an anti-Semite. They are only anti-Israeli, they say, and of course there are even Jewish activists of the ilk of Noam Chomsky and Naomi Klein who agree with them. For many pro-Israel commentators this is disingenuous posturing. Equating Israel with the Nazis and the Gaza operation, with all the havoc it wreaked, with the Holocaust is simply "new anti-Semitism."
Naturally, these protests against Israel have also been accompanied by a steep increase in anti-Semitic incidents around the world, and of course Chavez and his admirers are instinctive fellow-travelers for the Iranian regime. Certainly they should be exposed and excoriated for what they are, but I feel safe in making this prediction: Just like Lenin's useful idiots, they are rapidly being exposed as history's losers. Whatever America, Israel or the rest of the western countries do in the Obama era, they won't change their minds. Peace will come to this war-torn corner of the earth and the malcontents will remain in their picturesque backwaters.
Yes, they have a totally disproportionate influence in some centers of intelligentsia and parts of the western media, but ultimately they will remain foam on the waves of the real events. I know there will be those who will say that I am belittling their influence and that they pose a real danger, but I refuse to get worked up over these losers.
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