Beirut Disaster Brought Out Purists on Both Sides of Israel's Political Map

Netta Ahituv
Netta Ahituv
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People sit in front of Tel Aviv City Hall, displaying the Lebanese flag after a deadly explosion in Beirut, August 5, 2020.
Netta Ahituv
Netta Ahituv

One of the oldest tricks in the book of the typical right-winger – one inspired by the Netanyahu family – is to draw a symmetry between the left and the right.

We murdered “their” prime minister? They had an anonymous post calling for the murder of “our” prime minister. We beat them up, without any provocation, with clubs and broken bottles? But they’re violent toward us, too!

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Well, long live symmetry. In the media, that symmetry is epitomized by the dry phrase “extremists on both sides.”

That symmetry is a lie, to put it simply. It’s meant to serve the demagoguery of the right and dispel its guilt feelings. On a good day, or when it comes from the court jesters, it can even be funny. Unfortunately, such days are all too rare.

But something happened recently that allows the fans of symmetry to sigh in relief. It’s here and it’s real. Who could have imagined that a tragic explosion would provide proof of its existence.

It appeared wearing the modest clothing of the purists. Purists on both sides of the political map would surely be horrified to hear themselves compared to their sworn enemies, but unwittingly they spoke the same language over the past few days.

Israelis’ spontaneous responses to the disaster in Lebanon fell into two categories, one from the far right and the other from the purist left. The classic archetype of the former was represented by Moshe Feiglin, who rejoiced at the killing of innocent civilians.

He was joined by that great scholar of theology, right-wing journalist Shimon Riklin, who explained to us that “Christianity instructs people to love its enemies. Judaism does not.” That observation is, he believes, a reasonable argument against Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai’s decision to light up city hall with the Lebanese flag on Wednesday night. After all, loving the enemy, according to Riklin’s learned tweet, is an “immoral concept.”

Tel Aviv City Hall became a symbol that cut across the politics of the Beirut disaster. To many people who are neither in the far right nor the purist left, the images of the destruction simply affected them emotionally. They think the fact that the victims were Lebanese in particular or Arabs in general is irrelevant. They were human beings caught up in a terrible tragedy.

In that light, Tel Aviv’s action was a spontaneous expression of humanity. Sometimes, when people are unable to help others, they translate that helplessness into a gesture of solidarity, a matter of basic emotional identification that has little to do with political analysis and takes place more in the heart than in the brain.

But then the person, or the city government, discovers that their spontaneous empathy is problematic, as my Haaretz colleague Gideon Levy wrote on Friday and as more than a few leftists have argued on social media. After all, there’s an occupation, and city hall has never been lit up with the Palestinian flag.

This logic is no less twisted than that of Feiglin or Riklin, according to which we must rejoice over the death of any Arab. By Levy’s logic, we can’t express any empathy for disasters that affect Arabs until the occupation is ended.

People who oppose the occupation should welcome Tel Aviv’s gesture, which challenged the very definition of Lebanon as an enemy state rather than criticizing it in connection with the occupation. That equation doesn’t serve the fight against the occupation. It excludes many people who oppose the occupation but are no fans of purism.

It’s also wrong because the battle against racism and a systematic policy of hatred isn’t won by silencing voices. Just the opposite.

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