Stop Scapegoating Tel Aviv, the True Heart of the State of Israel

Demagogues label Israel’s most open and advanced city as a tumor of cowardly depravity, disconnected from the country’s struggles. Yet Tel Aviv’s detractors should be careful what they wish for.

Send in e-mailSend in e-mail
Tel Aviv.Credit: Alex Levac

Yuck, those bloody Tel Avivis, they spit. Traitorous leftists, godless post-Zionists, disease-spreading sodomites, they rant. Burst their bubble, they chant -- the sinister cries of an axis of populists, fascists and theocrats bent on bringing Tel Aviv, and with it Israeli democracy, to its knees.

Ignore the libelous poison. Tel Aviv, not Jerusalem, is the true heart of the State of Israel -- a shining city on once barren sand. Forming the core of the Gush Dan conurbation, the home to more than 40% of the country’s population, Tel Aviv and its surroundings drive the nation’s economy and culture. Unencumbered by the heaviness of history, the city is a magnet and a greenhouse, where openness and innovation go hand-in-hand.

Here, women don’t fear modesty patrols, nor are they forced to sit at the back of the bus. Rainbow flags are ubiquitous, and the boulevards throng with people from across the spectrum of nation, race and religion. Naturally, and much to the fury of its foes, Tel Aviv is the mother of the Israeli peace movement, without which the country’s fate as a binational state would be sealed.  

Despite its critical role in shoring up a democratic Israel, Tel Aviv is nevertheless the scapegoat of a cast of demagogues, both secular and religious. Arnon Soffer’s incendiary “State of Tel Aviv” publication and its subsequent popularization have played a central role in the steady national delegitimization of the city. Soffer’s central thesis — that the juggernaut of Tel Aviv endangers the State of Israel — essentially blames a whole country’s distress on one city’s success.

Among other reductionist recommendations, Soffer advocates a discriminatory special tax on Tel Avivis, and the prohibition of Israeli office-holders from making appearances in the city. Who needs a doctorate to know that punishing the cultivators of Silicon Wadi for its sin of ingenuity won’t make life any easier in Metula or Mitzpeh Ramon? In any case, why are sushi-eaters and latte-drinkers deemed more injurious to Israel’s survival than, say, price-taggers and olive tree-burners, or even worse, wife-beaters and child-molesters? 

Tel Aviv is also accused of not bleeding enough. Yet among its over 400,000 residents are tens of thousands of Holocaust survivors and others who have been maimed and bereaved over decades of war and terror. From aerial bombings in 1948 and Scud missiles in 1991 to the plague of suicide bombings that turned the white city red, suffering is no stranger on Spring Hill. Now behold the pernicious rockets of Hamas, and maybe, soon, of Hezbollah, a suicidal Bashar al-Assad and a nuclear Iran.

Tel Aviv, bastion of humanism, is their most coveted target. Evidently, the city is neither immune nor indifferent to the threats facing Israel. No one has a monopoly on suffering. Scratch beneath the much derided care-free veneer, and you’ll find the scar tissue. It’s pink and purple and real. The quintessential difference is that Tel Avivis choose not to dwell on the pain — to sustain the cult of self-righteous victimhood that blinds much of the nation. Rather, they’re in the business of living, loving and creating.

Herein lays the sacredness of Tel Aviv. Contrary to convention, it’s not a heathen city, but a holy one. God doesn’t sit stagnant on one glorified mount, but rather fuels the creative power of forward-looking Israelis —feverish futurniks ushering in a better tomorrow, not a return to biblical theocracy. High-tech, not hatred. Innovation, not religious damnation.

That’s not to say that Tel Aviv is free from violence and intolerance. When a kindergarten for African migrants is firebombed, a masked gunmen slaughters gay youth, a fanatic assassinates a prime minister and gentrification-cum-Judaization drives veteran Arab residents from Jaffa – we know that paradise has been compromised. Yet most of this strife is stirred by outsiders, or at worst by a fringe of residents. Tel Aviv, as a city and as a philosophy, is under constant attack from the forces of intolerance that surround it. Scapegoating sells. Dehumanization works.

So ‘Viva Tel Aviv,' for the sake of the State of Israel, and the cause of freedom in the Middle East. If it ever does come to pass that the city is subdued by force or by spirit, Israel as we know her will cease to exist. An apartheid Judaic state will not survive in the twenty-first century. International sanctions will proliferate and critical masses of skilled citizens will flee, precipitating the collapse of the Israeli economy and civil society. As the country’s indispensable bridge to an inescapably interdependent world, Tel Aviv is the bulwark of a global, not a ghetto, Israel. A country that’s sustainable, not suicidal.

Comments