Right-wingers Flag Up a Bigger Problem in Israel

Even when we are appalled by the antics of some right-wing groups, their actions aren't always as absurd as they may initially appear.

Benny Ziffer
Send in e-mailSend in e-mail
A stone barrier painted with an Israeli flag in Hebron, December 15, 2015.
A stone barrier painted with an Israeli flag in Hebron, December 15, 2015.Credit: Gil Cohen-Magen
Benny Ziffer

The extreme right is not a nice thing. One could say there is something scary and sickening about it, especially after watching Im Tirtzu’s latest inflammatory video, which appeared online earlier this week.

The video accuses four specific activists from left-wing organizations of being agents of foreign countries – as if they are traitors whose blood may be spilled. Equally disgusting was the patriotic press’ coordinated bashing of Haaretz because an Israeli flag was removed before Palestinian politician Saeb Erekat’s speech at the peace conference co-organized by the newspaper in New York last Sunday.

But be careful. Not everything that is sickening, horrifying and unpleasant is necessarily unjust. And here is proof: The Palestinians have an aggressive, inflammatory and frightening style, yet this does not prevent many from supporting their nationalist demands. In other words, you also have to know how to distinguish – as difficult as it is – between style and substance when it comes to the extreme right and those dispatched by those same patriotic circles. Otherwise, it could turn out that their positions are not as absurd as they appear at first glance.

Take, for example, the principle of loyalty to the state. I ask myself what is wrong about coming and telling us the following: Fairness demands that a man be loyal to his family and place of work, and not slander them. By the same token, there is something indecent in hanging out the country’s dirty laundry. Someone who is hanging out the dirty laundry should understand that he is doing something ugly.

Im Tirtzu accuses leftist activists of being foreign agents.Credit: YouTube/Im Tirtzu

So, an ordinary person without a hint of extremism in him, and with zero sympathy for a far-right organization like Im Tirtzu, can find himself nodding in agreement when they show him, in black and white, that NGOs such as Breaking the Silence are funded by states and foreign bodies who think it is their job to stick their noses into Israel’s affairs. The common man thinks to himself, and rightly: These people are flagrantly violating the principle of loyalty to the state.

And this person will also tell himself that the United States is an excellent example of a civilized nation where the principle of absolute and exclusive loyalty of citizens to the state is an incontestable axiom. He also understands that without the instinct to impose the principle of loyalty to the state and its symbols, a heterogeneous country like Israel won’t be able to impose principles of justice and universal equality on all its citizens.

It transpires, then, that I – a non-extremist and totally run-of-the-mill person – find myself in principle supporting Im Tirtzu and regretfully looking at an Israel whose governmental frameworks are falling apart and which is turning into a new Yehupetz (the Yiddish name for Kiev, as immortalized by Sholem Aleichem). It was there where Jew No. 1 and Jew No. 2 competed over who would be the first to inform on Jew No. 3 to the Polish nobleman, and then be told by the same nobleman, “I love you more than the other two.”

For the same reason I am forced to agree with the far right, which is angry that President Reuven Rivlin participated in this marathon race to the nobleman of Yehupetz, just so he would caress his cheek and say, “You, Rav Ruvi, are more beloved to me than Mr. Netanyahu” – or something that might be interpreted that way.

I can understand the bitter frustrations of people who were educated to be loyal seeing before their very eyes Rivlin – who has always been considered a man of their nationalist camp – apparently changing his tune and suddenly becoming a friend of their enemies.

It is true that at times the world looks open and limitless, and that New York is so close to Tel Aviv. This can mislead one into believing that nationalism and loyalty have lost their meaning, as have all symbols of national pride. Until suddenly, to the surprise of the entire cosmopolitan crowd, it turns out that they were misreading reality. The one who spoiled the party was none other than the Palestinian Authority’s Erekat, who refused to deliver his speech at the conference in New York until the Israeli flag on stage – which had been placed there at Rivlin’s request – was removed.

President Reuven Rivlin speaking at HaaretzQ in New York, December 13, 2015. The much-discussed Israeli flag is in the background.
President Reuven Rivlin speaking at HaaretzQ in New York, December 13, 2015. The much-discussed Israeli flag is in the background.Credit: Erica Gannett for IRL Productions

A flag? What does it matter at this point? It is just a piece of cloth. At least, that is what the global Israeli – who confuses Tel Aviv and New York because of their proximity – believes. So let it be said to this Israeli: Blessed is the nation that has Palestinians, who slap him in the face occasionally to remind him that his flag, which seems so meaningless to him, is laden with meaning. And this significance is in no hurry to leave him alone. And if he forgot what it is, he should go to Erekat, who will explain exactly what it means.

We opened with the sickening extreme right and Im Tirtzu. What do we do with all the hatred they preach? I have no solution. But let’s start with the cosmopolitan do-gooders getting up in the morning and practicing saying in their New York hotel rooms for 10 minutes, “Anything but Yehupetz!” And right-wing schemers for their part will simultaneously recite, “Thank you to the proponents of good who fear us. Without them, who knows if we would even exist at all.”