Eye of the Beholder: Why Israel Is a Light Unto Nations for Some, a Pariah for Others

Concern for Palestinians keep the privileged few up at night, while millions who have benefited from life in Israel are more concerned about danger Palestinians pose to it

Russian immigrants arriving in Israel.
Pavel Wohlberg

“Ours is the best of countries,” said the taxi driver who took me from Tel Aviv to my home, as I sat down next to him. I suppose he felt this needed an explanation, so he went on to tell me his story.

“My family arrived from Iraq with only their clothes on their backs. They took the rings from the fingers of the women before they let them leave Iraq. For two years they lived in a tent in an immigrant camp near Netanya. From there they moved to a prefab and lived with six children in one room. For some years I have been self-employed, running a diamond-polishing firm. When business turned bad recently I decided to start driving a taxi. We have two sons. One is a doctor, the other an engineer in high-tech. Ours is the best of countries,” he repeated. “I don’t know what they’re complaining about,” he concluded.

There must be hundreds of thousands like him in Israel, I thought to myself. Immigrants from Iraq, Yemen, Iran, Egypt, Libya, other Maghreb states, from the former Soviet Union, no doubt also many of Israel’s Arab citizens. Who feel that Israel has given them the opportunity to take a giant step to advance themselves and their families professionally, materially and in their social standing. In another generation the immigrants from Ethiopia will surely join their ranks. Israel is truly the best of countries.

So who is complaining, and what are they complaining about? They come mostly from the wealthier, more educated segments of Israel’s population. Their hearts go out to the Palestinian population in Judea and Samaria, and the “occupation” keeps them awake at night. They are joined by those who don’t give a hoot about the Palestinians but simply want to separate them from us and they believe that an end to the “occupation” will bring that about. “Build a wall and keep them away from us” is their slogan.

To them, Israel is the worst of countries. As far as they are concerned, nothing here is right. Their dream is to bring down the Likud-led government, but they don’t seem to realize that electoral support for this government comes from those of us who believe that ours is the best of countries. Unless these critics can reach out to them, that government will remain in power.

Are the millions who have benefited from living in Israel insensitive to the fate of the Palestinians? You would need a poll answer that question. It would seem they assign a much lower priority to the fate of the Palestinians than to Israel’s security and the danger they believe the Palestinians and their aspirations pose to it.

And those who consider themselves liberals, who worry about the Palestinians, are they not aware of the good Israel has done for millions of Israelis? To them, so it seems, that does not compare to the suffering they believe Israel has caused the Palestinians.

So there you have it. It’s all in the eye of the beholder.

The concern of liberals for the suffering of others is natural and fully justified. It is they, generally affluent and educated, who brought Barack Obama to the White House and who enthusiastically supported his policy favoring the underprivileged – blacks, Mexican immigrants, members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. But it is also they who ignored the families living in the industrial heartland of America who had lost their jobs and felt they had been moved down the social scale and saw in Hillary Clinton a successor to Obama. They elected Donald Trump.

It is a social phenomenon not dissimilar to what has happened in Israel. But there is one big difference – most Israelis are aware of the security threats facing Israel, and it enters their political calculus.