Opinion |

Shimon Peres' Funeral Proved That anti-Semitism Is Dead

The ceremony for Peres showed that the Western world would love nothing more than to welcome Israel into the fold. An end to the brutal occupation would end the country’s pariah status in an instant.

Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy
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Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, left, U.S. President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attending the funeral of Shimon Peres, September 30, 2016.
Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, left, U.S. President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attending the funeral of Shimon Peres, September 30, 2016. Credit: Menahem Kahana/Reuters
Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy

Anti-Semitism died on Friday — or at least, its use as an excuse by Israel. On the eve of Rosh Hashanah 5777, the world proved that while anti-Semitism remains in certain limited circles, it can no longer frame most of the world’s governments. Also, hatred of Israel is not what it is said to be, or what Israel says it is.

On Friday, the world made a very clear and resolute statement: we love Israel and hate the occupation; we love Israel and hate its policy; we love to love Israel, long to embrace it and admire it — just give us a sign, a hint, a signal. Show that you are headed toward peace, that at least you are doing something toward ending the occupation — a speech, negotiations, a conference, lip service, anything — and we’ll shower you with all our love, even more than you deserve. You won’t be pariahs.

You are currently pariahs not because you’re Jews and not because you’re Israelis — don’t believe your demagogic leaders, who tell you this to absolve themselves and you of the heavy responsibility and blame. You are pariahs because you are brutal occupiers. You are pariahs because you thumb your noses at the world and its institutions, as almost no other country would dare do.

The whole world is against us? Nonsense! It is Israel that is against the world. It’s not important what Israel does? That’s the only thing that is important. An end to the occupation will end Israel’s pariah status.

There’s no other way to interpret the unbelievable sight of Shimon Peres’ funeral. Many of the leaders who came to the funeral never met him; others are harsh critics of Israel. Most know that Peres’ true contribution to peace and justice was much smaller than that described in the poetic eulogies — and that he was certainly no Israeli Nelson Mandela.

And yet they came, as they did to Mandela’s funeral in 2013. They came to honor the departed, but also to say something to his people and his successors. U.S. President Barack Obama gave the signal, and the rest of the world followed: Even what Peres provided — limited moves and the appearance of steps — were enough to honor him, and you. That was enough to turn his funeral into a global event, to get kings and nobles coming to the pariah state.

There is no other pariah state to which the world accords so much honor. The world comes to the funeral of one of the leaders of no other such state. Peres was no dissident fighting the regime and paying a price for it. He was the regime. And yet the world admired him because the world is longing to admire Israel — because of guilt over the past and because the world regards Israel as part of it: Western, developed, enlightened, white.

And so the world is so extreme and erratic about Israel: It alternately admires and disparages it, sometimes more than Israel deserves. But on Friday, the world proved that what it really wants is to embrace Israel. Oslo, the disengagement and Peres were enough for the world to carry Israel aloft. Not anti-Semitism, not hatred — a longing to love. But Israel repeatedly bites the outstretched hand, pushes the world to detest it, after every attack on Gaza or construction of a new settlement.

A reasonable country would listen to the world. That is sometimes done in the family of nations — certainly when one is not a world power. It’s true that Israel is already one of the most pampered nations; the world heaps more money and indulgences on it than any other state, and lets it go as crazy as it wants. But Israel chooses to spit in the world’s face and then cries that the world hates it.

On Mount Herzl, the world once again proved how easy it is to go back to a situation where every Israeli could be proud of being Israeli and not have to hide it out of fear and shame. How much Israel’s fate is in its own hands depends on its behavior. If it wants, it can be admired. And if it wants, it can be a pariah.

Shimon Peres was enough for the world to carry Israel aloft — that anti-Semitic and Israel-hating world that we ourselves invented.

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