South Jerusalem Antipathy Awards

Gershom Gorenberg

Before I head off for the Galilee for the week, I’d wanted to give an award for statement in the past week’s Israeli news showing the least understanding of someone else’s motivation. Try as I might, though, I can’t break the tie between two contenders:

  • Col. Ilan Malka, commander of the Givati Brigade, on Breaking the Silence’s publication of soldiers’ testimony on Operation Cast Lead in Gaza last winter: “I have a sort of feeling that they’re doing this out of some kind of evil.” (Yediot Aharonot, Aug. 4, 2009). Former combat soldiers in the Israel Defense Forces published the first-hand accounts of other soldiers on their service, accounts that point to a policy set by top commanders that led to unnecessary civilian deaths and massive physical damage. The only reason that Malka can imagine that they would do this is that they are bad, that evil seized commmand of their actions. It does not enter his mind that they might be deeply concerned about the direction taken by the army in which they risked their lives to defend their country.
  • Tziki Sela, commander of the Interior Ministry’s Oz unit, responsible for deporting illegal immigrants (otherwise known as undocumented foreign workers), on human rights organizations that campaigned against expelling children born in Israel to such immigrants: “They’re anarchists who seek to eradicate the state of Israel.” (Ma’ariv, Aug. 5, 2009) Let’s put aside for the moment the Orwellian name of the unit – oz means “might” in Hebrew, as if picking up undocumented immigrants and their Israeli born children was a high-risk commando operation. Sela can’t imagine that anyone would object to taking kids born here, educated here, knowing no other country, and deporting them — unless the protesters are out to destroy the state. Sela estimates that there are 1,200 such children. Allowing them to stay here, in his mind, will lead to the end of the Jewish state. He can’t fathom that others might believe that preserving the Jewish character of the state might require giving refuge.  (After a public storm over his words, Sela backed down and said that the human rights organizations’ activities were “legitimate.”)

Besides a complete lack of curiousity about the motivations of their critics, Malka and Sela share some fuzziness on how democracy works.

Malka said that Breaking the Silence should have written a letter to the chief of staff about specific incidents that took play in Gaza. But the point of the report wasn’t the individual incidents — it was the policy they reflected. In a democracy, that is not only a proper but a necessary subject for public debate.

Sela, pre-retraction, did not seem to get that a public debate on immigration and citizenship policy is not only acceptable, but essential. “I’m carrying out a policy,” he said in defense of his own actions. No one else should question that policy, he seems to think. For that matter, he can’t imagine questioning it himself. He’s just following orders.

Lest it be said that I’ve never had a good word for Bibi Netanyahu, here’s a good word: Thank you for giving into pressure and imposing a three-month moratorium on deporting children. That’s a three-month down payment on a change in direction.

13 thoughts on “South Jerusalem Antipathy Awards”

  1. Gershom: I think any response to this issue should come from former combat or present combat veterans who have fought house to house or against guerrilla opponents in close quarters. You can throw out the infantry training manuals when you get into those fire fights. If the comments come from the usual suspects who have never put their life on the line for their country all you will get is opinionated babble

  2. On the attacks on the soldiers’ testimonies:

    Two facts to consider:

    – Israel barred any foreign journalists from entering Gaza during the massacre;

    – Israel has refused to participate in the current UN inquiry.

  3. In 1929, Kurt Tucholsky wrote his final, fierce attack on all that was wrong in the Weimar Republic, “Deutschland, Deutschland über alles”, a collaboration with the graphic artist John Heartfield. In the last chapter, “Heimat” (homeland), he comes full circle:

    “We have just written “no” on 225 pages, “no” out of sympathy and “no” out of love, “no” out of hate and “no” out of passion – and now we would like to say “yes” for once. “Yes” – to the countryside and the country of Germany. The country where we were born and whose language we speak. (…)
    And now I would like to tell you something: it is not true that all those who call themselves ‘national’ and who are nothing but gentrified militants have taken out a lease on this country and its language just for them. Germany is not just a government representative in his tailcoat, nor is it a headmaster, nor is it the ladies and gentlemen of the Stahlhelm. We are here, too.
    They open their mouths and scream: “In the name of Germany…!” They shout: “We love this country, only we love it.” It is not true.
    Our patriotism is second to everyone – we feel internationally. Our love of our home country is second to none – not even those with registered claim and title to the land. Ours it is. (…)
    Germany is a divided country. We are one part of it. And whatever the situation, we quietly love our country – unshakably, without a flag, or a street organ, no sentimentality and no drawn sword.”

    (Partial translation snatched from, but read the whole thing if you can. I’ve replaced “steel helmets” above with “Stahlhelm”, the actual name of the organisation of WW I veterans, and added two paragraphs.)

    The Malkas and Selas – not just in Israel, it goes without saying – will never get the distinction between love of one’s country, culture, language on the one hand and patriotism on the other. They are the ones who ruined Germany, and Europe along with it, and I’m afraid they are quite capable of ruining Israel, and the Middle East along with it as well. But it’s equally Gershom’s land and the land of the BtS folks and the Palestinians, too.

  4. The land does not belong to Malka, Sela or Gershom. It belongs to the Palestinians. Gershom doesnt get any gold stars for living on land stolen in 1948 but not stolen in 1967. If you want peace, go back to Belarus

  5. Phillips Brooks. The Land of Israel and Judea was stolen from the Jews in the first place. Hence the names Israelites and Jews. The “Palestinian” Arabs came from Arabia, hence the name Arab.

  6. Even your won historian Shlomo Sand proves that you are a non-people, a historical fiction with a real talent of extorting guilt and money from other nations

  7. To set the record straight, here is a brief sampling of the criticisms of Shlomo Sands’ book :
    Anita Shapira wrote “Sand bases his arguments on the most esoteric and controversial interpretations, while seeking to undermine the credibility of important scholars by dismissing their conclusions without bringing any evidence to bear.”
    Hillel Halkin has cited the book as an example of the fact that there apparently is “no book too foolish to go un-admired by someone.”

  8. I would like to have Gershom’s opinion on Brooks raving. I am so far taking his silence on the issue as tacit agreement

  9. Nimrod: You could take silence many ways. You could take it the Thomas More way or tacit acquiesence or comments as not worthy of comment..Some comments are not worthy because of their ridiculosity others because they add nothing to the discussion. I see some of both going on here.

    Fiddler’s episle on patriotism strikes a real nerve with me and is very germaine to the subject matter set forth by Gershom “Patriotism the last refuge of a scoundrel” Thank you Dr.Johnson ,may be another way of putting it.

    I do not put love in the same sentence with country. Love is something you have for your wife or significant other ,your relatives or other humans or even”fido” You may have a visceral attachment to a country but love ,give me a break.
    During the Viet Nam war the “blowhards” were lauding the “love it or leave it ” crap ,of course most of them had not been in combat as I had and couldn’t see the futility of a land war in Asia.

    Charlotte: support your theory that the Palestinians are Arabs with historical scholarship from others than those “wags” who have an axe to grind.You could throw in some good anthropology too.

    I stand on the native American view of land.Makes more sense

  10. On the contrary, while I find Brooks comments ridiculous, they do need to be responded to, and I am disappointed that Gershom has not responded to them. Gideon Levy in haaretz recently stated that he too lives on stolen land in Sheikh Munis, outside of Tel Aviv. If our only claim to the land is that it was legal to take land in 1948 but not by 1967, then we are on pretty weak foundations. I call on Gershom to refute Brooks comments or otherwise demonstrate the courage to disagree with them. I of course disagree emphatically with Brooks comments and believe him to be an anti-Semite, based upon this and his prior comments

  11. Nimrod: I get back to my original statement that the article was going to evoke babbling which it has and the some contributors will no doubt miss the mark. Brooks just likes to pull your chain and get your and others pants in a bunch. His comments are so much on the cusp of rediculosity so as to require a non-recognition of their content, let alone a response.
    I find no requirement as the format for this blog that Gershom play “guru of the week” or set out his views just because you want a committment from him to satisfy your need to know.If you think that Brooks is an anti-semite because you find his comments distasteful and untrue others may agree with you and probably do :isn’t that good enough?

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