By Alice Rothchild
There is a well-known expression in Israel: “shooting and crying.” This phrase stems from a comment by the late Israeli prime-minister Golda Meir, who said (somewhere between famously baking cookies and cheering on Israeli troops during the Yom Kippur War): “We can forgive the Arabs for killing our sons, but we can never forgive them for forcing us to kill their children.”
It seems to me that this aggression-followed-by-blaming-the-victim mentality is a cornerstone of Israeli sentiment as well as propaganda, bellicosity as self-defense followed by appropriate hand wringing.
The killing and dispossession of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians in Jaffa or Ramle or Lydda in 1948 was a tragic necessity for the flowering of the Zionist dream and the birth of a powerful and redemptive Jewish nation. The Israeli soldiers in Gaza who killed over 500 children in a massive, 51-day assault in 2014 proved their moral standing and relieved their guilt by announcing their grief over the tasks they were required to do to subdue the “terrorists” who– they claimed– had brought this calamity upon themselves. If only Hamas had behaved themselves, if only they had not shot those rockets into Sderot. If only they had not made me do this. In this view, there is no settler colonialism, no ethnic cleansing, no occupation, no siege, no rising humanitarian catastrophe; just the most moral army in the world forced to do the dirty work of subduing the natives who are inexplicably hopeless and hostile.
I thought of this as I read an article in the webzine Mondoweiss titled “Groping and Crying” about the recently disgraced Israeli journalist, author, and darling of liberal Zionists, Ari Shavit. Shavit is most famous for his book, My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel, in which he courageously documents the brutality and massacres committed by Israeli troops and the catastrophes that befell indigenous Palestinians in 1948– but then, after the necessary mea culpas, he celebrates the Zionist dream and the myth of the heroic, democratic, fantastical Jewish State.
Shavit has recently been accused of sexual assault. Twice. He does not deny it; in fact he has apologized, talks of a “misunderstanding,” and is now taking time off from his journalism career to rethink his behavior and attitudes, i.e., he is in the crying phase. Undoubtedly, his moral superiority will emerge intact (as opposed to someone like Trump who has no moral standing to lose or regain) and most likely he will retain his current place in society, a privileged, respected, married, educated, thoughtful, powerful white male, the sensitive macho Israeli man.
While ethnic cleansing and sexual assault are massively different kinds of affronts to human decency (though they may overlap), both behaviors involve a suspension of limits of behavior, a loss of boundaries, a belief in privilege and power over integrity and respect. I suspect that there is a connection between a long history of rising Jewish privilege and manifest destiny, a country without borders or a constitution, a sense of male entitlement that approaches women as just another conquest, and a deep lack of accountability on all fronts. Just look at the expanding Jewish settlements in the West Bank, the recent threat to make the next war on Gaza “the last one,” and the number of Israeli politicians accused of sexual assault, theft, bribery.
For a moment, I thought I might be making that last one up, so I did a quick Google search for “Israeli politicians in jail.” Wikipedia lists 27 public officials including:
- Former President Moshe Katsav: rape obstruction of justice
- Former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert: breach of trust and bribery
- Former Minister of Religious Services Aharon Abuhatzira: bribery, larceny, breach of trust, fraud
- Former Minister of Health Shlomo Benizri: bribery, breach of faith, obstructing justice, conspiracy, moral turpitude
- Former Minister of Internal Affairs Aryeh Deri: bribery
- Former Minister of Justice Tzachi Hanegbi: perjury, moral turpitude
- Former Minister of Finance Avraham Hirschson: theft
- Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman: assault
The Times of Israel lists ten public officials sentenced to jail terms over the past 20 years, and Haaretz sports a screaming headline: “Israel Ranks Among Western World’s Most Corrupt Countries.”
Probably not a coincidence: Crying, shooting, groping, stealing…no boundaries.
* Alice Rothchild, a recently retired American obstetrician, has been conducting fact-finding and solidarity delegations to Israel/Palestine since 2003, focusing on the health and human rights situation of Palestinians and other marginalized communities. Her next book, Condition Critical: Life and Death in Israel/Palestine, will be published by Just World Books in February 2017.