March 16, 2011
Not Every Day is Purim
A colloquial Hebrew expression says, “not every day is Purim.” It can loosely be translated as “you can’t fool all the people all the time.” But when it comes to Israel, there are those in our US Jewish community who not only choose to live in a delusional virtual reality, but insist on dragging others into their la-la land. It is bad for Israel and bad for America.
Take the case of Rep. Anthony Weiner, the Democrat from New York, who in a televised debate recently insisted that there was no Israeli occupation in the West Bank and no Israeli military presence there. This was not a satirical show or a Purim spiel. The man was serious.
Or take the following story, which demonstrates that this sad masquerade is bi-partisan. Last week, shortly after dinner, my home phone rang. A woman said she was calling on behalf of the Republican Jewish Coalition to tell me that with all that is happening in Egypt and the larger Middle East, Israel’s very existence is in jeopardy. How so, I inquired, and the woman proceeded to tell me that Egypt was sending weapons into Gaza, so that militants there would attack Israel, and that Egypt itself has been recently militarily attacking Israel. No less. Again, this fiction was no Purim prank. The lady was serious.
Why is it that our community’s discussion of Israel is so often removed from reality? Why don’t we have a facts-based conversation on what is happening in Israel, on what is happening in the West Bank, and on how we can help make Israel a better place?
A part of the problem is the success of the Israeli government’s hasbara (propaganda) campaign, which has become more aggressive under Binyamin Netanyahu’s government. Another part is the very pervasive tendency – In Israel and in the United States – to believe that Israel’s problem is essentially one of public relations rather than one of public policy. Many among our Jewish community here – like many Israelis – truly believe that they can make up for the disastrous impact of Israeli policies such as West Bank settlement construction or diplomatic inaction by merely spinning yarn. Or, worse, by manufacturing “facts.” However, what may have once worked as a way of rounding the rough edges of Israeli conduct, does not work anymore as an excuse for destructive policies. The world flatly rejects the occupation and the settlements, and demands Israeli diplomatic action to end the occupation. The international community has for a long time been signaling to Israel and to us, Israel’s friends worldwide, that not every day is Purim.
A major part of our tendency to put a mask on Israeli reality has to do with a deeper phenomenon: the growing dissonance—a cognitive, ethical dissonance in the minds of many American Jews—caused by the gap between the Israel they see and the Israel they would like to see.
When that dissonance emerges, we too often try to adjust the image rather than doing what’s right: addressing the actual problem. Yes, Israelis want peace, but their government’s policies often do not serve the cause of peace. Yes, Israel has a right to defend itself, but its 44 years-long occupation of another people is morally wrong and disastrous not only for Palestinians but for Israelis themselves. Yes, Israeli society is typically tolerant, but it often unforgivably tolerates bigots and racists who spew hatred and incite violence.
Denying these painful truths means helping propaganda and polemics masquerade as reality. We too often hang a mask on realities we don’t like. When we ignore the issues that Israel needs help with, or, worse, when we manipulatively try to misrepresent them, we do Israel no favor. We don’t help Israel remedy its ailments, and we deceive ourselves.
We deceive ourselves by arguing that nothing should be done about Israel’s rule over millions of stateless Palestinians, we remain adamant in the idea that Israel can sustain the unsustainable.
Playing around and masquerading is excusable once a year. Not every day is Purim.