March 22, 2001
Bizarro World and ‘The Settlers’
Those of us old enough to have been seduced by the pleasures of Superman comic books probably remember Bizarro World, an alternative universe where norms and values were upended and recast: No became yes, ugly was beautiful, cruel was kind. When thrust into this psychotic realm, even the Man of Steel had trouble coping.
One wonders if Superman would find Middle East politics any easier.
Only in the Middle East could a tiny democracy be reviled by ostensibly right-thinking people as an oppressive occupier state, while its neighbors, a host of dictatorships and thugigarchies, are held up as beacons of freedom. Granted, Israel is an imperfect democracy and an often rude society, but for a 50-year-old country -- in historical terms, an adolescent -- it's doing pretty well. Go back and read Alexis de Tocqueville's description of the United States at a similar stage. Given the choice between living in Israel or its neighbors, how many of us would opt for Saudi Arabia or the Sudan, where slavery thrives, the Orwellian nightmare known as Syria, pseudo-parliamentary Egypt or "enlightened" Jordan, where young girls are murdered by their brothers if they act out sexually?
If my experiences as a college student during the late '60s and early '70s were any indication, the Bizarro demonization of Israel was no accident. Soon after the Six-Day War (renamed "the 1967 Middle East War" by the Los Angeles Times and other media outlets, presumably to minimize embarrassment to the losers) the Arabs set out to reverse Israel's military gains by waging a relentless, oil-state-financed propaganda war. At UCLA, this took the form of Libyan and Algerian students who seemed to spend a good deal more time handing out literature and orating in Meyerhoff Park than they did in the classroom. The faces were interchangeable -- few of these older-than-average freshmen appeared to enroll for very long -- but the tactics remained the same: an onslaught of anti-Semitic buzzwords. My friends at other universities described identical goings-on.
Arab student-propagandists exploited anti-Vietnam War sentiment by affiliating with leftist organizations. What resulted was a constant barrage of anti-Semitic venom printed in the official organs of the Black Panthers, Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), and similar groups, disguised as "solidarity" with the newly minted "Palestinian people." (Prior to the early '60s, the term "Palestinian" had referred to any resident of the region, including Jews.) Using a well-tested propagandist tactic -- Bizarro Irony -- hatred of Israel was justified by recasting the Jewish state as the reincarnation the Jews' worst enemy: Palestinian Arabs became the "Jews of the Middle East," and Israel was now a "fascist, Nazi entity." One of my clearest UCLA memories is attending a speech by Golda Meir and being spat on and reviled as "a Nazi" by a covey of snarling, fair-haired, blue-eyed SDSers picketing Pauley Pavilion because I was wearing a yarmulke. Bizarro Irony continues today, on both extremes of the political spectrum, as the radical left besmirches Israel as a reactionary state and the neo-Nazi Christian Identity proclaims itself the synagogue of true Judaism and denigrates Jews as the bastard spawn of Eve and the serpent.
Bizarro Irony succeeds by raping the language. One revisionist perversity of the '70s has endured and entered common parlance, even among Jews: the Settler.
Back in the days when Hollywood convinced us that the cowboys were the good guys and the Indians were bloodthirsty savages, "settlers" were viewed as heroic visionaries. When we finally realized that the Wild West didn't go down quite that way, "settler" began to take on a different connotation.
Settlers were now seen as intruders, usually Caucasian, who invaded the homelands of dark-skinned indigenous people, enslaved the natives and wiped out centuries of noble civilization. Settlers were epitomized by the white, racist regimes of Rhodesia and South Africa. And Israel. For the Arab disinformation machine's greatest success might very well be the psychosocial pairing of Israelis with the architects of apartheid. This allowed the an oft-repeated mantra to go unchallenged: "The existence of settlements in the West Bank and Gaza are an illegal provocation and an obstacle to peace."
The only problem is, it just ain't so. The Jewish people who live in the most dangerous neighborhoods of Israel are anything but colonial raiders. They are a continuance of the Zionist dream at its best: the most courageous members of an indigenous people sacrificing personally in order to resettle its ancestral homeland. As such, they deserve to be admired, not marginalized by liberation theologists and anyone else who claims to believe in justice.
The core issue is the right of Jews to live on ancestral soil -- or anywhere else, for that matter. Why should the Nazi policy of Judenrein (Jew-free areas) be implemented anywhere in the world, let alone Israel? Does a black person have a right to live in Beverly Hills? Should a Latino or an Asian -- or a Jew -- be permitted to build a house in San Marino? Sure, the appearance of dark or ethnically unfamiliar faces in any well-entrenched white suburb will be viewed by certain residents as a provocation as well as an obstruction to an ethnically pure way of life. And until very recently, racial segregation was mandated in virtually every region of the United States. Did that make free choice in housing and integration wrong?
Put Arab-financed connotation aside and try some word substitution: How would you feel if some stiff-lipped State Department errand boy intoned, "The presence of Jews and Jewish neighborhoods in parts of Jerusalem and the territories is a provocation and an obstacle to the peace process."
If you agree, you're saying that a Jewish presence in Brooklyn, Brentwood and Berlin is kosher, but Jews in Bethlehem and Baka are verboten. And if that's not Bizarro World spiced up by a touch of Joe Goebbels, I don't know what is.
Mr. Big Lie must be laughing, from whatever dark corner of hell he currently occupies.
Fifty years of Arab propaganda to the contrary, the establishment of the State of Israel was not yet another example of Western colonialism. Israel represents the return of indigenous people to its homeland. As such, it should be admired by the most fervent supporters of liberation theology.
Jonathan Kellerman is the author of 16 novels and five nonfiction books. His latest novel is "Dr. Death" (Random House). He is clinical professor of pediatrics at USC School of Medicine and clinical professor of psychology at USC's College of Arts and Sciences.