By Jonathon Van Maren
Earlier this year, I was sitting on the balcony of a dingy Tel Aviv hotel, having a glass of wine and watching the alleyway I was facing light up as the street lamps came on. Across the alley was an apartment building, and scrawled in dripping black paint across a peeling white balcony was one word: PURGATORY. It was a strange and haunting description.
It must be supremely disheartening to be an Israeli in 2015. As the world mulls the bloodstained horrors that recently befell the City of Light, those residing in the City of God have been dealing with a wave of Islamic butchers all year. The Knife Intifada, as it’s now been called, has seen “lone wolf” killers perpetrate a wave of stabbings, as Palestinian terrorists plunge blades into anyone they can—including women, children, and the elderly. Videos that have gone viral but virtually ignored have shown horrifying scenes of murderers charging unsuspecting bystanders, thrusting, slashing, chopping.
Perhaps the world registers no shock and no outrage at these routine atrocities because they are not shocked and they are not outraged. This is Israel, and violence against Israelis is cliché.
I understand why Israeli advocacy groups make bringing people to Israel their number one priority. It’s much more difficult to detach from such things when you’ve walked the streets of Jerusalem and heard the sounds of a beautiful orchestra echoing from the ramparts of the Jaffa Gate. When you’ve awoken to the sounds of a legion of beautiful languages shouted from shopkeeper to vendor as the city wakes up, the noise from the bazaar leaping up the enormous stone steps and through the twisty alleyways to fill the Quarter with sound that blends with the haunting call to prayer echoing from the minarets, it brings a shiver to imagine the cheery din of living replaced with shouts of terror and dying.
There’s something more sinister here, too, beyond the resignation and the detachment that comes with tragic news from faraway places—equivocation. Every time I hear about these terrorist attacks on the radio or see media articles on my newsfeed, the Palestinian terrorists are being depicted not as terrorists, but as legitimate combatants. The stories are reported as if the border police, the Israeli Defence Forces, and indeed, even the Israeli citizens, are simply one side of two morally equal forces.
Two Palestinians and one border policeman were killed today…the newscaster intones, as if the policeman and the Palestinians were operating on the same moral wavelength. I’ve heard it a dozen times—and that’s not to mention the fact that when a soldier or police officer or, indeed, even a civilian is stabbed to death, the media coverage I see and hear is perfunctory. However, when the IDF incurs a civilian casualty, regardless of the situation, the extensive coverage that follows contains a barely veiled message—Israelis are the oppressors. So when terror strikes Israelis, the dark undertone is muttered in whispers that can just barely be heard over the bland voice of the newscaster: They had it coming.
It goes beyond the Western self-loathing that follows any terrorist attack, regardless of just how deep that self-loathing goes. I’ve said, rather sarcastically, that I expect to see a headline one day soon that says, Islamic Terrorists Shoot Up Theatre—Liberal Arts Students Claim Responsibility. But the media elites don’t seem to consider Israel part of the West, regardless of its robust democracy and human rights record. When Islamic terrorists attack Israel, the loathing shifts to the Jews—from It’s our fault to It’s their fault. Again, Israel finds itself the scapegoat.
Those critical of Israel protest again and again that it is not Jews they have a problem with, but Israel. But this explanation begins to ring hollow when again and again, only Israel receives constant backlash for launching defensive operations, while a cadre of killers around the globe go unnoticed. It rings hollow when Israel is subject to boycotts while many Arab nations can operate un-denounced by activists who would presumably object to the misogyny and prejudice inherent to their systems. It rings hollow when you realize that Israel is condemned more often at the United Nations than countries perpetrating actual genocide.
This irrational hatred of Israel, if not anti-Semitism, seems to be at the least—how shall I say this?—a disproportionate response.