Opening Open Zion
Raphael Magarik’s response to my criticism about imbalance in Open Zion’s conversation about Israel was thoughtful and thought-provoking. Raffi caught me. I said that my “quick survey of the first 320 posts of this Website, shows nothing about regular, everyday life in Israel—or Palestine for that matter.” I should not have written “nothing.” “Remarkably little” would have sufficed. The few pieces he mentioned barely amount to one percent of Open Zion’s output. I did not catch those few roses because they were well hidden behind a thicket of thorns.
Moreover, I did not just call for a discussion of the “poetry of the everyday”–I called for an acknowledgment of the “thoroughly normal” too. And this is where Magarik lost me. He wants to write about what he deems “urgent: the occupation, anti-democratic legislation, African refugees.” I have written about these topics too. I am not afraid of discussion or debate, criticism or condemnation. I love the fact that Israel’s President Shimon Peres perpetually praises the Jews’ “dissatisfaction gene.” I appreciate the post-Auschwitz confidence that allows Jews to speak in essentialist terms, knowing that most reasonable people won’t take it literally and characterize the Jews in racial terms, as well as the message–question, doubt, struggle, push.
But Magarik ignored essential parts of my argument. Noting that my percentages were off still dodges the argument about proportionality. Too much whine will make this website lose balance and has destroyed the Israeli left’s credibility.
Surveys showing that most countries judge Israel harshly result from the systematic campaign of delegitimization against Israel, which is reinforced by the Is-crits’ tendency to harp so much on the negative that reality gets distorted. So while readers may mourn the death of Israel’s democracy after reading my close friend Don Futterman’s piece, the "Old Familiar Tunes of Suppression," it is journalistically and politically significant that, the same weekend his lament appeared, I got snared in Saturday night Tel Aviv traffic because the protests were not suppressed–just hours after spending time with Don and his lovely family on Tel Aviv’s beach.
This lack of proportionality affects coverage of the Palestinian side as well. We do not hear about the “thoroughly normal” in the West Bank or Gaza because that would undermine the perpetually hysterical narrative that Nazifies Israel and fuels Alice Walker’s ostracize-Israel gang. I confess, when I visited al Quds University this year I was struck by how familiar, how student-y, how normal the environment was. Similarly, the opening of the Gaza Mall in 2010 refuted the sick, false narrative of Gaza as the world’s “largest concentration camp.” Unfortunately, when discussing this messy, complex conflict between Palestinians and Israelis, even academics who usually delight in complexity frequently resort to simplistic sloganeering. It is much easier to “solve” the problem, or at least pontificate about it, by reducing it to stick figures, with evil Israelis oppressing noble, virtuous Palestinians.
The conflict has been so intractable because it is so multi-dimensional, so thorny. Those of us who seek solutions should provide the nuance, the sophistication, the discernment that is often lacking from both sides of the great divide. That is my hope for Open Zion–and that was my motivation in writing my post.