The photo you see to the left was found by Jewish Voice for Peace on the Facebook page (since removed) of a group that named itself
“Am Yisrael Doreshet Nekama,” in English, “The People of Israel Demand Revenge.” The hashtag on the sign is similar, though with an important difference–the word “Am” is removed and it is “Israel Demands Revenge.”
The photo has since gone viral, though not as its creators may have hoped. It has become a Twitter and Facebook symbol for Israeli racism. For me, personally, it is important that the hashtag removes the word “Am” because “Am Yisrael” commonly means the Jewish People, while “Israel” alone more commonly refers to the country.
But what’s really important that people understand in the image is the driving force behind Israeli policy. Yes, these girls or young women may not yet even be old enough to vote or to serve in the IDF. But it doesn’t take a very hard look to understand that they are not fanatical settlers. These are not orthodox young women, and just judging by their appearance and dress (which, it should be noted, is not conclusive), they are probably quite secular, mainstream Israelis, very much of the Tel Aviv culture.
This must be understood because the right-wing, increasingly anti-peace and, putting it bluntly, racist policies of the current Israeli government reflects a real shift in Israeli society. Today’s Israel is not the Israel of twenty years ago, where there was a real yearning for peace and a real recognition among many in the mainstream that the occupation was wrong and, whatever arrangements needed to made for security, it was imperative that the occupation be ended.
No, today’s Israel is the product of many years of demagoguery from the right, coupled with the searing experience of the second intifada, that believes that the Palestinians refused a generous offer in 2000, preferring instead to pursue the murder of as many Jews as possible. They believe that Israel fully withdrew its domination of Gaza and was rewarded with rocket fire.
Neither of these myths are true other than in the most crude and shallow way. They are both distortions of reality that paint Israel as the innocent victim of Arab perfidy. They both capitalize on very real Palestinian crimes (attacking, injuring and sometimes killing civilians in both cases, although the rockets have accounted for only a few deaths while the violence of the intifada claimed hundreds), all of which have resulted in far more death and other harm to Palestinians than to Israelis.
But these myths and the boiling and constant propaganda they are part of combine to create the mindless hate reflected in this photo. These two young women are no an anomaly. They are representative of a significant and growing sector of Israeli society, one which may already reflect the majority.
There are large and well-funded organizations and, in the US, even a governmental Special Envoy to track and combat anti-Semitism. Some of these efforts are sincere. Too often, however, groups like MEMRI and the ADL conflate anti-Semitism with opposition to Israeli policies. But being that so many of the organizations and leaders who work in such places are Jewish, maybe it would behoove them to police our own house.
There is, to be sure, very real anti-Semitism in the world and most assuredly in the Arab world. Sometimes, ignorance leads opposition to Israeli policies or even Zionism itself to become entangled with anti-Semitism. Sometimes anti-Semites cloak their hate in a fake support of Palestinian rights. But anti-Arab hate is also a driving force on the other side. Maybe it’s time we Jews make more serious efforts than pro forma statements when particular flare-ups like this happen. If we want to be taken seriously when we complain about anti-Semitism, maybe we should make sure we are putting at least as much effort into straightening out our own house. If people want to put forth an analysis of how anti-Semitism plays a role in the conflict, maybe we ought to examine how big a role anti-Arabism, Islamophobia or anti-Palestinianism plays in it as well.