Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Moderate Civilians and Extremists: Case Study

I've been trying hard not to post about the recent video "Feeling the Hate in Jerusalem on the Eve of Obama's Cairo Speech" by Max Blumenthal. Judging from Mr. Blumenthal's blog, he is hardly a neutral observer on the conflict. Consider the sentence: "The notion that the racist diatribes in my video emerged spontaneously from a beery void is a delusion, but for some, it is a necessary one. It allows them to erect a psychological barrier against acknowledging the painful consequences of prolonged Zionist indoctrination." But the video is likely to have an effect on Jewish-Muslim-Christian relations in the US, and on American-Israeli relations, so please find my 2 cents below.

Haaretz and JPost have both posted articles about the video of American teens in Jerusalem spouting the kind of racist, ignorant, and bigoted speech that would make a KKK member blush (you can find links to the videos in both articles). While Haaretz's Bradley Burston uses the film as one of a number of examples to illustrate a greater point, the JPost article tackles the film head on. They interview Blumenthal himself, and present responses from several leadership organizations in the American Jewish community. Here is a list of their responses:

Birthright Israel - "We don't really know if these are birthright people. In any case, we will check. There have been kids before who said they were on birthright, and they were not."

B'nei Brith - "The comments of the interviewees are reprehensible and are not reflective of the attitude of the vast majority of Israelis...You can get this kind of comment anywhere if you go looking for it. I don't think it contributes anything at all to the debate."

Education Dept, Jewish Agency
- "On the basis of a group of inebriated teenagers, to draw any conclusions about the quality of Jewish and Zionist education is really unacceptable...Whoever prepared this went out of their way to find people who have clearly been drinking...It makes me wonder about the motivations of those who edited this video."

Democrats Abroad in Israel - "This video is of no value whatsoever. If you removed the expletives you'd be left with very little material...[It] should be ignored as a silly piece and as more of a comment on the depth to which the Internet can sink...The journalist really should have gone out to find people who had an opinion and supported their opinion. You can't have an intelligent discussion with someone who is inebriated."

ADL - No Comment.

With the exception of B'nei Brith, the responses all appear more to question the arguments made by the film than the individuals in the film itself. Obviously, this could be the result of editing on the part of the article's author, Tori Cheifetz. But in a deeper level, it indicates a reluctance to tackle the issue of ignorance and intolerance from within the Jewish community head on. The organizations represented above do not alone bear responsibility for this issue. But even B'nei Brith's comments talk about the opinions of Israelis. The teens interviewed were all American, not Israeli.

The point here is that it's easy to tell other moderate groups to condemn their radical elements. Watch very carefully over the next week to see if any right-wing politicians, journalists, or academics on the conflict call the interviewees out for their comments which can only serve to hurt and stir up resentment. Of course there is a difference in that none of these kids later went out and committed acts of violence against Palestinians. But out of a desire to unite at the front, public criticism of the characters in the film by the American Jewish community is likely to be muted. Few groups are likely to contextualize the comments fairly and properly.

Allow me.

Firstly, the views expressed by the interviewees reflect a minority view in the American Jewish community. Few American Jews truly question Obama's US citizenship, his ultimate commitment to Israeli security, or his respect for Jews. However, the strength of a community is reflected in the freedom those members have to discuss and dissent.

The views expressed by these individuals are racist, intolerant, ignorant, and unequivocally unacceptable. They represent a lack of maturity and a shirking of responsibility that are seriously out of line with Jewish values of respect for other people. While other individuals, both Israeli and American, both conservative and liberal, make earnest attempts to improve the lives of all parties involved in the Israeli-Arab conflict, the ridiculous views expressed by these individuals serve only to hamper these well-intentioned efforts to improve and save lives. They deserve public condemnation from all corners of the American Jewish community.


1) Bradley Burston, "Loving Israel by Hating Obama,"
Haaretz, June 9, 2009.

2) Tori Cheifetz, "Americans in J'lem 'Feel the Hate' for Obama,"
Jerusalem Post, June 8, 2009.

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