Friday, June 3, 2011

Letter to the Editor: Der Spiegel's Israel Libel

Silke, a friend and frequent reader of this blog, turned my attention to an essay on Israel's political and cultural climate published in the English language edition of Der Spiegel, a prominent German publication. The following is a letter I wrote to their editorial department. I'm also attempting to get in touch with the author, Juliane von Mittelstaedt, in order to talk some sense into her, but have so far not been able to find her contact information. I'll keep trying. Far too long has the pro-Israel community allowed this encroaching libel, which is so at odds with reality, to take root in the European consciousness.
Dear Juliane,

Articles like yours are unfortunately becoming more and more the norm. You've interviewed some left wing Israeli academics and recycled standard tropes peddled by marginal, left-wing Israeli pundits against the state, immigrants from Russia, religious people and the settlers.

Did you talk to a single religious person? No. Did you speak with a settler or a Jew from the former Soviet Union? No. Did you talk to a government minister to discuss the many civil liberties concerns you raised? No. You based this entire analysis on two interviews - both interviewees were of the same political persuasion - and recycled leftist Israeli propaganda. It may surprise you to know that the opinion pages of Haaretz reflect a discredited ideology and a collapsed analytical framework, which the overwhelming majority of Israelis no longer view as credible.

There are some 100,000 Jews of Soviet descent living in Germany. I wonder, would you dare to describe them as seeking authoritarianism as a consequence of their upbringing, the way you do Soviet emigres in Israel? Have the hundreds of thousands of Soviet Jews who are now citizens of the US, Britain, France, Australia and other Western democracies ever indicated a taste for fascism? This ongoing slur against Russian-speaking Israeli Jews as being somehow uniquely undemocratic and uncivilized has breached all bounds of decency. Avigdor Lieberman, the great fascist bogeyman of Israel's radical left, has somehow managed to raise from nothing a consensus-based political party and grow its support across the spectrum of Israeli citizenry, from Russian Jews to Israeli Druze.

And then, after spending three or four pages regurgitating talking points that Israel is a land of racist, fascist, theocratic hatred, you write two paragraphs about how it's still a democracy and, surprisingly, its people are more happy than many Europeans! Do you not see the implied absurdity, that a land of racism, hatred and growing intolerance would feature such happy people? Does it not ring alarm bells in your mind that these two visions of Israel - one a racist, oppressive theocracy, the other a pluralistic, innovative democracy - cannot in the real world both be true?

It would take a 20 page essay, going line by line, to counter every single distortion made in this article, and, of course, no one will ever read that essay. What you've described isn't Israel. It's not the religious Jewish community, or the Russian Jewish community or the settler community. You've bought into an insidious caricature of a nation peddled by its least responsible critics. How sad that is for a serious paper like Der Spiegel, which really tries to inform its readers about the world.

In the future, please try to broaden your perspective and expose your readership to the other 90% of Israeli society whose opinions and outlook on life this article, sadly, does not even attempt to represent.
Those of you who have not been following this blog for long may enjoy a related essay I wrote some months back. It is rather self-descriptively entitled: Do Russian, Middle Eastern and Observant Jews Hate Democracy? For those not inclined to read it, I'll save you the trouble (though you really should read it) - the answer is "no".

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