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Over the ages anti-Semites highlighted the alleged wrongdoings or antisocial behavior of individual Jews as a means to vilify and demonize the entire Jewish people.
Who could have dreamt that a Jewish state would become the staging ground for politicians and journalists using similar tactics to delegitimize and demonize an entire sector of Israeli society?
In recent weeks a concerted campaign has been launched, exploiting the outrageous behavior of a sprinkling of demented fanatics and hooligans as a pretext to brand as villains and monsters hundreds of thousands of dedicated law-abiding Israeli citizens.
Israelis resident over the Green Line are unique in that most share a sense of community that few Israelis resident in cities have ever experienced. Many are religious. In settlements like Gush Katif they are predominantly farmers.
They settled not on Arab land but on arid land which they cultivated into green pastures.
Upholding what is now virtually a defunct Zionist ideal, they alone have transformed deserts into gardens.
In so doing they received not only the blessing and encouragement of all successive Israeli governments, but until the "Disengagement Now" mantra, they were hailed as role models - Zionist pioneers who bore the brunt of terrorist onslaughts.
Today these same people are being collectively depicted as selfish land grabbers, colonialists and thugs.
Had they accepted Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's diktats quietly, they would probably not be facing such an onslaught. But Israel claims to be a democracy, and people displaced from their homes, communities, and livelihoods - for whatever reason - are surely entitled to protest and try to persuade the government to review its policy.
The sad reality is that only weeks before being evicted, even those reconciled to leaving are still in the dark as to what accommodation will be provided for their families, what opportunities for new livelihoods will be available, and what schooling their children will be receiving.
But it is the manner in which these people are being demonized by Israeli politicians and journalists which represents the most scandalous aspect of this tragic situation.
Yossi Sarid, the former head of Meretz who occupied ministerial posts in previous governments, describes settlers as "hypocrites" and as Sharon's active partners in crime. In apocalyptic terms he declares, "The Jewish settlement in the territories is a crime against Zionism. The evacuation of Gush Katif is the beginning of our redemption."
Former education minister Shulamit Aloni described settlers as those who "were born in sin outside Israel's legal jurisdiction. Through lies, deceit and criminal activity they accrued self-confidence, resilience, physical assets, and money. They were able to rob the impoverished inhabitants of the land and employ them on their farms on subsistence wages."
She, a former minister of education, concludes her loathsome diatribe by bracketing settlers with an anti-Semitic interpretation of the Bible, stating "like the Children of Israel who left Egypt, the settlers will obtain substantial assets, and end up on Israel's rich list."
If this vile outburst were not enough, Aloni goes on to describe settlers as resembling "pre-revolutionary Russian kulaks" (whom Stalin physically exterminated in the millions on the grounds that they were class enemies of the state).
The media are also a willing accessory to this hate propaganda. Haaretz, which stated in a recent editorial that "the rioters are not stray elements but regular settlers" now publishes articles radiating raw hatred against them .
This is what Uzi Benziman writes: "The history of the settlements is full of killing and robbery.... The air of lawlessness derives from the original sin - the urge to settle in the territories - and provides the foundations for murderous images, as displayed in the Cave of Machpela massacre, the murder of innocent farmers, the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, and the attempted lynch in Gush Katif."
Columnist Zvi Barel describes the settlers "not as a sprinkling of criminals, but a criminal community, a community with parents and friends first- and second-generation outlaws who are in fear of losing their long-standing ability to withstand a government not appointed by the Lord." And columnist Doron Rosenblum relates to settlers as "talking and acting like an enemy.... Bearded and turbaned fanatics, whose religion is not obvious at first glance, are waving yellow flags and are capable of any act of lynch or insanity: even the 'moderates' are openly acting against the interests of the State of Israel, its citizens, and its infrastructure." Surely such fiendish incitement, not directed against specific individuals but launched against a law-abiding but deeply traumatized section of the community, should be proscribed in the Jewish state. It is utterly loathsome to observe Israelis literally radiating vile hatred and exploiting individual acts of thuggery in order to demonize an entire segment of society in the classical technique of anti-Semites. Of course some of the tactics and statements adopted by the more extreme right-wing factions are reprehensible. They should be condemned and if in breach of the law, vigorously prosecuted. It is also appalling that some irresponsible opponents of disengagement call upon soldiers to refuse orders or encourage youngsters to disrupt traffic - acts which undermine the security of the state and are also utterly counterproductive. It is noteworthy that most responsible settler leaders have unequivocally condemned such acts. Decent Israelis of all persuasions, including supporters of unilateral disengagement, must unite in condemning those politicians and journalists who are plunging Israel into a cauldron of animosity. No responsible Jew can remain a silent observer when an entire community of his kinsmen is collectively demonized. Mainstream Israelis must totally marginalize the peddlers of hate together with thugs and lunatics from the extreme Right. A cordon sanitaire should be applied against all who seek to exacerbate a tragic situation by inciting Israelis against Israelis. We can overcome external enemies who seek to destroy us. But if we fail to exorcise from our midst those who demonize fellow Jews, we are heading towards a monumental disaster.
This article appeared as an opinion piece in the Jerusalem Post on
July 14, 2005. It is archived at
Isi Leibler chairs the Diaspora-Israel relations committee of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs and is a former chairman of the governing board of the World Jewish Congress. He can be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org
This article appeared as an opinion piece in the Jerusalem Post on July 14, 2005. It is archived at http://www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?pagename=JPost/ JPArticle/ShowFull&cid=1121221100930&apage=1
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