Are You Suffering From Diasporitis?

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Today marks the one-month anniversary since I left Israel.

During my time in Israel, I made a lot of excellent Israeli friends whom I talk to all the time even though I’m no longer there. Since my personality is very Israeli and I understand the culture, we click, and I feel like one of them (except when I realize that they are only speaking English to accommodate me).

I’m very well-versed about Israel. I did a lot of research on the conflict as a sophomore in college when I was trying to debunk Zionism (but failed miserably). I actually learned the Israeli rebuttals to many instinctive leftie or media-driven arguments in advance. Even still, my Israeli friends get frustrated with me from time to time. Every so often, I say something that makes the fact that I grew up 10,000 kilometers away all the more apparent.

“So you guys really just study Torah from Kindergarten to 12th grade? Even in secular school?”

“Do you have any Arab friends? Is that like, weird or something?”

“Are restaurants in Tel Aviv open for lunch on Saturdays?”

“Why do the ultra-orthodox have so much power in Israel when most of Israel can’t stand them?”

“Zionism is not a Jewish movement, it’s a civil rights movement” (It’s actually both, as Israelis learn in school).

“Wait, so you wanted to join the army?”

And this is me we are talking about, questions I asked just over a month ago. I, the former go-to girl for all things Israel Advocacy on campus and in my hometown. I still had (and have) a lot to learn about life in Israel.

However, I encounter far more individuals with a serious case of diasporitis on a regular basis.

Diasporitis. n. A deficiency, caused by a disconnect between one’s experience and the Israeli experience, that causes diaspora Jews to internalize a lot of media stereotypes and form incorrect and potentially damaging assumptions about life in Israel.

My friend Fred Maroun, who has never been to Israel but is Arab and understands the Middle East better than most, released an article yesterday criticizing Israel’s settlement policy that made serious waves in the pro-Israel community. Those who showed the most ire were Israelis, while diaspora Jews just shrugged. My friend Ryan Bellerose gently reminded us┬áthat opposing the settlements or settlement policy is a mainstream opinion in the diaspora but not in Israel, which could explain this discrepancy. We are used to this. Heck, I myself am iffy about settlement expansion and used to oppose the settlements altogether.

 

Indeed, this is the belief I held until about 2 years ago, and the belief of most diaspora Jews: That the settlements are pointless, stupid, abusive, detrimental, and are a major obstacle in the way of peace.

The truth, as I learned later, is much more complicated, but to make a long story short, the settlements are used as a red herring and have literally nothing to do with the conflict – meaning the reason the Palestinians are mad at us and refuse allow us to have Israel – at all.

Why did I believe what I did? Simple. Everything I knew about Israel was gathered from the media or hearsay. Those who have been to or lived in Israel avoid talking about the conflict at all costs so as to avoid creating tension by having an uncommon viewpoint (I don’t blame them, it’s scary!) Nobody in my family has been to Israel in the last 15 years for longer than a week at a time, and when they did they remained blissfully unaware of the tensions and rarely interacted with native-born Israelis. Even Jewish advocacy groups tend to steer clear of the conflict – as an Israel advocate on campus I was advised to avoid mentioning the conflict at all costs as it will potentially create a negative connotation. So the only viewpoint I heard was the other side’s and the media’s.

A conversation I recently had with a woman I was best friends with since I was 17 (we recently grew apart) reminded me precisely how far I’ve come. I thought about it and realized that as recently as around 4 years ago, I held the same viewpoint that she did. It’s the viewpoint that the media feeds us. We have no idea what is going on in Israel on the ground, and the only info we get is through a very biased filter.

The conversation went like this:

Her: Why are the IDF so brutal?
Me: Brutal? They are just protecting themselves from hamas who literally kill indiscriminately
Her: but doesn’t everyone?
Me: Israel actually has the most precise air strike technology available
Civilians still die. It’s how it works sadly
and that shouldn’t happen either
Her: I know
and these kind of things breed hatred
Me: But they are accumulating weapons to attack Israel
The IDF just wants to destroy the weapons
So that they don’t kill Israelis
Her: but why wouldn’t they want to attack israel?
Me: Why would they?
Israel offered a 2 state solution a million times
The Palestinians want all or nothing
Her: their homes are being taken, they are being killed
i’m not familiar with the terms of the offers but i guess it has to do with that
It’s way more complicated than that
Me: it is complicated, no one’s denying it
Israel doesn’t want to kill anyone, it’s not their goal, their goal is to defend
Unfortunately people die in the process
Which I am against if they aren’t terrorists

Her: yeah ok except it keeps expanding
Me: It’s not expanding
It’s been the same since 1948
The expansion is a frequent falsehood people tell to obscure the truth
Her: once we start accusing the other party of creating falsehood, this is where conversation ends and all trust evaporates
i’ve heard both sides accusing the other side of creating falsehood
and it is systematically where people stop talking to each other and start resenting each other
and i’m not saying there isn’t falsehood
but accusing the other side of falsehood is cheap
Me: I wish they could talk to each other
I wrote an article about that
Her: but they aren’t ready to talk. and i’m not sure what it will take for them to be ready to talk to each other.
Me: http://www.israellycool.com/2015/08/05/the-biggest-mistakes-pro-israel-advocates-make-15-finale-how-to-see-the-big-picture/
problem we are dealing with is a miscommunication of emotions. From both sides. It is not black and white, and if there is one thing I could take back from my time in Israel, it would be that at the micro level, kindness is the language of coexistence.
Jews and Arabs can and should refuse to be enemies.
Jews and Arabs should pressure their governments (especially the PA) to promote peace and brotherhood, living side by side.
Her: very much so. in fact i find the whole “conversation” overseas to be wildly misguided, again from both sides
there is almost more hatred from outside, from people who have never lived there
and that’s not ok
Me: Absolutely.

By the end I had given up. My head was spinning, and the last thing I wanted to do was create more animosity by getting into the minutiae. She was never going to understand it. She isn’t invested in it, and neither is 99% of the population. They just passively take in news, hearing about the latest Israeli use of force without any context, or the latest Palestinian cry of wolf. They don’t ask Israelis about what they are going through, they don’t try to look up the history or motives behind certain altercations, they don’t really care. And why would they? Most people have things they are much more passionate about or that are much more pressing matters.

A lot of views held by individuals with Diasporitis are extrapolated from the situation in their country or are simply instinctive. An example would be opposing mandatory conscription for the IDF, or opposing IDF security presence in the Palestinian Territories. Many even oppose the IDF altogether: War is bad, army means war, therefore army is bad. The reason for the surprisingly high margin of support for the Iran deal among American Jews is not surprising when you take into account the epidemic scourge of Diasporitis.

Claiming or thinking, “We are the Jews! We should be better than that! Set a good example, be a light unto the nations! We should know better and hold ourselves and those who represent us to a higher standard and be the angels and the doves of the world!” is a unique trait of individuals with Diasporitis.

Back in 2012 when countries started recognizing a Palestinian state, I was all for it – after all, what could possibly be wrong with the Palestinians getting statehood at last? Then they could just have their own state and leave us alone, right? Who cares if they don’t recognize Israel, they’ll be much happier and less angry now that Israel is no longer occupying them, brutally destroying their dignity, imprisoning them for no reason, patrolling their streets, and hurting their economy, right? A state for you and a state for me. That sounded fair to me then.

I thought Bibi was a right wing jerk who had no sympathy for the Palestinians, and that Tzipi and Buji were the way to go. For a time I even supported Meretz. They seemed to be the only ones who truly cared about human rights and social justice for everyone, not just Jews. And I was appalled that Bibi wouldn’t recognize a Palestinian state – positively appalled! I was told it was because he was a racist – and I believed it!

I had Diasporitis. I had such bad case, as it tends to worsen in university when surrounded by passionate radicals, that I almost became an antizionist. I genuinely thought that if we dismantled the settlements and removed the blockade, that there would be peace in Israel and in Palestine, that we would all be holding hands and singing kumbaya. I believed it because it’s what I was taught. I was taught that we are all human, all cultures are equally good, war and anyone who fights it is bad as negotiation and diplomacy are always possible and always the better option, and the stronger party in a conflict is always the evil one. I saw the world through a purely Western lens, in an ironic attempt not to be ethnocentric. I was always pro-Israel and even engaged in J-Street-like advocacy (opposing BDS for example, but still conceding to a lot of unwarranted criticism), but I was infected nonetheless.

Is there a cure? I know I was cured. I remember precisely when and how. In December 2011, I moved to Singapore for an exchange program and lived with my boyfriend’s family until late Spring of 2012. His father is a professor of International Economics and a Mizrachi Jew with close family ties to Israel. I lived with them again from July 2013 to September 2014, where the curing intensified.

My boyfriend’s dad was obsessed with following the news, and cared deeply about what was going on in Israel. He would always call me downstairs when something related to Israel was on TV or send me links over the internet. He would debunk the media bias with his professorial logic and extensive knowledge and experience about what was happening on the ground. It was eye-opening. A lot of things I was previously confused about suddenly made sense, and I became more passionate and well-equipped in my defense of Israel. He also had history on his side: a man in his 80’s, he witnessed a lot of important parts of Israel’s history, including the announcements on the radio from the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin Hussaini, urging all the Muslims to get out of Israel to avoid becoming collateral damage in 1948. His passion was contagious, and he urged me to apply for an internship at the Israel on Campus Coalition, which I surprisingly got, despite being extremely naive even then in comparison to how I am today.

The final stretch of my treatment for Diasporitis was in 2013 when I moved to Singapore again, this time with my boyfriend. I thought we were going to settle down in Asia, but Hashem had other plans. At any rate, I wanted to understand and appreciate the cultural differences so that I would have an easier time adapting to South East Asian life. My boyfriend’s dad, having lived all over the world and on every continent except Antarctica for at least 10 years each, had taught a popular course on cultural differences and took it upon himself to impart his knowledge to me. He taught me about honour-shame culture, about individualist vs. collectivist cultures, and about tribalism (“my culture can do no wrong!”) He made it a point to not only teach it to me with examples from contemporary Asian society, but also from the Arab-Israeli conflict. He feels that a big part of why a disconnect exists between the diaspora and Israel is the fact that we do not recognize the cultural differences between Western and Arab culture, but Israelis do, so they process the information differently and react differently. Learning about these differences, in addition to experiencing Asian culture (which has very similar values and guiding principles to Arab culture) for myself, caused a lot of things to fall into place.

I understand that not everyone is lucky enough to have a mentor to guide him or her out of Diasporitis, which is why I don’t flinch or judge when I hear the same tropes again and again by those inflicted. However I think as informed Jews and Israelis who understand what is going on in Israel, we have a duty to help heal the Jewish world of Diasporitis. Inform diaspora Jews about what is really going on. Reach out to them without sounding threatening or belittling. It’s not their fault they are this way, they are merely a product of the diaspora society we live in.

However, the most important role here are Israelis. Israelis need to start reaching out to and befriending people in the diaspora. They need to start sharing their stories, their experiences of daily living that often contradicts what diaspora Jews hear about in the media. Israelis, I know you take your lives – and being in a Zionist bubble – for granted, but relationship-building is the best way to generate sympathy for your cause. I know it isn’t black and white, but there is so much more to the story than is typically assumed, and the shades of grey are not where one would expect. Who better to learn the nuance of the conflict from than Israelis themselves?

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Lex

Lex is a trained comedy actor who is Montreal's second-favourite export aside from poutine.