By SETH J. FRANTZMAN
Recently a burly, loud, white man has been shouting at people in Israel and the West Bank. The first video I saw he was in Hebron accosting Israeli soldiers and Jewish Ultra-Orthodox men, asking them why Palestinians appear to be kept on one side of the street from Jewish residents. Hebron is a focus of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and as such attracts many activists. It is a perfect symbol for all that is wrong with Israel’s fifty year military rule over the West Bank and millions of Palestinians. It is a flashpoint for violence. So it’s understandable foreign activists are attracted to its background as a place to protest or to use as a backdrop for a video about what they view as the abuses of Israeli rule.
In the first video the large muscular man shouts at Jewish people walking by asking them why Palestinians can’t walk where they want and asking what they think of Arabs. Then he turns his lens on two soldiers. The soldiers don’t understand him and the woman soldier giggles. He shouts “look at the arrogance.” He doesn’t ask them about what brought them to Hebron, that they were drafted into the army and that perhaps they don’t agree with what they have been sent to do. That’s understandable, for him they are just soldiers, a cliche in uniform.
The filmmaker has now turned his lens on Jerusalem. During what appears to be Ultra-Orthodox protests against the draft in Jerusalem he wandered next to where police were trying to keep traffic flowing and shouted at the police and also Ultra-Orthodox men and children walking by. “What do you think of the Palestinians,” he shouted again and again until he found a few children that answered. They looked to be in their teens or maybe younger. Wearing the white shirts and black pants that ultra-Orthodox Jews wear, they answered back “terrorists.” The white westerner now had his money shot. Here were the “Jews” calling Arabs “terrorists” and now they could be stereotypes and othered and demonized on camera. He didn’t ask their names or their ages or where they are from. he just kept the camera in their face, sometimes with off-hand comments like “this is great.” When he caught sight of an Arab child walking by he put his camera in the Arab kid’s face and said “are you Palestinian, here’s who I want to hang out with.”
In so doing he created an apartheid system on camera. There were the people he wants to hang out with that are from one group, and the people he seeks to get a rise out of, who he tries to film saying something racist, so he can demonize the whole group. In each case he has set out to film Orthodox Jews because they can be easily identified as Jewish. He doesn’t film average Israelis, who are mostly not religious and hold diverse views on Palestinians. He wants to only film religious Jews, and he wants to color their responses. If they speak English he tries to bait them into saying negative things about Arabs, or he assumes their views for them.
Israel is one of the only countries that inspires this kind of hatred. It is the only country that western white people feel they can hate entirely and generalize about. Whereas the same European people from the West, from Australia or the UK or the US don’t feel comfortable generalizing about all Turkish people, or all Bulgarians or all Algerians, or all Vietnamese or Mexicans, they feel no qualms about Israel. For a select few, like this filmmaker, Israel is a stage and on it are characters they can hate.
Many of these kinds of people who hate Israel use it to make up for their own feelings of privilege. Many of them come from countries that practiced slavery, imperialism, genocide, slavery and the Inquisition. It wasn’t so long ago that their countries officially banned Jewish people or kept people of color from immigrating. Their hatred of Israel and particularly their attempt to demonize and other all religious Jewish people is part of their subconscious or perhaps more clearly defined, racism. In a world where racism is often seen as unacceptable in the West, it is acceptable so long as the people you hate can be portrayed as “racists.” So going to Israel and shouting at every Jewish religious person in order to get a few on camera to say something rotten, is a way to other and spread racism against Jewish people in general.
People say that hatred of Israel is often just opposition to its policies. Just opposition to Israeli rule in the West Bank. It’s not anti-semitism, not racism, they say. If that were true then why would a filmmaker come to Israel and target only Orthodox Jews for comments about Palestinians? Why would he say openly when he sees an Arab “here are the people I want to hang out with.” Why doesn’t he point his camera at the rulers of Israel, or the major banks and companies who do business in the West Bank, why not point it at other Israelis? Why find only one group that dresses similarly to film? Why not ask the ultra-Orthodox what they were doing on the street? They were protesting the army draft, right? Some of them don’t want to serve in the army. Some oppose the state of Israel. Some refuse to vote. Most do not live in the West Bank. So why choose to demonize them, the people least responsible for Israel’s policies, the people least involved in enforcing those policies or benefiting from them? Because the westerner needs the Orthodox as stand-ins as identifiable other. If he showed diverse groups of Israeli Jewish people, they wouldn’t so easily fit a look-alike similar group.
Viewers would be surprised to see many who are not racist, who are just normal people, just average people who work and love and do the things people in the West do, and also are like Palestinians as well. The filmmaker cannot see them as human because he has decided they are targets. He cannot allow them to speak for themselves, he wants to put them in a box and he has decided the response that will come from the box. He shouts at people who don’t speak his language and then colonizes their views, taking away their agency. He colonizes their views just as his ancestors colonized parts of the world. For his foray into Israel is essentially a colonial foray and his view of the country is an apartheid one. He has segregated it in what he shows on camera. When a westerner shouts at a non-English speaker and when they don’t respond or say they don’t understand English, and he says “look at the arrogance,” he has colonized them.
Our societies have generally decided to put a stop to western colonization. Only with Israel does it tend to continue. When you see a film that colonizes Israel and the Palestinians, you must challenge it and its generalization, demonizing and stereotypes.