How to write another cliche-ridden article on Israel and feel good about yourself: Tips and pitfalls

By SETH J. FRANTZMAN

When it comes to writing about Israel there is a very specific niche for expressing an opinion about the country. Obviously Israel is a big topic, especially in the West. In English language media it is one of the most disproportionately popular topics to write on, given the country’s relatively small size. Every week legacy media carry opeds about Israel. So does new media. Without “naming names,” there are many newspapers in the UK and US that feature articles about the most minor events in Israel that they would never consider printing about any other country.

Within the world of ideas on Israel, one of the most popular niches is what some call the  “leftist” or “liberal Zionist” interpretation of Israeli politics. This is a very specific, often self-defined, explanation for Israel. It is not purely a normative leftist view, because it tends to accept the underpinnings of Israel as an ethnic nation state. At the same time it poses as leaning to the “liberal” end of the political spectrum, while also claiming to be “Zionist” or at least embracing its own interpretation of “Zionism.” This separates it from voices such as Tony Judt that believed Zionism and Israel were a kind of anachronism, out of step with the trend in the West towards building a massive multi-cultural borderless state.

Because articles that explicitly support destroying Israel are not in vogue, and neither are openly right wing articles, the best course to take is the ostensibly “liberal” or “left” approach. Not “centrist,” because no one likes centrists. Everyone knows that people who pretend to be “centrist” are either right wingers are just pretending to be good.

Here are some tips about how to talk about Israel in the most cliche-ridden way

Israel is at risk of becoming a “one state” or “binational state” so it must divorce the Palestinians

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Real friends give tough love to Israel, enemies embrace its righting nationalist thuggish government

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The West, especially America, should intervene to force a solution on Israel

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I don’t support BDS but I think a selective, targeted boycott of some settlements is ok

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Settlement blocks are good, everyone knows they will be part of Israel in an agreement, but hilltops and illegal settlements and outposts are bad

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Israel is becoming too religious

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Haredim and Arab demographics threaten Israel’s future

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Israel has amazing culture, it’s movie industry is very critical so we should embrace that

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Kibbutzim are beautiful and utopian

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Israel was an egalitarian utopia in the 1950s when it was more European, we need to go back to that

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I can speak on behalf of Arabs (even though I’ve never met any), and what is best for them, and integration 

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Israel shouldn’t import “fake Jews” or “wannabe Jews” and Russians are “not Jewish” (even though I’ve never met any)

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Israel is at risk of becoming fascist/ISIS/Iran

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Israel must let in migrants because we were strangers once

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Israel’s laws sometimes remind me of the 1930s

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This year is probably the last chance for peace

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Israel and American Jews are growing apart because of Israel’s government

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Anti-semites support Israel and the extreme right in Europe and Trump support Israel, therefore Israel supports the extreme right, and therefore Israel is embracing anti-semites, so therefore non anti-semites must be critical of Israel

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We can’t identify with Israel unless it is more European, more like us and our values

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African refugees should be settled in Israel and Israel must act out of tikkun olam and be a light unto the nations 

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We need to help beduin, who are indigenous like Native-Americans, they make up 25% of the Negev but only own 4% of the land, Israel denies them land rights

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I volunteered in Israel once, or I lived on a kibbutz, it was a formative experience

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While I don’t accept pro-BDS and pro-Hamas voices, we should understand them and be more inclusive, it’s anti-free speech and against freedom of expression not to

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Hamas has become more moderate and accepts Israel

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I am disgusted by Miri Regev, Netanyahu, Liberman, Aryeh Deri, and Zoabi

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The right wing opposes something and is a threat to democracy and that’s why we should have Nakba Day events or whatever the right opposes

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I once met an Arab in a taxi so now I know how they all think

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Personal anecdotes about growing up in luxury and visiting Israel and how may parents told me it was a utopia and a miracle of 1967 and then I woke up and became more nuanced and critical

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Have you heard of the latest coexistence baseball/tennis/yoga group, it’s amazing

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Did you know Israel innovated in something that will save Africa or some other place

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Israel is super innovative, it’s a start-up nation, tomatoes taste better here

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I went to a coexistence meeting and made peace, why can’t the politicians do it if I can, I mean we just need to accept eachother’s narratives

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Of course we support peace, but Israel has many enemies and we must be careful, it is surrounded by enemies, its concerns should be understood

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If Yitzhak Rabin had not been assassinated Israel would have made peace and it would be almost perfect today. 

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It’s terrible that there is a right wing government in Israel, ever since 1977 when the right came to power the country has been slowly destroyed and doesn’t represent my values

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Israel could be saved by: Name former elderly political leader offering proposal

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The Arab parties in Israel (which I can’t name and don’t know the difference between) should support the Left and then we can have a new government in Israel, by not supporting the Left they are not helping themselves, they don’t know what’s good for them (even though I’ve never asked them and have no idea what Hadash or Ra’am Ta’al is)

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When telling the story of Israel always gloss over discrimination against Mizrahim because it is an inconvenient issue that might confuse people and make them think Israel wasn’t perfect, anyway why talk about the “ethnic demon,” I mean there is a lot of intemarriage, and they just have a chip on their shoulder, they are mostly racist and support Beitar anyway, and of course I care about the periphery but let’s not resurrect these old discussions

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Israel is too militarist but I am disgusted that Haredim resist the draft, we need to have more army service

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Make sure to mention Ahad Ha’am or Hannah Arendt 

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Some new law I haven’t read and don’t understand probably spells the end of Israeli democracy

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A new settlement in Jerusalem, which I don’t know where is exactly, will cut off Bethlehem and Ramallah from Jerusalem, even though they are already cut off, and that’s terrible

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Settlers are an obstacle to peace, except for the settlement blocks, but the others ones are

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According to this elderly Israeli (name famous author, politician, commentator), and obviously what he (it’s always a he) says must be correct

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Israelis all think this or that (I’ve never actually asked them what they think but I assume I know because a few told me this or that)

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Jabotinsky or Begin would never be members of the Likud today, they would all be on the left 

 

 

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