By SETH J. FRANTZMAN
The bodies were not even in the ground when the commentators came running. They have their theories about why 10 youth died in a flash flood. It can’t just be a flash flood. It cannot just be a series of mistakes. Mistakes don’t happen. It’s Israel. Israel is to blame. Flash floods kill people all over the world. My father worked on an outdoor program in Texas where a student died in a flash flood many years ago. But in Israel when it happens, it is Israel’s fault.
So how to blame the country? Well, what’s needed is some cliches. I will use one oped as an example. It can be found at this link.
“It was a very avoidable human disaster,” writes the author. The author doesn’t list any expertise that he has in hiking or outdoors activities. But he knows. It’s avoidable. Every disaster is always avoidable in retrospect.
Then we need to remind the readers how great Israel is, in case they’ve forgotten. Ahh, yes, the “Israel is a young country.” Oh, it’s accomplished sooooo much in such as short time. And actually it’s because of this special Israeli culture of a country “cobbled together in a hurry” that Israelis are the way they are. You see, the country was carved out of a “backwater” and now it is a “high-tech powerhouse.”
Hmmm. How long with the Israeli claim to being “young” work? Seventy years? Nope, that’s still “young.” 100 years? 200 years? It will always be so “young.” But is it “young”? Aren’t MOST countries in the world actually younger than Israel? Most African states received independence in the 1960s. That’s not part of Israel’s narrative about how everything in Israel is so interesting because it’s so young. But actually almost every country in the world is younger. Eastern European states only emerged from the Soviet chains in the 1990s. Most Asian states received independence more recently than Israel. Vietnam only emerged from a brutal war in the 1970s. The Gulf States, that are actually economic powerhouses more than Israel, are much younger. They emerged in the 1970s also and were truly a “backwater” just decades ago.
So what’s so great an unique about Israel in this respect? It’s not young. It’s old. What did Silicon Valley look like in 1948 when Israel was born? Wasn’t it also young? Didn’t it also create high-tech relatively recently? Why is it different than Tel Aviv? Why is Israel different than Singapore or the advances in China? It’s not different. It’s not “young.”
What’s next for the cliche-oped? Well we need to take some small part of Israeli society and then blame the whole country for it. The author accuses Israel of overusing the terms “‘Al Tidag’ (don’t worry) or ‘Yihiyeh B’seder’ (It will be ok.)” Now, remember, no evidence is presented that Israelis all use these terms. Because we are just told they do. They all do this. Do they? I don’t know. But the author knows. “The problem is, is that this cavalier attitude prevails throughout Israel and few think twice about it.”
Then we learn that the author has been in Israel for “several years.” Well, that’s enough to know most of the country. Certainly enough to know what mentality might have guided those who led youth on a trip that resulted in death.
Then we get to the real message. Israelis “Speed, cut lanes without looking, don’t use your car indicators.” And the author complains that one can’t walk as a “civilized pedestrian” across a cross-walk. “It is the reason why Israel’s car accident fatality rate is so worryingly high.” The behavior of Israelis is not “western” the author claims.
Ahhh, yes, here’s the real conclusion. “Western and genuinely modern countries simply do no behave like this.” One can hear the arrogant attitude of the author scolding the bad non-western Israel. Oh it’s not “genuinely modern.” Ahh, it’s not “modern.” And what is “modern”? What is “western.”
You see, Israel isn’t really “modern” and “Western.” It’s not “one of us” European countries that the author wants it to be. Oh no! Oh, tragedy! Israel is not Western enough. Western and modern tend to be code words for “white” in articles. Israel isn’t enough mini-Switzerland, or some mini-version of an imagined America or Europe. It’s not “western.”
Oh no. You see….Israel is in the MIDDLE EAST. Isn’t that odd? Isn’t it odd that Israel is in the Middle East, and yet the author is very concerned that it is not “western.”
And that’s how lots of opeds are written about Israel. It’s not western. You’re right, it’s not. It’s in the Middle East. Wake up. Wake up. Israel’s neighbors are Egypt, Lebanon, Syria and Jordan. You see, those are Middle Eastern countries. For some reason some Israelis want Israel to be little Denmark, but it’s not. Israel is in the Middle East.
If Israelis don’t behave like people do in Holland, then they are called not “modern.” But Israelis are very modern. Just like China or Qatar. You see, don’t mistake being western with being “modern.” People might not all wait for pedestrians at a cross-walk, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t modern.
The only thing this cliche-ridden nonsense teaches us is what the author thinks and imagines about Israel. The author wants Israel to be mini-western Europe with the mentality and behavior of rural UK or something. But wake up, Israel isn’t that. Israel is made up of people from all over the world, many of them from central and eastern Europe or the Middle East.
You’re right, it’s not Western. It is modern though. And the reason that some youth died in a tragic accident is not because Israel isn’t “western” or “modern” or “civilized.”
Did you know that 100 people die every year climbing Mont Blanc in the heart of Europe. So why is that “civilized” and “modern” and “western.” Because when western, (usually meaning “white”) people die climbing mountains it’s considered “civilized” and “western.” Then, no one says it is a “very avoidable human disaster.” Nope. Because when westerners do dangerous things like base jumping it’s fine. If people die doing the same thing in Egypt then it’s “not western” and “avoidable.”
So when you hear the words “This simply doesn’t exist in a western, modern” country think about the assumptions, many of them regarding race and culture, that underpin these terms. Israelis died in a tragic flood. Instead of just accepting that, the entire culture of Israel is attacked for not being “western” enough.