Imbeciles abroad

November 8th, 2009
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I had the good fortune to participate in a tour of Israel last week.  It was a fantastic opportunity to learn, by direct observation, many things that one has difficulty imagining from a distance of thousands of miles. Needless to say, many of the myths, lies and controversies about this troubled land were exploded immediately upon arrival and as the trip progressed. I can share only a few of these here, but hope to relate a couple of the most important ones.

What is immediately striking about Israel is that it’s a First World country in a Third World region. The infrastructure is modern, efficient, the cities vibrant and clean. Even the old city of Jerusalem with what, 5000 years of grime?, is a showcase of cleanliness and, wait for it, doesn’t smell! Having been in the old markets of several Middle Eastern cities this is a huge accomplishment. And of course a boon for the tourist.

Then there’s the water. You can drink it. No worries about salad, un-peeled fruit and Hepatitis C in your ice cube. What a concept in this region of the world (although I’m told the Gulf states also have modern sanitation).

Aside from the advance of the new anti-Semitism, often masked as anti-Zionism or simply fervent opposition to Israel’s policies, the country faces an immediate PR problem. It is rich and the surrounding lands are poor.

This contrast draws an immediate reaction from the average western observer. I’m thinking particularly of the Euro-journo or politician, the “mainstream” North American scribes.  With apologies to Mark Twain, these are no “innocents abroad“. They have been raised on a watered-down Marxist worldview, where any disparity in wealth must be due to one group stealing from another, exploiting another, oppressing another. So the “answer” to the Israeli-Palestinian wealth disparity derives neatly from this pre-formed worldview.

The Israelis must be the oppressors, the Palestinians the oppressed. There is no way that the obvious Israeli wealth could have been earned, could have been accumulated through hard work – blood, sweat and tears. In this way, at least  part of the new anti-Semitism is very similar to the old.

I think the ideological explanation of this attitude is more likely than people simply rooting for the underdog. Who, after all is the underdog? Do you compare Palestinians to Israelis, or the Israeli’s isolated to the surrounding states of this hostile region?

Unfortunately, this is not an easy logic, or illogic to dispel. The “evidence” is there but the conclusion is wrong.

I don’t have the space here, nor likely the knowledge to unravel more of the complexities of the region. Problem is, I think many of the “opinion leaders” in politics and the media have as little understanding as I do, and they’re also burdened by their ideological baggage. For Israel, it might be beneficial to better understand these biases if they want to better fight the PR war.

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By John Weissenberger