Tourism, Israel and Angry Commentators


This post about socially responsible tourism in Israel over at Jewcy by University of Denver Jewish Studies professor David Shneer is intriguing if only for the barrage of rather mean-spirited angry comments following the article. While the article as a whole was a quick look into the newish world of socially responsible tourism in Israel (I wonder what socially irresponsible tourism is? fat Americans with fanny packs?), the comments were um, somewhat off. Shneer writes:

Two colleagues of mine recently made a trip to Hebron, the city in the West Bank in which Palestinians and Israeli settlers live with their hair standing on end, baring teeth at one another ready for attack. The trip was organized by Breaking the Silence, a group of former Israeli soldiers, who show tourists what the Israeli army is being asked to do to protect the settlers and cow the local Palestinian residents into submission. One person described it as a twisted Disneyland, another as a zoo, watching people live their lives sealed off behind barbed wire.

Shneer talks at length about the separation barrier/wall that cuts through Jerusalem built by Sharon during the violence of the Second Intifada and concludes:

Socially responsible travel recognizes that tourism is too often about not engaging the place to which one travels. It’s instead about searching out fantasies like those in the photo spreads of Maxim [see this and this–funny]. But tourists have power: they can support or destroy local economies, and support or resist political and social situations that a traveler might find reprehensible at home. When tourists spend their dollars in countries like China visiting the Great Wall and the Forbidden City, should they also be invested in encouraging political change by meeting dissident journalists and Falun Gong members? Separation barrier tourists, both Jewish and not, are choosing to engage, to see political realities that are usually masked by the tour guides on their overly air conditioned buses that zoom from place to place. In the future, as people become more sensitive to the political implications of their travel choices, perhaps a visit to the separation wall will become a standard stop on the average tourist’s visit to Israel.

Ok, that’s nice. It doesn’t really seem too controversial to me. However, whatever your view on the political situation in Israel, there seems to be a general incapacity to speak about it in any sober minded, thoughtful manner. Generally, such discourse is filled with knee jerk reactions and general soft-headedness. However, that’s not really what this post is about–have a look at some of these very angry, vitriolic comments:

I have some suggestions. The writer of this screed should include taking tourists to family members of terror victims and have them throw stones and ridicule the family members. This would make everyone feel good and self-important.

Or this one:

Dark side, what dark side? Trying to stop suicide bombers and building barriers to do so is that the dark side I’d like to see tourists being taken to bombed out restaurants or better still to go to Sderot while the rockets are falling on the town. These tourists should be grateful that they don’t face the threat of suicide bombers while they see “the dark side.” Maybe they should pray at the barrier walls as if it were the Wailing Wall.

Finally, this one:

What is “socialy (sic) responsible” about swallowing Arab propaganda about the supposed injustice of the barrier and of checkpoints and calling them israel’s “dark side”? If the Arabs/Muslims weren’t so wedded to their deatch cult of suicide terrorism against Jews, there would be no need for the barrier. Israel could, and would, take down the barrier in a second if the Arabs and Muslims were serious about peace and stopped their endless terror. Causing people some delays and hardships at checkpoints is a small price to pay for stopping terrorism. And those who suffer the delays and hardships have only their fellow Arabs and Muslims to blame, not Israel.

Wow, angry. Here’s another comment:

What could be worse than the suggestion contained in this thread than for Jews who have never been to Israel to first see Israel as “socially responsible” by taking a tour of the barrier–in the same way one might visit social dissidents in China? Huh? What an outrage! This is surely an Arab propagandist’s dream. Get young Jews to protest Israel and actually have them come to Israel–not to find their Jewish roots or the Jewish souls–but to make common cause with those who wish to destroy them! Under the banner of being socially responsible–the argument that it is vital to see how the Arabs have been harmed is quite a contortion. Indeed, news of Arab suffering at the hands of the Jews is such a commonplace accusation–we hardly need it to come from the Jews themselves–wanting to give the phony accusation needed credibility. The Protocols of the Elders of Zion are so popular, what would happen if Jews started to announce that the book was actually partially true?

As far as I could tell, it didn’t seem that Shneer’s short post was anything close to Arab propaganda (don’t they mean anti-Israel propaganda?), suggested that all tours be geared towards understanding the Palestinian side alone, and finally, I don’t think he ever tried to suggest that tourists who travel to Israel should/would/could align themselves with “those who want to destroy them.” For some reason, all of these comments are very interesting to me. One thing I always wonder is what people find so threatening about Israel that produces such defensive “positions” expressed in the comments above.

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16 thoughts on “Tourism, Israel and Angry Commentators

  1. Those that are blinded by religious-based bias are unable to see the atrocities committed in the name of democracy. Israel is an illegitimate state created through an arrangement through Balfour and the Zionists. National sovereignty and territorial borders are only created through armed conflict and brute force, not U.N. resolutions.

  2. “National sovereignty and territorial borders are only created through armed conflict and brute force, not U.N. resolutions.”

    Sadly for you, it’s still against international law to establish sovereignty any other way. (Check out the Peace of Westphalia of 1648.) I don’t think that there’s any proof that violent invasions are somehow more effective (or more permanent) than diplomacy. If you’re arguing that the Palestinians should invade and take their land back, this displacement of Israelis would be as bad as the original displacement of Palestinians. How would that solve anything? Or, for that matter, establish any sort of more permanent soveriegnty? Wouldn’t it just turn around and Israelis would become stateless peoples?

  3. Wow, johnnypeepers, your comment pretty much illustrates my point about Israel, soft-headedness and knee jerk reactions. What exactly are you responding to?

    You make so many mistakes in your comment I don’t even know where to start. Let’s see, for starters, maybe you shouldn’t equate Jewish, Israeli and Zionist. Those are three very different things.

    Second, your suggestion that Israel is an “illegitimate state” is quite inaccurate and borders on the very “religious-based bias” you seem so eager to point out on the Israeli side (as I said, you however seem to like to reduce everything to the formula Zionist=Jewish=Israeli). Illegitimate compared to what? If you are suggesting violence is a better thing than say, a UN resolution, see the comment by Niki above, no need to restate that obvious. In fact, the rejection of the partition plan in 1947 by the Arab nations, I think, demonstrated an unwillingness to recognize the existence of a Jewish state in the region. Neither the Jews nor the Arabs were fully satisfied with the plan calling for a division of British-mandated Palestine into two states, with Jerusalem as an international city, and there was much internal opposition. Giving the Jews only 12 percent of the land promised to them in the Balfour declaration, and drawing borders for the new state which were virtually indefensible, the plan was a difficult compromise for many. On the other side, the Arab nations desired full control over the land of Palestine and the Arab people in the region. Both peoples had the same goal; either one or both had to settle for less than their ideal. Israel accepted the partition plan despite its less-than-ideal solution, understanding the need to compromise. It was the Arab nations who refused the plan and gathered their armies to wage battle against Israel. Had the Arabs accepted the plan in 1947 there would have been an Arab state alongside the Jewish State of Israel. Let’s not re-write history, peepers.

    Niki, I don’t think “peepers” has any argument at all. Just a bunch of bloated chest pounding. [I almost felt bad about that crossed out comment, I don’t want to fall victim to the very thing I’m critiquing after all].

    Thanks Johnnypeepers for making my point about general conversation about the political situation in Israel.

  4. Nobody is allowed to say anything that doesn’t 100% support Israel being allowed to do whatever they want to “ensure their survival.” If anything is said, diatribes results and the wailing of “Anti-Semite” can be heard across the net.

    There is no distinction in the minds of Jews between “Jewish, Israeli and Zionist.” Denounce Israel’s behavior or denounce the Zionists as being no different than Hamas, and the Jews from all over the world will be arrayed against you – well, if they here about it they will be.

  5. Wow, we’re really attracting winning comments., all of which are illustrating my point quite clearly. Why I’m going to engage this I just don’t know. Here goes.

    Jonalan,

    You say: “There is no distinction in the minds of Jews between “Jewish, Israeli and Zionist.””

    Umm…are you serious? Are you really speaking for all Jews? In fact, I may use this as an example of fallacious reasoning for my Logic class next semester. So thank you for that.

    You also say (rather hyberbolically): “Nobody is allowed to say anything that doesn’t 100% support Israel being allowed to do whatever they want to “ensure their survival.” If anything is said, diatribes results and the wailing of “Anti-Semite” can be heard across the net.

    In fact, if you read the article at Jewcy, you’d see how wrong you are. There is a tendency towards this reactionary way of thinking, as I noted above in the post, but again, come on, let’s not generalize. Let’s just not pretend those expressions are anything less than minority voices.

    Again, thanks for proving my point about the general knee-jerk types of reasoning when dealing with the political situation in Israel.

  6. i don’t think that true, Jonolan, i mean many people say it like it’s true but it is not – if you check out even a very small number of sources like Israeli newspapers, you will see that it is not the case – arguably though, some people want it to be that way, including some Jews (which, i suppose, you youself are using without any distinction between citizens of a state, members of a religion and ideologues of zionism) but it is easy to see – if you are honestly concerned with the issue – that the actual situation “on the ground” is much more complex.

  7. My opinion is based on repeated anecdotal evidence and the results of speaking against Israel in the media. Jewish groups – some very mainstream – instantly claim antisemitism. It’s gets a little hard to believe that this is a “minority opinion.”

    Shahar,

    Before you attack my logic, perhaps you should test it. Put up some posts denouncing some of Israel’s more controversial actions. Put up some posts denouncing the actions and views of the Zionists. See the responses you get; I’m betting most will be vile and most will make no distinction between anti-Israel or Anti-Zionist and Antisemitism.

  8. Mikhail, I don’t believe every Jew feels this way, but the silent ones don’t really matter in the court of public opinion do they? i believe that in common parlance there’s no distinction made between hating Jews and disliking Zionism or Israel’s extreme actions, not to the vocal Jews or the powerful Jewish groups that back Israel in world affairs.

    Face it, after The Holocaust, antisemitism became a perfect charge to level at their opponents. Kind of like calling any US politician who doesn’t support our actions in Iraq “Soft on Terror.”

  9. point taken, Jonolan, i suppose i am not as informed about the issues, but i do know that if there’s a dissent then it is not wise to generalize – as for accusation of anti-semitism and all that, one cannot really avoid that kind of rhetoric…

  10. Ok, Jonolan. You are really missing the point, in fact, the equation Israeli=Jewish=Zionist cuts both ways and you are repeating the same mistake as the commentators to the Jewcy post. Yes, at times “the defenders of Israel at all costs” utilize this logic in the same way that those who are anti-Israel use the same logic.

    The initial post was about how a simple post about socially responsible tourism in Israel produced a bunch of rather reactionary comments that quite frankly, missed the mark.

    Your evidence, which you say is anecdotal, and in fact, I noted above, doesn’t really amount to anything. You cannot generalize from a particular instance, or group of instances, to paint a picture of the whole, as if that composite whole is reflected in reality each and every time. I’m not completely disagreeing with you, yes, at times people defer to reactionary rhetoric in face of criticism of Israel, but we shouldn’t be pretending that this is the only discourse about the political situation there, nor should we need to fall into that discourse unnecessarily as you seem to think happens automatically.

    You then say to Mikhail above: “Face it, after The Holocaust, antisemitism became a perfect charge to level at their opponents.”

    Not quite, only if you equate Israeli=Zionist=Jewish. Not so. I too agree that antisemitism=anti-Israel is not the best or most accurate rhetorical manner to proceed, but certainly there are critics in Israel and abroad that disagree publicly with some of the more aggressive Israeli policies.
    Please, let’s not be disingenuous.

  11. Shahar,

    If this were mathematics you would be absolutely correct. This is sociodynamics though. When working with a set as large as any cultural group, extrapolation is essential to achieve and predictive result. Then you filter out both ends of the spectrum of responses and go with the normative result.

    Essentially, applying mathematically pure logic to social issues is non productive – though a great counterpoint that is essential – IMO – for sanity checking the predictions.

    As to the original post – LOL, I think I have to agree that I helped prove its point!

  12. I sometimes wonder if it’s possible to have a ‘rational’ discussion on this matter. But instead of addressing this issue, I thought I would illustrate the non-identity of Zionism, being jewish, (and presumably being israeli) with the following anecdote:

    Last year, when I was home in Montreal, perusing books at the Gallimard store on St. Laurent, I bumped into a guy with a huge Jew-fro and a black leather jacket. His gang affiliation was emblazoned on the back: Jews against Zionism and Against Israel.

    I would have taken a picture, but (1) I was afraid of getting my ass kicked, and (2) I didn’t have a camera….

  13. Hi, Alexei.

    If not a “rational” discussion, then at the very least, civil and dare I say, “transparent.” Anyway, fear of physical violence is no reason to forgo a chance at capturing forever a moment of humor! Reason number 2, however, I find a bit more acceptable, and perhaps even forgivable… 🙂

    Jonalan,

    I’m glad you saw the point. However, I don’t see where I was applying mathematical formulas to social issues. Rather, I was pointing out the false identity of three disparate terms that often lead to misunderstandings, falsities and confusion when mobilized as the condition of any discussion about the political situation in Israel. Your notion of prediction is somewhat of a misnomer. While I am not going to detail the differences between necessary conditions, sufficient conditions, and necessary and sufficient conditions in causation, let me just point out Hume’s critique of induction in the Enquiry as a sort of extreme, but helpful position to illustrate what I mean:

    “We have said that all arguments concerning existence are founded on the relation of cause and effect; that our knowledge of that relation is derived entirely from experience; and that all our experimental conclusions proceed upon the supposition that the future will be conformable to the past. To endeavour, therefore, the proof of this last supposition by probable arguments, or arguments regarding existence, must be evidently going in a circle, and taking that for granted, which is the very point in question.”

    Then, a few pages later:

    “A person suddenly brought into the world would not, at first, by any reasoning, be able to reach the idea of cause and effect; since the particular powers, by which all natural operations are performed, never appear to the senses; nor is it reasonable to conclude, merely because one event, in one instance, precedes another, that therefore the one is the cause, the other the effect. Their conjunction may be arbitrary & casual.”

    An argument starts with some set of premises, statements etc. and attempts to reason from those premises to some conclusion. A circular argument is one in which the Conclusion itself shows up as a Premise. Circular arguments fail to justify their conclusions because they assume what they try to prove. You can prove anything if you are allowed to assume that thing as a premise. Anyway, Hume’s point is that all the arguments people might pose for their belief in induction are circular, and hence worthless. Even “practical” arguments such as “‘assuming that induction is legitimate is better than not assuming it” are circular as well. If you simply assume that induction is a legitimate form of reasoning, things will only work out better for you if in fact the future resembles the past. Or in this case, much more generally, that the unobserved resembles the observed (however small your sample).

  14. Pingback: Rosenzweig, Religion and Politics « Perverse Egalitarianism

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