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.