Something very sad is happening today, and while this subject isn’t exactly welcome here, and I don’t have anything momentous to say about it, I wanted to say a few words. The sad thing that is happening is the elections in Israel.
Bibi Netanyahu is probably about to become the next Prime Minister of Israel, which brings me no joy. But the cause of the bulk of my sadness about this election, other than the fact that I will not be traveling to Israel to vote, is that if the polls are correct, Avigdor Leiberman’s Yisrael Beitanu party will gain the third-highest vote total, giving him a significant increase in power, and making the Labour party the fourth-largest party in Israel for the first time in Israeli history.
I’m not going to recap for anyone why Leiberman’s ascent is a cause for sadness; if you don’t already know, so much the better for you, honestly. I’m not surprised in the least it makes me very sad. The idea of an Israel where that is possible is an Israel which is almost unrecognizable to me.
But I’m quite surprised by how surprised I am. After all, there is a rich legacy of politicians like Leiberman succeeding in parliamentary governments. Jeffrey Goldberg today calls Leiberman “the German word for Le Pen” – others have compared him to Pim Fortuyn. I suppose it is meant to comfort us to know that the Israelis are no more awful than the French, but of course that is no comfort at all.
But it makes me think, about how last week I saw one of my oldest, dearest friends. He and I went to Israel together over a decade ago; now, he is in seminary on his way to becoming a Rabbi. And somehow, our conversation turned to how utterly disturbed both of us were by the tenor of everyone we know’s Facebook status messages during the recent violence in Gaza. And from there, somehow, we ended up talking about how one of the great taboos is to talk about how the Shoah, and anti-Semitism in general, has traumatized all Jews everywhere. Not in the childish way that some suggest that Israelis, having been abused by the Nazis, have become the abuser. But in how this violation of Jews not that long ago remains a violation of Jews living today. You can’t say that. It sounds too much like there is something wrong with us, and you can’t say that.
But then today, as I sadly watch the returns from Israel, I think about how just in the last few weeks, there have been attacks on synagogues in Venezuela. How a British diplomat had to be arrested after going on an anti-Semitic tirade at the gym. How Israeli tourists are getting shot in malls in Denmark, and the reaction is for Danish schools to tell Jewish kids they shouldn’t enroll in school. Shit like this just doesn’t happen to other people. All over the world, there is a chance you might get killed any moment if someone knows you are a Jew. Not a very big chance, but there aren’t a lot of Jews. There are a dozen cities with more citizens than there are Jews in the world.
And I understand a bit better how so many people can say “Fuck y’all”, and vote for a Leiberman. It doesn’t make me any less sad, or even less confused. But I understand, more than I’d like to, how it happens.