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A liberal Jewish journalist in Israel wonders where her allegiance lies

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A man in central Jerusalem on April 19, 2010, Israel’s Memorial Day, or Yom Hazikaron. (Marco Longari/AFP/Getty Images)
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One-State Illusion

On Israel’s left and right, calls for binationalism are gaining ground. But the idea is a betrayal of Zionism, and of Judaism.

In the fourth grade, I stopped saying the pledge of the allegiance. While the other children clapped their hands to their hearts, I stood, my arms limp, lips still. It was not an act of rebellion, nor did I intend to disrespect the United States. I’d simply decided—after several classmates had tried to convert me to Christianity—that we were not “one nation, under God, indivisible.” As a Jew, I felt that my place was elsewhere.

One morning, as the chairs around me scraped the floor, I didn’t bother getting up. The collective voice began, “I pledge allegiance …” I stared at my desk, tracing the lines running through the laminated wood.

Someone tapped my shoulder. I turned around. My teacher loomed above me. “… And to the republic …” she said, along with the children, as she gestured for me to rise.

My stomach lurched. I dreaded being sent to the principal’s office—this was the Deep South where they still used the paddle.

As I picked up my backpack, my teacher shook her head. Not sure of what to do, I stood. She nodded and walked away.

Decades later, I stand under a different flag—blue and white, bearing a Star of David. But, as a dual-citizen American-Israeli journalist, I feel increasingly uncomfortable with flags. They reduce nations and people to a symbol, a strip of cloth to be stuffed into critics’ mouths.

***

In March, I published an article discussing how West Bank settlements have rendered the two-state solution impossible. I argued that the only just way out of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a shared, democratic state.

The peace process is at a standstill. And with direct talks coinciding with the end of the settlement freeze, the future doesn’t hold much hope. Israel will keep building; the West Bank’s Jewish population will continue to swell. A withdrawal will be impossible; apartheid unconscionable to the world. A bi-national state is an eventuality we must embrace.

To me, the article was innocuous, a statement of the obvious. But to one reader, who I guessed to be an American Jew, it was worthy of a death threat. “You should be blown up,” the reader wrote, accusing me of being a “Hamas-lover.” He went on to send a second email wishing me cancer and cursing my parents for having me. I wasn’t frightened. But the emails—which have too many expletives to publish here—stung. It was the words “fake Jew” and “anti-Semite” that hurt the most.

And I felt the sting again when two of my articles turned up on the website of the Ezzedeen Al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas. One, originally published on Al Jazeera English, discussed the growing presence of Jewish settlers in Yafo, the village in south Tel Aviv, and the trouble posed by gentrification there. The other, written for Maan News Agency, a Palestinian site that is based in the West Bank, detailed the human toll of the blockade on Gaza.

Both articles were filed on the Hamas site under the topic “Exposing Zionist Terrorism.” One displayed my name, prominently, in the title. There I was, below a Hamas flag. My jaw tightened. Hamas employs anti-Semitic propaganda. Its charter is riddled with conspiracy theories that blame us, the Jews, for conflicts the world over. It is easy to understand why the West has maligned Hamas as a terrorist group that wants to wipe Israel off the map. But, as I considered my knee-jerk reaction, I wondered if it wasn’t misplaced. Hamas is a political party that was democratically elected. It has considered recognizing Israel within 1967 borders.

And then, as I argued with myself, I tipped back the other way.

Hamas solidified its power with a violent coup. It suppresses internal dissent within the Gaza Strip. And rather than recognizing the “Zionist entity,” it grows fat off taxes collected from the tunnels that run supplies in through the blockade.

Yeah, but why are the tunnels there? Who started the blockade? Who put Gaza in a vice grip? Israel.

Journalists often point to the 2007 Hamas takeover of the Strip as the start date of Israel’s siege. Some commentators will cite 2006 as its start, saying that the blockage was a response to Gilad Shalit’s capture. Both are attempts to link the Israeli action to political events. And both are incorrect. The squeeze began during the First Intifada, with the permit system that put an end to Palestinians’ freedom of movement.

But why? Was it a security measure? Or was it collective punishment?

Still wondering who the terrorist is, I closed the Ezzedeen Al-Qassam Brigades site. Unable to concentrate, I got on Expedia. I played with travel dates and destinations. Manila. Saigon. Mumbai. I pictured myself in faraway places, surrounded by unknown languages. There, I would have the luxury of silence.

***

Anti-Semite—it’s the first tactic pro-Israel commenters use. An easy response to criticism that skirts around the substance of the article, it’s like putting a hand before the reader’s face. “Don’t look here,” it says. The hand closes, the fist turns, the finger points. “Look there.”

Other comments work in a similar way. When I write about Israel’s mistreatment of the Palestinians, I get remarks like: “But look at how badly they’re treated in the Arab world.” When I cover the plight of migrant workers and the state’s plans to deport families that include Israeli-born children, the response is: “Why don’t you write about what’s happening to laborers in Kuwait or Lebanon?”

Oddly enough, I once heard the same thing from an Arab acquaintance.

In 2008, less than six months after Hezbollah took to the streets to flex its muscles, I was in Beirut for a visit. I’d accompanied a Lebanese friend and a male colleague of hers to watch a documentary that takes an in-depth look at the plight of Palestinians.

We stepped out of the theatre into the night. Hamra district was dark, blue, and blurry. But the images from the film were still sharp in our eyes—1948, the Nakba, Arabic for “catastrophe,” in black and white, barbed wire, dirt roads, streams of refugees.

We were silent for blocks. Our heels clicked on the pavement. My new acquaintance draped his suit jacket over his arm, unbuttoned his collar and rolled up his sleeves. He raked his fingers through his blonde hair. He hurried forward, keeping a step ahead of us.

“I don’t know how you can stand to live there, with those people,” he said over his shoulder, spitting out the last word distastefully. An educated, cultured man who eases between three languages, he wasn’t going to call Jews what he really thinks we are.

I looked to my hostess for a cue. She’d introduced me only as “a journalist who is working in Israel.” I used a quick glance to ask her if he knew that I’m Jewish. She opened her eyes wide and raised her eyebrows high—a signal that I was not with “safe company,” that I ought to keep my mouth shut.

So, I did. We got into my friend’s car. I sat in the back and said little as my new acquaintance tried to persuade me to give up on Israel and move to Lebanon to write about Beirut instead.

When we dropped him off, I bade him well.

My hostess and I went on to dinner. I thought of the many meals we’d shared together in India, where we’d met as travelers and not as citizens of enemy states. She’d stared at me in wonder as we ate, musing aloud how it was possible that I looked so much like her sister. When the electricity went out in the small village we’d visited together, she’d recounted her memories of power outages during the Civil War and the Israeli occupation of South Lebanon.

But in Beirut, as we shared mezzes, we made small talk. I thought of her colleague, who walked a step ahead of me and spoke to me over his shoulder rather than looking me in the face. I wondered if we hadn’t missed an opportunity, all of us.

I think this of commenters who, albeit for different reasons, offer the same advice my acquaintance did: I should look away, put my attention elsewhere.

And I have the same simple answer for both: Because the world has taken to equating Judaism with Israel, wherever I go, I’m in the shadow of this flag. My responsibility begins here.

Mya Guarnieri is a freelance journalist and writer based in Tel Aviv.

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Ken Besig Israel says:

I am simply amazed that this nominal journalist, Mya Guarnieri, is so deeply misinformed about Israel in general and it’s positions vis a vis the peace process and the Palestinian’s official and immutable positions vis a vis Israel, the Jewish People, and of course the peace process. In short, Israel has tried time after time to reach a peace settlement with the Palestinians while the Palestinians have reacted to these attempts with murdering Israelis and calling for more and more bitter armed attacks on Israel. The Palestinains have not only never offered any compropmise of any kind whatsoever they have routinely called for Israel’s destruction and the genocide of every Jew living here.
Israel has even made two unilateral withdrawals in favor of the Palestinians in order to prove good faith and to impress both the Palestinians and the international community that Israel wants peace. And both have failed miserably. The first was done as a part of the Oslo Accords, and tragically did not bring peace but the worst Palestinian terrorist war Israel had seen since 1948. Over a thousand Israeli Jews were murdered in cold blood by Palestinian suicide bombers, or by Palestinian knife, fire bomb, shooting, or stone throwing. The second unlateral withdrawal was the Sharon Disengagement or the ethnic cleansing of every Jew from the Gaza Strip. The Palestinians answered this gesture with unprovoked missile and terrorist attacks on Israeli communities near the Strip.
How this so called journalist cannot be aware of these facts is astounding, of course how she cannot be aware of Left wing Jewish and Israeli Arab anti Semitism is equally incomprehensible.
In fact, after reading this woman’s comments, I can only ask just what exactly does she know about anything? Her comments are so shallow, so puerile, so uninformed, and so historically inaccurate that she shouldn’t be allowed anywhere a serious source of news about Israel for the sure, and definitely the Palestinians.

Kol Ha’kavod, Mya. I strongly disagree with your conclusions and, I suspect, political leaning; but Medinat Yisrael and Kol Am Yisrael are strengthened by the honest, passionate and open internal debate.

Mya,I know that your piece is a ‘put on’ because anyone with an IQ above that of a house plant couldn’t be serious in your misrepresentation of the issues.

Jeff Carpenter says:

Where does peace begin? Always with somone else, with _them, not with _me, for after all, I am always in the right. Judaism is in the heart and soul and mind, wherever the body and the community resides. I am less convinced that it and Israel have much to do with each other any more. Good articl, Mya.

asherZ says:

Guarnieri should probably learn to play the violin, a vocation where her namesake created some excellence. I have nothing to add to some of the comments above which indicate the article’s author’s lack of knowledge and analysis of the facts of the Israel/Palestinian conflict. Commentary as a jounalist is certainly not her forte. Her mistakes began as early as the fourth grade when she didn’t recognize the greatness of the first amendment and therefore lack of appreciation of the unbelievable tolerant and hospitable grounds of the American experiment. Her Christion friends must have subjected her to an auto de fe or a crucifiction for her to refuse to pledge allegiance to our country.
Violin lessons anybody?

Dear Havri,

Don’t blame this American-Israeli journalist for wanting a shared Israel.

Rabbi Michael Lerner of TIKUN also wants to share everything Jewish with the people who hate Jews and Israel. He advocates not fighting, but sharing. More than likely our journalist is a Progressive Jew.

It would be wonderful to have a country where Arab Muslims were democratically liberal and loved their Jewish countrymen. Unfortunately anywhere Muslims live with non-Muslims they coherce them, intimidate them and threaten them with death if they don’t convert or leave.

My suggestion to this young woman is to go to Bethlehem and see how many Christians are left in that ancient city. Let her go to the Israeli town of Nazareth once wholly Christian and today it is being Muslimized with the Christians fleeing for their lives.

Only Jews can be as liberal and as sharing. Christians and Muslim are not. Elie Weisel forgave the Nazis who murdered his parents. Can you see a Muslim or an Arab doing that? If Israel was ever to be shared given the Arab birth rate vs the Jewish birth rate it is the kiss of death.

Jews really are “The Pefect Enemy” and our haters don’t recognize how lucky they are.

I don’t wish her well, but she certainly doesn’t belong in Israel.

Bill Levy
zev57@aol.com

allenby says:

there will be NO “bi-national” state. Period. If somebody like Mya thinks that all the political games of peeeeecetalks will lead to “bi-national” , these people are so naive. Games are just games. Israel is playing these games since….I even don’t remember. I’m ISRAELI, and I can tell you this: wake up, come to Israel and after spending here a few month you’ll understand that this is really a Monopoly game for Israel.
“palestinians”…?! who are they ?
There was never a nation called “palestinians”. Eretz Israel was all 2000 years populated by a Jewish Majority. There were only few arabs. Mark Twain wrote about that, it’s all recorded in all kinds of documents all over the place, in different encyclopedias from 100, 200…years ago.
We Israelis perfectly well know that these so called “palestinians” are a FAKE story, propaganda.
Yes, and we keep playing games with them, until they pack and go. We’ll make them go, just like Rabbi Meir Kahane suggested many many times.

Dani Levi says:

did you find your press pass in a box of cereals ? goodness this is crude writing. tablet needs to get a grip.
I have been hanging out in Yafo lately, and find probably the most open/alternative Israeli scene there, playing arab, western and Israeli music in the bars and restaurants. calling people who move to Yafo “settlers” is just plain wrong, it is a falsehood, instead of publishing such nonsense you should write about the true cultural mix that takes place there. the fact that al jazeera publishes your stuff and Hamas should give you pause for thought and maybe encourage you to do better research and chose your words wisely. you have a responsibility as a “journalist”.

seeing a film about 1948 in Lebanon, and being surprised at the reaction? what planet are you from? i am glad they did not get physical with you. what’s next? attending a white supremacy film festival in Compton and then being surprised if shots are fired? yes, learn the violin. it is safer.

What a disappointment for this kind of journalism! She knows very little about Jewish history, the suffering of Jews living in Israel prior to its becoming a state. Think,see and feel the climate of Israel before you write and speak about our homeland.

Ittai says:

Yidden – listen to yourselves!!! Throughout our long and painful history, we have always tolerated healthy internal debate and now – when the Jewish People has never been stronger – we become inquisitors who brook no deviance from some orthodoxy?

It is particularly galling to read comments from Jews living in America impugning a fellow American Jew who has chosen to make aliyah and live in Israel. Unlike Daniel Luban’s recently published polemic, I see no reason to impugn the motives of this author and her cri de coeur in regard to love of Zionist Israel.

Are you so insecure that you have to trash the LOYAL opposition? I am reminded of Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s comment regarding the Cold War that “The Iron Law of Emulation took hold. Organizations in conflict become like one another.” Is the next step to start throwing people off buildings?

Words matter – please think before emoting; especially as we enter the Yamim Nora’im!

Dani Levi says:

the ongoing gentrification of Florentine is alright, as there are poorer Jews being pushed out, but when poorer Israeli Arabs are pushed out by the very same process in Yafo it is called nationalism or some other terrible political conspiracy? I am no real estate developer but I think it may be filed under ‘capitalism’ what is going on in just about every livable city on earth. When you are unable to put into context the huge real estate boom all over desirable Tel Avic, and phrase this in such a manner that Hamas feels it can use your writings on its hate pages you need to check yourself. seriously.

nikihanna says:

Thank you Mya and Tablet for this thoughtful and deeply passionate article. I too am an American Jew who didn’t stand up during the pledge of allegiance and who also distrusts uncritical nationalism. Most of the previous comments are so disappointing in light of our shared history of ethical behavior and inquiry. And as the previous comment said, Let us remember the history, spirit and purpose of Yamim Nora’im.

Cone Norm says:

Mya, you are not an anti-Semite, but you have no reason to be proud
to have written “this thoughtful and deeply passionate article”. As
somebody living in Israel you should certainly know, that Jaffa is
not some village “south of Tel-Aviv”. It’s an integral part of the
city called Tel Aviv-Yaffo. But you don’t need lectures, what you
really need is a good psychiatrist. Take my advise, I know exactly
what I’m talking about.

FYI it was the United States State Dept that pushed for the Gaza blockade to be comprehensive and include consumer goods.

Petra says:

The article: glorified pilpul.

Bruckner says:

I’m not sure I get why Tablet is featuring this inanity. By her own admission, the author only seems content when she is an other (on vacation in India, touring the Palestinian refugee camps), but has trouble fitting in where she should putatively belong (America, Israel). Then she writes a whiny piece about it and about how she should react to anti-Semitism. Can Tablet please stop publishing such narcissistic drivel. This piece is best left to the therapy couch.

Argaman says:

Mya, do us all a favor and die!

Hanoi Paris Hilton says:

The Guarnieris weren’t violinists, they were violin makers. Maybe Ms. Mya should take that up instead of her journalism, a field for which she obviously wasn’t born. (I’d guess she was more no-lance than freelance.) Why does Tabletmag even subject its readership to her overwrought psychodrama? If this is her thoughtful and deeply passionate mode, I cringe at the thought of her flippant and disengaged mode. But then again…

Enrico says:

Out of curiosity, what do you think would happen in a bi-national State when the Arab populations reaches 51%?

I once heard an interesting quote though I cannot remember the source, “internationalism is the particular Jewish form of nationalism.”

Dani Levi says:

these are the publications the author has written for.
J.Post, The Guardian, The National (Abu Dhabi), Outlook India– India’s equivalent to and subsidiary of Newsweek– as well as The Palestine Israel Journal, Tablet, Haaretz, Electronic Intifada, The Jewish Daily Forward, Maan News Agency, Common Ground News Service, Zeek, Mondoweiss, The Khaleej Times, Daily News Egypt, France 24’s Observers, Palestine Note, Public Art Review, Bookslut, and The Southeast Review amongst other international publications.

Electronic Intifada is a mouth piece of some of worst anti-Israel vitriol out there.

The comment by Argaman above, that the writer should die, is completely inappropriate and if Tablet doesn’t have the decency to address it everyone else should. When was it that an appropriate response for voicing one’s opinion? This was vile and as we approach the High Holy Days , Argaman, you have some explaining to do.

Dani’s comment about Tel Aviv-JAfo real estate is a good one;I’ve spent a good deal of time there and poor Jews are moved out just as quickly.

Dani’s listing of the publications she has written for says a lot as well. However, in the Electronic Intifada, which I agree is disgusting anti-Israel/semitic, they were quoting her. She didn’t write there.

But what might be overlooked here is that some of Mya’s writing is reporting. Does she slant it sometimes? Sure. But she is a freelance writer..and some of the creative writing on her website is good.

And Argaman, I really don’t agree with Mya’s political beliefs and I know if I thought your comment had come from a non-Jew, I would have thought you were just another disgusting anti-semite (of course then, Mya would laugh and say gotcha). You should apologize.

brynababy says:

Mya has a right to her ‘opinions’, but when facts are totally ignored, lied about or mis-reported, no “journalist” has a right to do that. And for an individual (not speaking as a journalist) to distort or eliminate actual facts (easily found in History books and official reporting from all over the world), makes their analysis illegitimate.

I’ve had a renewing of the mind about the Jew. As a child i learned that the Jew was blessed by Our Heavenly Father, and Still is to this day. Whether a person believes in GOD doesn’t erase the fact that HE exists as well as the laws HE put forth. Abraham was blessed because of his obedience & his descendants (the Jews) will continue to be as well regardless of what this world thinks or feels. If you bless, help, support the Jews our Heavenly Father will BLESS you. If you hurt the Jew in any way, shape, form or fashion YOU will be hurt in the same manner. “I will bless those who bless you & I will curse those who curse You”. To split their lands, bomb their people, fight against their causes is bringing Hell upon yourselves from our Creator. The Jews are the only People who GOD SPECIFICALLY gave real estate to, no other nation can claim this. The Bible & Torah work, your either with the winning team or your against there is NO middle ground. The middle (east) is what ALL the fuss is about to this day.

Peter W. says:

What a shallow, ignorant writer! Since she’s ignorant of history, and ignorant of Arab/Muslim culture, it is understandable that she’d believe the nonsense she does.

Brynababy, as your response followed mine, I assume you were in part responding to what I wrote. I completely agree with you! Recently, I believe in JPost (I actually cannot stomach HaAretz anymore)I read about an Israeli politician who said Israel needs more than the IDF..it needs an army of commentators to set the record straight However, where we are losing this war is that we ignore the legitimate challenges and Israeli and US Jewish organizations often don’t get out the facts. CAMERA is helpful but it’s not enough. So taking the time to affirm that you want the writer dead is not winning the hearts and minds of those who disagree with us. I have written here repeatedly that the ANTI-Israel comments are vile and should be addressed by Tablet. So when Mya (I dont know her BTW) wrote about the vile comments she received I was concerned. I went back and read her original article on Huffington Post (I am no fan of it either). Did you? It’s actually rather neutral writing and as she mentions not so different from recent Likud musings over a one state solution. I was surprised she would receive such a hostile reaction.Then I saw Argaman’s response which was disgusting.

Finally, I read one article on her website where she does participate in a rather lengthy accusation of the IDF doctoring of the flotilla tapes it released.It’s based on one comment by a passenger and a couple other events. There is no verification really and that’s where your “journalist” comment comes in. But insulting the writer never works, it just makes us feel better. If everyone here made a correction of her record rather than writing about violins?

As for your comments, don’t they really apply to many journalists today: Katie Couric on the NYC Mosque, Sean Hannity occasionally,I could go on, Rachel Maddow on MSNBC or Keith Olbermann, they all do it. I think it is because their opinions become more important than their reporting. Nevertheless, it’s just too many people to wish death upon.

בן זומא אומר: איזה הוא חכם – הלמד מכל אדם, שנאמר “מִכָּל מְלַמְּדַי הִשְׂכַּלְתִּי” (תהלים קיט, צט)” (מסכת אבות, פרק ד’, משנה א’)

Tom Mitchell says:

Mya,
You shouldn’t be surprised by the reactions you received. Israelis and Palestinians are in an ongoing contest to be perceived as the ultimate victims and anyone who suggests that the other side has also suffered or that some of the suffering is due to one’s own actions is perceived as a traitor and pilloried. This happens on both sides. Either grow a thick skin or write about another area.

Dorothy Wachsstock says:

It is obvious that Mya has no idea of her heritage. She does not know how lucky she has been to have been in this country first and allowed to be in a class of children of all religions and say the Pledge of Alligiance. She rebelled!

Of course, she knew nothing that made it possible for her to be in this country at all. Or all of the people that would give half their body to be able to stand freely. She took it all for granted and rebelled since it was an easy thing to do.

How would she stand up in Russia against the soldiers that came on horses to run her and her family out with sticks and guns and ride over the babies? How would she feel if they shot one of her babies on the fields they were fleeing from the soldiers? Then..run to any empty house and dig in the ground for a spare potato or a beet to make soup for her 5 children? Watch over them and hear them cry from fear and the cold? One child would die.

Would she then be glad that her daughter could be in this country and be able to sit in a class with children of all religions and have her own religion allowed? Would she rebel then after what she had gone through?

This is the story of the liberals who have had it so good that they do not know what their ancestors went through and will take us back to that point where we are no longer accepted as a Jew.

The Jews helped the Koreans in New York and then New York Magazine wrote a story how the Koreans resented the Jews and disliked them after they had helped them.

Let us look back and see where it got us with the Civil Rights march and now have to contend with the likes of Al Sharpton who calls us Jews, “Diamond Merchants” at a funeral for a child that was killed in an accident that happened to be driven by a Jewish man. Not his fault but that didn’t stop good old Al. Anything to say against us Jews.

Mya..whoever you decide to give your allegiance to,remember your freedom cost many lives and will cost more at this point in time.

Nimrod Tal says:

I sat in the back and said little as my new acquaintance tried to persuade me to give up on Israel and move to Lebanon to write about Beirut instead…I think that your new acquaintance is giving you excellent advice. You dont want to be one of us. No problem, just give up your Israeli citizenship and move to Lebanon. Probably one of your children in Hezbollah uniform will end up fighting one of our children in IDF uniform. Enjoy

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