Michael Riordon

the view from where I live

“Israel has always been crazy”

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Cutting through the white noise of relentless propaganda, impressive plain-speaking from Jewish psychotherapist Avigail Abarbanel, born and raised in Israel, now living in Scotland.  It’s her response to Phil Weiss’s editorial [Psst! Is Israel Going Crazy? in which Weiss details the bizarre source of recent photo-shopped Nazified images of Israeli leaders]. December 2, 2014, on Mondoweiss.

Avigail AbarbanelAvigail Abarbanel

“It’s not a big claim to fame but I have been saying for years that Israeli society is crazy.  I escaped from Israel largely because of that…

“Phil Weiss’s analysis  is correct except for one point, and that is that those sentiments he describes have always been there.  It’s not like it’s something new that just sprang up recently.  I have grown up with this all around me. I recognise the language. I was brought up (I was born in 1964) to believe that the ‘Arabs’ (the word ‘Palestinian’ was largely not used in my childhood) could not be trusted, that ‘they’ are not like ‘us’, that they are treacherous and would stab me in the back if I relaxed and trusted them. We were always kept apart from the Palestinian citizens of Israel, let alone the Palestinians living in the West Bank or in Gaza.

Gaza in fact was a symbol of a cursed, hellish place. When someone annoyed you, you said to them Lech le’Aza, ‘Go to Gaza’, the equivalent of ‘go to hell’. That was part of normal day-to-day Hebrew in my youth. Like I mentioned in the past, the first time I met a Palestinian as an equal human being was in Australia, in my early thirties…

“Without knowing it, I grew up with classic colonial rhetoric. Colonisers motivated by fear and possibly guilt, have always demonised the people they have hurt. For some people it is easier to inflict suffering if they don’t see the other as a fellow human being. Dehumanisation helps to reduce empathy and shut down the conscience. It is being done everywhere where there is injustice and abuse.

“The difference now is that that these largely informal but widespread social attitudes to the colonised have now found themselves back in power. Drunk with their newfound freedom, coming out of the shadows with no need to hide themselves any longer, free from the tyranny of worrying about ‘world public opinion’, they are out celebrating and feasting, politicians outdoing one another acting out and giving life to their most depraved, murderous fantasies. And they are out-of-control. 

“Please do not make the mistake of thinking that these feelings and urges belong to a lunatic fringe. They do not. They are supported by the majority of Israeli Jews and as Phil rightly says, they are led from the front by top politicians. These politicians are now changing the legal system to create an environment that fits these attitudes better and where they can be unleashed legally, and thrive.

“Israel has always been mad and bad. How could it not be when it is based on a fearful, traumatised, paranoid, settler-colonialist culture with a sense of eternal entitlement, and when it is built on the ruins of the indigenous culture it has worked so hard to eliminate? Israel has always done bad things, terrible things. Ask the Palestinians, the asylum seekers, the poor, women… But previously things were done in secret. When Israel was young and poor and needed the world, it was keen to present an image of legality, reason, refinement, intellect and democracy to fit with the Western world it so wanted to be a part of. What was always right under a thin veneer, but that almost every Israeli Jew knew and supported, is now brought out into the open. Israel is simply leading itself and its culture to its logical conclusion.

“What is happening now was always inevitable. It is the next logical step. It is impossible to sustain a split reality of a civilised, legally-minded, educated, cultured, refined, enlightened society while colonialism continues to rage with its atrocities and injustices. Enlightenment can only truly exist on a foundation of justice and freedom. Anything else is self-serving and short-lived nonsense. Most Israeli academics not only support their regime, they benefit from it. Watch the majority of them say nothing about these new developments.

“As ugly and as dangerous as these developments are, it is a good thing that the truth is finally coming out. Israel should have never been supported in the first place, but it’ll be increasingly harder for anyone to continue to support a country that is following the path Israel does now. Like all sick societies, Israel is its own biggest enemy and it feels invincible, justified and does not give a damn about what others think about it. This is a lethal cocktail.

“I never trusted that country. I was always terrified of it becoming truly and openly fascist. As a woman I never liked the way religion has played such a central role in Israeli society, and was always worried that it would eventually take over completely. I always felt oppressed by the atmosphere of suspicion and harshness and the obsession with ‘security’ and control, which has tragically infected the entire Western world.

“I was afraid of it 23 years ago when I left and thought it’d come sooner. It took a little longer than I thought, but it is finally happening. Fascism cannot take hold unless the sentiments that feed it are widespread. Watch how many secular Jews with dual citizenship will start leaving, and it is time to start really worrying for the Palestinians… It is quite possible we will start to see a trickle of Jewish refugees from Israel, members of more enlightened groups who will begin to be openly persecuted and hunted. It would be a chilling irony when Jewish refugees are out there again seeking asylum, but this time from the ‘Jewish’ state…

“And to think that once upon a time I was worried that I was too extreme or unreasonable with some of my predictions about Israel… It’s all in its psychology and it’s always been there.  I told you so.”

Avigail Abarbanel was born and raised in Israel. She moved to Australia in 1991 and now lives in Scotland. She works as a psychotherapist in private practice and is an activist for Palestinian rights. She is the editor of Beyond Tribal Loyalties: Personal Stories of Jewish Peace Activists (Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2012).

Author: Michael Riordon

Canadian writer and documentary-maker Michael Riordon writes/ directs/produces books and articles, audio, video and film documentaries, plays for radio and stage. A primary goal of his work is to recover voices and stories of people who have been silenced or marginalized, written out of the official version: First Nations (aboriginal) youth, Mozambican farmers, inmates in Canadian prisons, traditional healers in Fiji, queer folk across Canada, Guatemalan labour activists. Michael also leads courses, workshops and seminars for community organizations, trade unions, schools, colleges and universities.

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