12 March 2018

Matt Adler and the bitter reality of Israel

I have had a curious Facebook encounter recently that caused me to do some searching for an explanation. On an FB page that is dedicated to left wing Zionists' aspirations, I have got involved in a discussion of an ancient expression "אור לגויים" or, in a not totally precise, but widely accepted translation, "Light to the Nations". The expression itself, as could be easily (but only partially) seen from the links above, is quite a complex one and given to wide, and sometimes wild, interpretations.

The person who raised the issue, one Matt Adler (מטע אדלר) insisted that the current use of this expression in Israel is to stress the perceived superiority of people of Israel (or, rather, Israelis, which is not one and the same) over goyim. And that he hears it used all the time by these stuck up obnoxious Israelis.

I was quite surprised by that strong observation. In my experience almost all people who use that term, do it with a healthy dose of irony (or sarcasm, depending on the context) and in most cases it is self-deprecatory, as Jewish habits go. Which was the point I made. The response was quite surprising: in a minute or so I got blocked by Matt. That without any personal remarks or attacks, in the midst of a polite exchange of opinions.

It isn't that I am oversensitive. After many years of keyboard wars, one tends to grow a thick enough skin. It is just that, after finding Matt's blog, Planting Roots Bearing Fruits and reading a few posts there, I feel quite concerned about the author. Concerned because he seems to be good people and because we (the state of Israel) seem to be losing him. So, exactly as I am concerned about hundreds of thousands of other young people we have lost during these 70 years, I am worried about Matt.

Matt describes himself as "An open-minded* multilingual Jewish explorer". From his other remarks, it appears that he moved to Israel in July 2017 (less than an year here), that he is gay, belongs to the Reform community and strives "to learn and grow here in Israel".

And here is Matt's opinion, quite a firm one, crystallized in half an year of his presence here:

Israel is pretty awful when it comes to human rights, to respecting diversity, to preserving Jewish culture, to living up to Jewish values, to treating people with respect, and to pursuing peace both within society and with our neighbors.
Oh, and another one I almost missed:
Israel is a super stressful place to live...
So much so, that Matt's deep dissatisfaction with his findings ends in:
I’ve been pretty fed up with God lately, tired of Zionism, and not even really sure if I feel Jewish anymore. So I decided to see if maybe Diaspora Judaism, the Judaism I grew up with, still fit.
I am not sure what the deity or, for that matter, Zionism (rather a concept to tickle the Diaspora Jews - we don't deal much with Zionism here, we just live in the land) and the technicality of being Jewish - what measure of bitterness each of the three contributes to Matt's tiredness? but anyhow it's a rather troubling picture.

So what, would you ask, is the ideal situation Matt looks forwards too? Probably in this passage Matt gives a partial answer:
Much like Israel, Judaism needs a revamp. No need to throw everything out, but the way it’s going isn’t working- at least not for me. As I watched two Israelis living in Barcelona learn the Reform liturgy Friday night- and engage in gentler, more peaceful ways than I usually see in Israel- I see a bit of light. Jews outside of Israel need Israel. Yes, it’s a deeply f*cked place and I would rather the world not have states at all. And I’ll keep fighting for that.
Yes, a stateless open world, a gentle and peaceful globe, where the lamb will lie down with the lion. Wouldn't we all love that? I dare say only a hardened asocial psychopaths will willingly offer an objection to that proposal.

I don't think that I could parse all of Matt's complaints in the limited format of a blog post. But one thing should be said about many of them - and his blog in general is full of unhappy observations. "A little learning is a dangerous thing". And some of Matt's (quite firm) opinions and conclusions are indeed a result of little learning. Things that he picked up rather as a result of a confirmation bias than a well-rounded observation and research.

For example - human rights, in this case as related to Matt's view of the refugees issue. To start with, I am generally with Matt on the subject of forceful expulsion. Only generally, because there still is a need to resolve the question of who exactly is a refugee (asylum seeker) vs who is a work seeking migrant. But first and foremost, there is an issue of integration of refugees here. A grave mistake, made by our government, as it was made by practically all European governments, was in letting the refugees to gravitate to the same two gathering spots - one, smaller, in Eilat and the second in the poor neighborhoods of Tel Aviv. This "I wash my hands" policy, practiced by many governments, under the guise of so called "multiculturalism", was a total failure. Multiculturalism was clearly an euphemism for doing practically nothing and investing no effort in real integration of newcomers in the society. The problems created by this approach (or, rather, lack thereof) in south of Tel Aviv, with resulting bitterness of local population and eruption of what Matt considers to be racist affectations. It is easier to blame the government for trying to resolve the problem, as government clerks know to, by forcing the refugees out. As it is easier to blame the embittered south Tel Aviv Jews for their racism than to look a bit deeper into the issue.

But is it a Israeli-specific fault? I dare say hardly, and many a refugees' ghetto in Europe confirms my point of view. And how does Matt round up the discussion? From here:
The Israeli government, then, is willing to deport these people who it views as economically beneficial. Why? Jewish supremacy and racism.
And, to go for some proof:
It’s telling that the government isn’t stepping up enforcement of the thousands of Romanian or Ukrainian or Filipino workers. Just the really black ones.
This statement is interesting only as a proof of strong confirmation bias that allows a person to ignore a simple detail: that these "Romanian or Ukrainian or Filipino workers" usually come here with working visas, which are quite tightly controlled and only in rare cases these workers break the visa conditions. A bit different from the refugees, I would say. But when you are consumed by a righteous wrath against racist Israel, you can't be really bothered by details like this one, can you, Matt?

Matt is frequently raging. Against what he considers to be a all-consuming Jewish supremacy, the institutional racism, the mutual hate between various groups and subgroups of Israeli citizens. The problem with his observations, as I have mentioned, that they are too shallow, built on skimming the surface to confirm his existing prejudices and beliefs, to strengthen his preoccupation with (what he believes) is the only solution to he world't sickness:
What’s the best solution for the Middle East? Perhaps for the world? The no state solution. For anyone. We need a better way of organizing human life. I don’t- and can’t- have all the answers because it’s something we need to talk about together.
The saving grace is that in his heart of heart Matt does understand the necessity and rightfulness of this little and maddening state. From the post already quoted above, where Matt provides his litany of complaints about the place, quite a different sentiment:
Which brings me to what else Israel does well- it gives me a place where if people are ignorant about my tradition, they can learn on my terms. It gives me a place where I’m in a position of power- as fraught as that is. A place where if people want to expel us or lecture us or deride us, we don’t have to grit our teeth and put up with it.
Yes, Matt, and while we all strive to bring the stateless and borderless world to being, let's not forget what exactly was going on with your stateless tribe during the last, say two thousand years. After all, you seem to understand this point only too well, no matter how hard it is for you to make (temporary) peace with it.

There are a lot of other points wrong with Matt's observations on other issues, big and small (and no, Matt, the Adalah's "Discriminatory Laws Database" is not persuasive, sorry - it could be read in different ways, which Adalah is known to exploit quite well). But I really can't go on for much longer. Just to stress the importance of complete and unbiased observations, a small but oh so typical point. Matt on Tel Aviv Purim festivities - a side observation that is wrong too:
I can’t imagine a small town in Israel- Jewish or otherwise- putting together this level of festivity. It’s amazing.
In small villages, Matt, where people are much closer to each other, the Purim celebrations are, of course, not as grandiose as in Tel Aviv. However, after spending some time with my nearest and dearest in a village in the northern parts of the country, I can say that the week-long Purimspiel, with different costumes every day and lots of different daily activities for the kids puts Tel Aviv in a rather humble shadow... so there.

Oh, and another point. Matt, as long as you talk about the local population as "they" or "Israeli Jews" or any similar variation but not "we" and "us", you are not there yet. Consider it a point to study.

(*) Regarding Matt's open-mindedness: his propensity for blocking people who disagree with him was already noted (I wasn't the only one, by the way, as it appeared). Another testimony offered by Matt himself:
One commenter on my last blog suggested deporting African refugees isn’t racist because Israel “absorbed” Ethiopian Jewish immigrants.
If you follow the link to that last "blog" mentioned, titled There is no racism in Israel, you would search for the above mentioned comment in vain - Matt deleted or otherwise disappeared it. So much for open-mindedness...