Monday, August 4, 2014

A Recovering Zionist: Approaching the Starting Point

A few additional words of explanation are in order here.  On July 28, 2014, my daughter Rebecca Riyana Sang began a weeklong blogging workshop called The Big, Beautiful Summer Blogging Challenge. I signed up for it with the hope of blogging about other topics or even starting a couple of new blogs.  That didn't seem too likely as the week progressed, seeing as I've been consumed by the ongoing carnage in Gaza (Operation Protective Edge) and its horrifying moral implications for the Jewish people and the world.
Along with the daily emails that are a standard feature of any online workshop, there is also a Facebook page where participants are encouraged to introduce themselves and share their latest blogging efforts.  It’s a closed group so I’m not going to post the link, but it’s available to all participants who sign up for the workshop. The following is a revised version of the introduction I posted on the Facebook page yesterday.  It turned spontaneously into a new blog post somewhere near the end.
The picture above shows a Palestinian boy in Gaza in July 2014.

August 2, 2014
Belated introduction: My name is Linda Sang and I'm Rebecca's mom. And yes, she gets her writing talent from me. I'm not going to link to my sad little dormant blog yet, but I'd like everyone to know that earlier today, against all odds and to my total amazement, I started a new blog post with the intention of actually posting it.  It will be my first new post in over two years.*
The problem I've been having all week is somewhat unique--but then again, maybe it isn’t. For the past few weeks I've been obsessed with the war, or more accurately the massacre in Gaza, called Operation Protective Edge.  Especially since the ground invasion began, the dominant emotion I've been feeling is rage. Along with everyone else I’m horrified by the carnage and destruction, by the relentlessly mounting body count, but more than anything I’m enraged by the deceptive rhetoric used by the legions of Israel apologists to justify this atrocity and even sanctify it.
This rhetoric is called hasbara in Hebrew. Hasbara literally means "explanation," but the word is used by friend and foe alike to mean pro-Israel propaganda. A lot of it involves the dehumanization of Arabs and Muslims and lying by omission. Or just plain flat-out lying.
Often it felt like every instinct in me wanted to let fly— to write a blog post or at least a long email from that place of rage, not holding back but pouring it all out.  At the same time another higher instinct, as well as past experience, told me that was the worst thing I could possibly do.  Sadly, I’ve been here many times before.  Whenever Israel engages in one of its “mowing the lawn” offensives (the last one was in 2012) or some other act of military insanity like the Mavi Marmara incident in 2011, Diaspora Jews immediately form a circular firing squad, something we are very good at doing since we've been practicing for centuries.  It’s a very paradoxical thing. Through it all, we maintain our solidarity and always have each other’s backs, but that doesn't stop us from cannibalizing each other.
So this was my dilemma: I couldn't afford to cut loose even though it hurt so much to hold back, and it was hard to distract myself with other interests.  If I told the world how I really feel and what I really think, there was a good chance I might hit someone I care about with flying shrapnel, possibly damaging a precious relationship beyond repair. Three years ago in the aftermath of the Mavi Marmara incident, aka "Operation Make the World Hate Us," with one relationship it was really touch and go for a while. It eventually worked out, but only because the deep bond between us proved stronger than our overwrought emotions and hurtful words. But that isn't the case with every relationship.
Since the beginning of Operation Protective Edge on July 8th, even my off-the-cuff expressions of disgust in the form of Facebook comments, etc. have done some damage. One of my Jewish friends un-friended me after I posted a status update announcing that I am now a recovering Zionist.  Last night another one threatened to do the same when I stood by my right to make Holocaust analogies if they seemed applicable. I got off easy with the guy who went into meltdown during Operation Cast Lead in 2008-2009.  He only took a few drive-by potshots, but when I told him I have an acquired immunity to the self-hating Jew label, he knew I meant it and backed off.
So how to find the authentic voice I need in this emotional minefield?  I have been through a major transformation this past month in response to Operation Protective Edge.  It’s one I didn’t ask for and never wanted, even though I've known for years I couldn't postpone it forever--or even for much longer.  I would really, really like to be able to talk about it.
The breakthrough came this morning in the form of an image. It’s the image that's been flickering at the edges of my consciousness as I've been riding this storm of outrage, formulating dozens of arguments and refutations in my frontal lobes but somehow never writing them down. The image is a particular scene from J.R.R. Tolkien's masterpiece, The Lord of the Rings. In the first volume, The Fellowship of the Ring, the wizard Gandalf tells the Council of Elrond the story of Saruman's attempt to recruit him to the Dark Side. No matter what else I was thinking about, the last line of Gandalf's refusal has been echoing in my mind: "Surely you have not brought me all this way only to weary my ears."
So this morning I dragged out my well-worn paperback copy of The Fellowship of the Ring, found the passage I was looking for and transcribed it. Then I did a search on Google Images for a still from the movie. The corresponding scene in the movie isn't the same as in the book, but I picked the closest image I could find and pinned it to a new board on Pinterest. Then I wrote one short paragraph.
I had found my perfect metaphor for hasbara, and that's my starting point.

*It will now be the second post in the series, since this one is the first.  I have no idea how many others there will be after that.

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