An imaginary place

Matti Friedman, writing in the Times of Israel, about Fortress Israel: The Inside Story of the Military Elite Who Run the Country – and Why They Can’t Make Peace, by Patrick Tyler (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2012), says as follows:

‘Fortress Israel’ exists in the broader context of today’s discussion of “Israel” — an imaginary place quite unlike the actual state of Israel — in which Western observers use the country and its conflicts as a blank screen onto which they project discomfort about certain aspects of their own societies. At the moment, these seem to mainly involve problems of race and the use of force. I do not see anti-Semitism lurking behind all or most criticism of Israel, and I don’t see anti-Semitism here, but I do believe it would be remiss not to point out that this discussion itself exists in a historical context that often goes unmentioned: For centuries, the Jew has played the role of blank screen in Christian societies – a lightning rod for negative sentiment, usually expressed as harsh moral judgment. If cowardice was a negative attribute, Jews were cowardly. If greed was to be condemned, Jews were greedy. If the poor were to be mocked, Jews were paupers, and if the rich were to be hated Jews were bankers. For capitalists Jews were communists, and for communists they were capitalists. These days, the issues that animate liberals in the West tend to be linked to colonialism, racism, and militarism, and thus it is in these contexts that the Jewish state now appears.

As Friedman also points out, this has to be viewed in the prism of the mainstream media’s view of Israel:

In the version accepted on Israel’s left and abroad, on the other hand, the Arabs are passive bystanders and victims, and the story is the Jews’ abuse of force, their repetition of the crimes once perpetrated against them. In my years covering Israel as part of the international press corps, I came to understand that this latter view has become the default framework in which the story is covered for foreign audiences, shaping the way it is seen by millions of people.

Unsurprisingly, Fortress Israel secured a positive review in the Economist. What would be surprising would be if any of the mainstream media didn’t give it a positive review. I won’t be buying a copy.