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How Israel stupefies so many brilliant Jews

It’s the occupation, professor. Deja vu from the Technion.

On the eve of Passover 1988, I was working at the Technion, Israel’s prestigious technological institute in Haifa, writing fundraising prose. It was a few months into the First Intifada, and Israel’s image had been taking a battering overseas like never before, with scenes being televised continually of heavily armed soldiers and tanks putting down a rebellion by teenagers with stones.

We workers in the administration building gathered for the traditional pre-Passover toast with the college president. In his remarks, he noted that many of us would be going abroad for the holiday, and that the issue of Israel’s high-profile behavior could well come up in our conversations with people who wanted to hear what Israelis had to say. His advice: “Speak in one voice.” All around me, people were nodding.

I found this pretty depressing. The president of a leading Israeli college sending the employees out into the world to be PR robots for the government and army. Did this happen in other countries, democratic countries? It was another example of the ultra-nationalism, conformist political thought and self-righteous paranoia that I didn’t like about the country – and it was setting the tone even at the top of one of its best colleges.

Since then, the Technion has come up in the world. Three of its professors have won Nobel Prizes for science, it’s going to share with Cornell a $2 billion campus being built in New York City, its international ranking has climbed and its fundraising has multiplied.

But in some ways, evidently, it hasn’t changed. This week the Technion’s current president, Prof. Peretz Lavie, wrote an op-ed in Yedioth Ahronoth telling of his dismay at all the anti-Israel activity, the BDS stuff, he saw in a recent visit to U.S. and Canadian college campuses. It’s so bad, he wrote, that “the Jewish students themselves hardly take part in events on campus and are not showing much interest in workshops and programs aimed at training them to represent Israel on the PR level.” His advice:

Israel’s decision makers should give this important issue a higher priority on their agenda. There is an urgent need for a reorganization of the system on Israel’s image on campuses in North America and Europe. The state must urgently appoint an official to deal with this issue and back the appointment with funds and authorities.

It didn’t enter the Technion president’s mind that Israel’s actions toward the Palestinians might have something to do with the anti-Israel mood on Western campuses. No, what we need is better PR, and an end to what he called the “outrageous lack of coordination” in this effort. We need to speak in one voice.

This thing that Israel has with Arabs, this need to forever keep them down lest they rise up and swallow us, combined with the need to forever justify this obsessive violence, has crippled so many otherwise brilliant Jewish minds, in Israel, America and elsewhere. This victim mentality, which brings with it an inability to admit any wrongdoing toward Arabs (who are misperceived as Israel’s victimizers), has hobbled the thinking of so many otherwise highly intelligent Jews in Israel and the Diaspora. On every other subject under the sun, they’re open-minded, they examine all sides, they try to weigh information objectively. But on the subject of Israel, they become propagandists. On Israel, they are literally stupefied by their need to proclaim this country’s innocence and defend or at least excuse its violent domination of Arabs, which they wouldn’t defend or excuse if it was any other country doing this to any other people. On Israel, these Jews’ otherwise outstanding minds are one big blind spot.

It was depressing on Passover 1988, and all the more so on Hanukkah 2014.

Read also:
Boycott goes prime-time in Israel
Israel’s watershed moment that wasn’t
‘Open Hillel’ seeks to redefine U.S. Jewish debate on Israel-Palestine

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    1. Victor Arajs

      Bravo to Larry, one of my favorite columnists and a righteous Jews. Let the zionists move out of Palestine and set up technions on the land around Chernoble
      From the River to the Sea Palestine will be Free

      Reply to Comment
      • Pedro X

        Hey Victor the Jewish people are not leaving, they are building. Today 380 building permits were given final approval for building of 380 units in Ramot and Har Homa.

        Arutzsheva also reports

        “The State of Israel’s “building freeze” in Judea and Samaria may be drastically closer to breaking permanently, IDF Radio revealed Monday – as it has an elaborate contingency plan in place to improve the entire road infrastructure in the region, across a 300 kilometer (186 miles) span.

        The plan has been formulated over more than two decades, sources revealed to the news agency, and includes 44 significant road update programs to strengthen Jewish communities in Judea-Samaria.

        The plans have not yet been launched, sources say – but 24 of the programs have been pre-approved thus far, and may be implemented in the not-too-distant future.

        Approved roads would see new highways built between Salfit (Hamas village next to Ariel – ed.) and (nearby) Bruchin; Modi’in and Givat Ze’ev; Dir Amar and Bitilu; a road bypassing Salfit to the North; Tzomet Anatot to Route 1; a road bypassing Tekoa; a connecting route between Shiloh and the Alon road; and roads bypassing Bituneh and Hawara.

        Other roads slated for confirmation include a bypass through Leben-a-Shrika, a road from Sha’ar Hagai to Mevo Horon, a bypass from Silat a’ d’Har, a road from Ya’abed to Ta’anech, a road from the Ben Shemen interchange to Atarot (near Jerusalem), a bypass through Bitilu, a bypass through Harvata, a road from Har Adar to Nabi Samuel (near Jerusalem), a Baka-al-Sharika bypass, Route 531 to “Al-Fundak,” a Hawara bypass, and an Ein ‘Arik bypass.

        Still other planned routes include a route from Rt. 80 to Ma’ale Adumim, a road from Latrun to Rt. 443, an Eastern Givat Ze’ev bypass, a Beit Sahour bypass, a connection between Rt. 45 and Dolev, a Mahula bypass, a road between Rt. 443 and Ein ‘Arik, a road between Ofra and Ba’al Hazor, a Kfar Tlot bypass, an extension of the Walaja bypass, an Ouja bypass, a road between Nahliel and Ras-Karakar, a turnoff from Route 90 to Almog, and an Eastern Halhul bypass.”

        Reply to Comment
      • Zeinab

        I can hear 200 years from now Victor’s great grandchildren yelling: From the river to the sea….

        Reply to Comment
    2. Bar

      You know, today the NY Times and Roger Cohen, no friends of Israel, reported a conversation with Livni where she gave more detail about Obama’s offered parameters of a peace deal to Abbas. Apparently Netanyahu was willing to proceed, with reservations, on the basis of this offer. Abbas walked. Then he and his government submitted paperwork to 15 UN and international bodies.

      That makes it 2 official and 2 unofficial but real peace offers provided or accepted by Israel since 2000. It makes it 4 times the Palestinians have said NO or WALKED AWAY.

      So tell us, Larry, what do you want? How should Israel change what it “does” to the Palestinians when it continues to offer peace and a state and the Palestinians continue to refuse?

      Wake up already. If you and your friends would expend the same energy attacking Israel targeting the Palestinian leadership instead, we’d all be much closer to peace. Instead, you’re on the side of the Palestinian apologists and Israel attackers who claim it’s Israel’s fault, or Israel doesn’t do enough, or it’s what it does to the Palestinians, etc., etc.

      Palestinians have agency. They demonstrate this year after year, decade after decade. They need to make peace. Stop blaming Israel when you have ample evidence that the problem is with the Palestinians.

      Reply to Comment
    3. Ben Zakkai

      The surprising thing is not that Jews lose their objectivity, their generosity and even their decency when they perceive their tribal interests to be threatened. The world is full of tribes, and that is the nature of tribal loyalty. The surprising thing is that Jews find that phenomenon surprising or remarkable or even incredible when it occurs among Jews, as if we were somehow immune to the sins that make humans human.

      Or maybe that’s also not surprising, since it’s just another aspect of tribal self-delusion.

      Reply to Comment
      • Brian

        Incisive, well put, Ben. What you say speaks to the cluelessness among MKs about what they are doing with the ‘nation state’ law.

        Daniel Blatman, professor of Holocaust-era history at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, has written (for example, here in Haaretz) about how this is a case of history repeating itself with bad irony and how there is a striking lack of self-awareness among the MKs promoting this:


        Quite a few states in the 20th century passed, or tried to pass, nationality laws, through efforts that share certain similarities. All took place in countries with at least one national minority (sometimes more than one) that sought full equality in the state or in a territory that had become part of the state and in which it had lived for generations. …

        Nationality laws were passed in states that were grounded in one ethnic identity, defined in contrast to the identity of the other, leading to persecution of and codified discrimination against minorities. Jews were the first victims of these regimes, in which phobias and suspicion replaced the principles of social and political pluralism…. [Blatman goes on to describe how this transpired in Poland and Romania]

        …Knesset member Yariv Levin’s explanations of his nationality bill suggests that he is following Górka’s path.

        According to Levin, the state’s Jewish expressions reflect the fact that Israel is not only the Jews’ nation-state, but also a state whose very lifeblood is Judaism — a situation that is unique in all the world. A unique situation in the Western, democratic world, but it has a historical precedent in the Poles’ attempt to create a state that pushed its minorities out of the national partnership.

        The proposed nationality bill does not refer explicitly to the rights of minorities living in Israel and does not explicitly guarantee their equal rights. …the bill specifies that national minorities are to have no say regarding the character of the state of which they are supposedly citizens with equal rights. … All obligatory state symbols are Jewish ones. Only Jews have the right to immigrate freely and receive citizenship. The state will cultivate only the Jewish heritage and traditions; Jewish law is to serve as inspiration for laws, and so on.

        One need not be a historian to see the resemblance between the Israeli nationality bill and nationality laws of 80 years ago. Like them, it delineates the boundaries between the most important, dominant group of citizens and the rest, who are turned into guests of a sort in their own country — tolerated ones, for the present.

        At the extreme nationalist fringe of the bill’s promoters, efforts are already under way to define its final goal. The followers of the late Rabbi Meir Kahane and members of Lehava will not settle for formulas specifying Israel’s Jewish character and the Jews’ sole claim to national privilege in the state. Their model for the nationality law is the Nuremberg Laws. Their main goal is to preserve Jewish racial purity and to wage war on marriages or romantic relationships between Jews and members of minority groups.

        Lehava’s website states: “Intermarriage is forbidden according to the will of God, who gave severe warnings in his Torah against mixing the seed of the living God with other nations and against losing the special uniqueness of the Jewish people.”

        No, they say, this is not racism. The goal is only to protect our nation. In 1936, two Nazi jurists, Bernhard Lösener and Friedrich Knost, published a book about the Jewish question in Germany that spoke about the Nuremberg Laws. The purpose of these laws, they wrote, was not to cause racial hatred. On the contrary, it was to ease and regulate the relationship between Jews and Germans over the long term….

        Reply to Comment
    4. Bar

      I guess my unpublished comment stupefied someone.

      Reply to Comment
    5. Richard

      Larry derfner seems to forget history. Not only has Israel been under constant attack since the day it was declared a nation (when the Jews accepted the UN partition plan and the Arabs rejected it and invaded the new state of Israel in an attempt to wipe it away) but he has also forgotten that the Palestinians rejected Israel’s offer for an independent Palestinian state comprised of virtually all of the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, and a capital in East Jerusalem in 2000, in 2001, and then again in 2008. In his memoir, former President Bill Clinton described Yasser Arafat’s rejection of the Palestinian state offered by the Israelis at the end of his second term as tragic. The Palestinians have never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity. They don’t want the conflict to end because it would mean they would have to stop blaming Israel for everything and move on to start building a country – something at least at this point in time they are not prepared to do.

      Reply to Comment
    6. Stuart

      Overall good article. I am a Jew living in Montreal Canada and would characterize myself as a Zionist – I support the state of Israel as a Jewish homeland – but not as someone who blindly supports all Israeli policy. In fact, in my circles most of us don’t support things like settlements, rabbinical control over marriage and conversion, and quite frankly the on-going near status-quo with respect to the occupation of nthe West Bank and Gaza. We worry about the influence of right wing extremists in the Knesset and the near requirement to include them in coalition governments. We are more than prepared to have sensible discussions about this with well anyone. Here’s my 2 cents as to why this is difficult to do these days. What I see on University campuses and in social media at large is a movement to liken Israel to Nazis and the use of words like genocide, apartheid, and concentration camps… The discussions therefore get caught up in this level of diatribe… On both sides… While I don’t support BDS personally, what I am really dismayed by is the low level by which they sink to garner support. It’s deplorable and sickening. Now, I can empathize with Palestinian cause in general and completely can see their frustration even if I don’t agree with all of their arguments. Unfortunately, in my experience during protective edge, the discussions were mostly unhealthy banter back and forth with one side trying to prove moral supremacy over the other. As if this narrative is that simple either way. Both sides have skeletons in their closets. Just me…

      Reply to Comment
    7. Yeah, Right

      Funny, that, it’s almost as if Larry has never heard of tribalism.

      Because tribalism is like that: loyalty to the tribe trumps everything else

      Reply to Comment
    8. Mikesailor

      Bar: It isn’t that anyone didn’t read your comment. It’s just that it is almost too stupid to warrant a reply. Livni lied through her teeth. If you look at the timeline, Abbas didn’t agree to the “unity” government with Hamas until AFTER Israel reneged on the release of prisoners. And it wasnt’t until AFTER that Abbas signed on to the international conventions Israel complains about. By the way, most of those, like the Geneva Conventions, Israel already is a signatory. Only Israel continually honors them in the breach. And, according to Martin Indyk the US mediator, Israel screwed up the negotiations by refusing to discuss anything of consequence and continually building settlements. Go read something instead of self-serving propaganda by a politician, especially one running for office.
      Stuart: Your self-serving BS argument is repugnant. You can see the Palestinian’s point but you don’t want to do anything about it. That is moral hypocrisy and intellectual dishonesty at its zenith. If you don’t like BDS, then what is your solution? Sitting on your ass and whining?
      Larry: I agree that there is one big blind spot with Jews who continually whine about their “victimization” both present and historically, yet cannot see their own contribution to the mess. Instead, like Stuart, they continually whine about “antisemitism” while blithely approving, either through silent acquiscence or blatant vocalization, the brutality and theft heaped upon the Palestinians. Harping on past persecutions and attempting to use the Holocaust as a cudgel against critics is self-defeating and frankly stupid. It has devalued the “Jewish” argument to where it is now seen as one more self-serving excuse for immoral and dishonest behavior. I guess that is the iinevitable result of Zionism: an intellectually bankrupt philosophy presupposing a “special” dispensation for a racist and xenophobic view of the world with “justice” reserved for members of the “tribe”. Congratulations.

      Reply to Comment
    9. Brian

      Mike you are right about the basic timeline and about Livni’s lying. Shame on Cohen for serving as a mouthpiece for her lying but what else is new. Larry Derfner has already exposed Livni’s shameless lying in this matter then, and how yet again the Palestinians got blamed for Israeli intransigence, and you, Bar, read that article because you commented on it at the time and had a long back and forth with Larry and others in which you made all sort of assumptions about the prisoner release that got exposed as erroneous.


      Now Livni’s lying about it again.

      Bonus article on Netanyahu’s lying about “Palestinian rejectionism”:


      Reply to Comment
    10. Paul Seligman (@PaulMSeligman)

      What I find most depressing about the original article is the assumption by the Technion president that all Jewish students in US and Canada should be keen and willing to be trained as propagandists for a foreign state.

      Reply to Comment
    11. Tomer

      Jewish students in US and Canada are mostly assimilated ignoramuses who know nothing about Judaism, the Hebrew language or the land of Israel.

      In fact, these people are well on the road to assimilation, intermarriage and disappearance.

      Reply to Comment
    12. Bar

      To all the “expert” historians here, I present you with the timeline. Livni is right on target:

      Obama meets Abbas, offers deal on March 17, 2014. Abbas walks.

      PA announces submission of presentation of papers to 15 international bodies on April 2, 2014.

      Israel announces refusal to release of last batch of Palestinian murderers on April 3, 2014.

      Hamas and Fatah sign unity deal on April 23, 2014.

      So we may now conclude that Brian and MikeSailor are ignorant and don’t know how to use Google before writing long missives about nothing.

      Reply to Comment
      • Brian

        Bar, I’m sorry but your timeline makes no sense. Larry Derfner published that article on March 26th and links to a New York Times article by Judy Rudoren of March 23rd. The cat (refusal of prisoner release) was already well out of the bag and a foregone conclusion before the official Israeli announcement on April 3rd. The timing of the official announcement is hardly the point except to show the kind of game that was being played, and is still being played, by Livni et al.

        Reply to Comment
        • Bar

          That’s irrelevant. The timeline still proves you wrong. Governments and militaries always make contingency plans. The most important factor here is that Abbas said no. Then Israel mulled whether to release the last batch of prisoners and began a debate as to whether to do it. Livni was talking to the Palestinians again, as we learn from her outrage at Erakat when the Palestinians announced they were submitting papers to the 15 organizations. Then Israel made the official announcement about not releasing.

          Just cut it out already. It’s so lame and stupid.

          Reply to Comment
          • Yeah, Right

            Bar: “That’s irrelevant. The timeline still proves you wrong.”

            That would be the “timeline” that Bar presents that has Abbas signing papers “on April 2, 2014” and then Netanyahu “announces” that the prison-release is being cancelled “on April 3, 2014”.

            And what Bar considers to be “irrelevant” is the fact (and it is a fact) that the “last batch” were supposed to be released on… March 29.

            So the REAL timeline is this:
            1) Israel refuses to release the prisoners on March 29, and continues to refuse unless/until Abbas agrees to Something New.
            2) Abbas refuses to be blackmailed, and since Israel missed the agreed-upon release date he is then free to sign those papers (April 2).
            3) Whereupon Netanyahu has a hissy-fit and “announces” (on April 3) that he won’t release prisoners… that he has been refusing to release for nearly a week.

            Question: So, who broke the agreed-upon arrangement?

            Answer: Netanyahu, on March 29.

            Reply to Comment
          • Bar

            No, there were still discussions going on about prisoners and they were officially closed after the Palestinians submitted to the 15 bodies.

            What we all know now but didn’t know for sure before Livni’s interview was that Obama’s talk with Abbas was a serious presentation of a proposal to move forward on a peace deal. Abbas walked.

            After Abbas walked, the Palestinians also made it known the negotiations would end with the fourth prisoner release. To remind you, the prisoner release was a good-faith gesture to bring the Palestinians to the negotiating table (stupid idea, but that’s how much Israel wanted the talks). Now the Palestinians were post-Obama-meeting where they said now and about to walk away from talks.

            So Israel was in new negotiations to make the Palestinians continue to negotiate after the release. Instead of negotiating further or admitting that they never gave a hoot about the negotiations in the first place, the Palestinians submitted their membership claims. And then Israel announced there would be no fourth prisoner release.

            How do we know this? Because Netanyahu seemed to think the negotiations would end with consent by the Palestinians.


            So, to end this on a note you will undoubtedly understand: The Palestinians won. They got their 76 murderers released, convinced the Americans to let them not negotiate directly with Israel, walked away when things got serious, submitted membership to 15 int’l bodies with impunity, and got to cry that Israel was the bad guy for not releasing 25 more murderers.

            And then they got people like Derfner to carry water for them without even working for it and they’ve got a little army of idiots and not-so-idiot manipulators protecting them endlessly online.


            Reply to Comment
          • Yeah, Right

            Bar: “No, there were still discussions going on about prisoners and they were officially closed after the Palestinians submitted to the 15 bodies.”

            No, the AGREEMENT was that the prisoners would be released on March 29, and Netanyahu reneged on that AGREEMENT on March 29 when he insisted that he would not release them unless Abbas agreed to Israel’s unilateral demands.

            That’s not “discussions”, Bar, that’s “blackmail”, and Abbas was quite right to refuse to be blackmailed.

            Or, as JPOST reported on March 29: “Israel’s failure to release a final batch of Palestinian prisoners, scheduled for Saturday night, amounts to a violation of the terms of the original agreement reached between Israel and the Palestinians at the start of talks nine months ago, brokered by the United States, US officials have told their Israeli counterparts.”

            This nonsense about “officially closed” is exactly that – nonsense.

            The deal was **this**, and when the deal fell due Israel unilaterally insisted on **something** **else**.

            That was on March 29, and so that was the exact moment when the deal became “officially” defunct i.e. deal fell through the moment the deal fell due and Israel reneged.

            Deal’s are like.

            Even the Americans had to concede that, which they did on March 29.

            You did too – also back on March 29 – which you’d know if you followed that link of Brian’s and looked in the talkback thread.

            Reply to Comment
          • Yeah, Right

            Bar: “To remind you, the prisoner release was a good-faith gesture to bring the Palestinians to the negotiating table (stupid idea, but that’s how much Israel wanted the talks). ”

            Revisionist nonsense.


            “But Israel publicly acknowledged its commitment to four prisoner releases as a condition of peace talks with the Palestinians. In return, Palestinian leadership agreed not to seek punishment of Israel through the International Criminal Court. US sources tell The Jerusalem Post they fear the consequences of Israel’s failure to release the final group of prisoners, expressly calling the decision a violation of the original deal.”

            The prison-release was not an Israeli touchy-feely, Bar.

            It was one half of a DEAL, wherein the Israelis agreed to release the prisoners, and *in* *return* the Palestinians refrained from joining the ICC.

            Even the Jerusalem Post was willing to admit that.

            But not you, hey? You prefer to link to an article that has “Netanyahu says…” in its title.

            Sure, because an article that has “Netanyahu says…” in its title is going to be a paragon of truth, justice and objectivity.

            Sure. Sure it is…

            Reply to Comment
          • Bar

            My response is at the bottom for some reason.

            Reply to Comment
    13. That’s just never going to happen Tomer. Before the creation of the state of Israel and now, there are millions of Jews around the world who are just as Jewish as Israelis – observant, not so much or not at all. I think there are more observant Jews living outside the state of Israel than in, and they don’t tie their Jewishness to the state of Israel in any way. Why is that? Maybe because they are more worldly than Israelis, better educated, don’t live such insular lives. Maybe they are ashamed of the actions taken by the GoI and the slow but steady corruption of Israeli society to becoming the closed, xenophobic, paranoid and violent one it is today.

      Reply to Comment
      • Sluggo

        This is your ridiculous argument:

        1) the Jews in the diaspora are more educated than the Jews in isreel

        2). As a result, the Jews in the diaspora make better decisions

        3). One such decision is is living in the diaspora.

        Ignoring the disregard of logic, I would argue that isre has a highly educated population. What a desperate fail on your part. Meaningless words packaged with layers of hate. Poor girl.

        Reply to Comment
    14. Bar

      It’s not just “Netanyahu says…” It’s also Livni says.


      And you know what else we learn from this now? That when Kerry spoke about “leaders” making difficult decisions and “leading a horse to water,” he was actually speaking about Abbas who had walked away from Obama’s proposal…which Netanyahu had accepted w reservations.

      As for the Palestinians going to the ICC, they still haven’t and they won’t until this generation of Fatah men is dead because they are liable for war crimes. If somebody explained this to be the reason Israel agreed to release murderers, it was to justify the inexcusable release to please Kerry and enable him to bring the manipulative Abbas to the table.

      So, to conclude:
      Abbas killed negotiations
      then the PA informed the parties they were planning to walk away from negotiations
      Israel balked at releasing the final batch of prisoners
      Israel tried to negotiate a continuation of negotiations (how horrible, huh?)
      The Palestinians went to int’l organizations
      Israel announced the release was officially dead
      Hamas and Fatah sign unity.

      Reply to Comment
      • Brian

        I think that everything you claim about the non-release and the time table has already been refuted, above. Repeating it won’t make it less refuted.

        I can only scratch my head in wonderment because this article to which you link actually supports nothing of what you claim. It is enough to quote from it this absurdity:

        “[On April 2] Israel’s chief negotiator, Tzipi Livni, said the Palestinians’ decision to seek accession to 15 international conventions through the U.N. violated the terms of the promised prisoner release…. The Palestinians submitted their applications after Israel failed to carry out the release, as promised, by the end of March.”

        Reply to Comment
    15. Donna

      this reminds me of the movie “The Giver”

      Reply to Comment
    16. Shulamith

      Do you really believe all the nonsense you talk? Hamas and Abbas tell their “constituents” all the time that their goal is to eliminate, kill – all Jewish Israelis. That is the goal of every Islamist in the world. Do you not see the dangers approaching, not only here but all over Europe, the USA, Canada, Australia? What will it take for you to GET IT???

      Reply to Comment
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