How Israel became chastised when it should have been embraced; and why we Israelis have a hard time understanding that

The 7th of October caught me in Bratislava, while attending a conference of the PROI network that UNIK is a member of. It was difficult to grasp the gravity of the events from afar, but later in the evening, when colleagues from around the world were texting me pictures of parliament buildings lit up in blue and white — I realized that we’re experiencing an unprecedented event.

In the first few days, while we were still processing the disaster that befell us, the people of Israel received a warm embrace, unlike anything we’ve known from the past decades. But when the blood was still warm, and we still didn’t get enough of the heroic stories — the world had already moved on and replaced the warm embrace with severe ostracization. The 7th of October is still mentioned, but the impression has faded away.

Israel continues to be the subject of harsh criticism and outrage that include calls to boycott and sanction it. There is really no need to experience the chill factor of the Hague in order to understand just how much Israel is unfavored right now on the international stage. It’s at university campuses (those antisemites), at economic forums (definitely antisemites), at the UN (they made a profession out of Antisemitism!) and even in internationally known techno clubs (don’t get me started on their antisemitism). Even Yuval Abraham’s speech at the Berlin Film Festival, where he and Basel Adra won Best Documentary, was labeled antisemitic by Israeli Journalist Yaara Shapira.

So how is it that our people have been slaughtered, yet the entire world is against us? And what does that have to do with the picture of reality that we are presented with on the 8 o'clock news? Could it be that our downfall simply provoked the hidden ghouls of Antisemitism that were hiding there all along?

Well, not exactly. Israeli media has been known, since always and ever, for having a very narrow scope, focusing primarily on local events and their domestic narrative. It has to do with the fact that Hebrew, the language of the Israeli media, is understood almost exclusively by native Hebrew speakers, making it virtually impossible to cater to a wider international audience. Consider Arabic, French or English speaking media outlets that have hundreds of millions of viewers across national divides. Not only politically, but also virtually — Israel operates in an enclave mentality with a national storytelling whereby “the world is against us”.

Since the 7th of October, while we are wallowing in our blood and tears, we watch the events of the war unfold through the filters of the Israeli government and military. Indeed, the tragedy that befell the south of Israel produced an abundance of heroic as well as heart-wrenching stories, and perhaps understandably so, Israeli media focused primarily on those stories and continues to do so as the war wages on. So too with the somewhat understandable desire for a harsh response and even revenge: it continues to reverberate within the Israeli public and even among journalists, the latter who have become quasi public-morale officers, rather than critical voices in society that offer unbiased analysis.

The result is that the Israeli public is exposed almost exclusively to images from within Israel, to videos filmed by soldiers in the battlefield and to tragic stories of injury and survival. But what we are not exposed to at all is what is happening on the other side of the border. At the same time, the world — the same world that had compassion for Israelis on the 7th of October — is watching the mass destruction in the Gaza strip and the horrific humanitarian crisis unfold.

For the world, dead children are dead children, no matter which side of the fence they’re on. And for the world, the weak will always be championed over the powerful, especially if the latter has unleashed the most powerful army in the Middle East against the poor. Perhaps most importantly for the world is that one crime does not justify another, or at the very least it cannot justify a tenfold crime especially as it is waged primarily against civilians. While our tragedy ended on the 9th of October (notwithstanding the hostages and their families), the way the world sees it — the tragedy in Gaza hasn’t stopped ever since.

International news outlets are broadcasting the images from Gaza on a daily basis. While we continue to busy ourselves with the consequences of this disaster (the evacuated towns in the north and south of Israel, a rising death toll of soldiers), we are blind to what is happening in Gaza: in the first place, documenting is prohibited by the military, but even if it wasn’t, it would most likely not be aired on Israeli channels.

At the same time, the world is watching (live) one of the worst humanitarian crisis since the 20th century unfold: Mass destruction of infrastructure and medical centers, tens of thousands of civilian casualties, close to two million in refugee encampments, children starving to death (literally) or eating animal food to survive and many more hundreds or even thousands buried under the rubble of what used to be their homes.

These two vastly different focal points are the cause of this discrepancy, between our perception of ourselves as victims of subhuman nazi monsters, and the international perception arguing that one crime cannot justify a tenfold, and that Israel is responsible for the international crime against a civilian population.

Is the anti-Israel sentiment fueling antisemitic tendencies? Most probably. But is the cause of the anti-Israel sentiment inherently antisemitic? Probably not. We know for a fact that the world embraces Israeli science and innovation, economy and technology, music and art, knowing that Israel is majority Jewish. And lest we forget the non-Israeli Jews who are in prominent roles and institutions world-wide.

So maybe, just maybe, the proliferation of the term antisemitic is meant to get us off the hook? Because if we assume that the critique is only about our Jewishness, we are essentially shielding ourselves from introspection and setting ourselves up for moral failure.