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Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Israelis abroad make excuses

Roi Ben Yehuda is an Israeli, or ex-Israeli, who lives in Spain and writes frequently for Ha'aretz. He previously (see 'Epiphany in a Spanish neo-Nazi bookstore,' Haaretz June 15, 2008) alleged that a Neo-Nazi Book shop is selling anti-Semitic materials in Barcelona. He further alleged that "just about everywhere he looked" he saw swastikas and anti-Nazi graffit. These claims were made by no-one else to my knowledge. They made Barcelona sound like a description of Berlin in 1932. This assertion could not be verified by a friend living in Spain. She notes that the sale of such materials is forbidden by Spanish law and that she did not see much graffiti in or posters of the type described in Barcelona. Perhaps others can enlighten us. Roi's story about Nazi bookstores and graffiti in Spain is therefore dubious, to say the least.

Roi's latest article tells us that many people, including apparently himself, believe that you can be an Israeli living in Spain or the United States or some other country. (See "Why Jews can have more than one home," Haaretz August 26, 2008). As Roi notes, there are as many as 600,000 such "Israelis" living in the United States.

This concept of "Israeli Lite" is shared by many Israelis living abroad. But the truth is that most people can have only one home and are not happy with split identities. You can be an Israeli with Spanish or American citizenship or an American with ties to Israel, but you cannot really be both an American and an Israeli at the same time.

If you live and work in the United States or Spain, your children will learn Spanish or English, and not Hebrew, and they will be Spanish or American. It is not likely they will be Israeli. Sooner or later, they or their children or their grandchildren are going to decide they are not Israelis. Roi is going to find himself less and less Israeli the longer he lives in Spain.

Everyone must make their own choices, but I am fascinated by the phenomenon of Jews who insist on living in various European countries: Spain, Poland, Germany, and also insist on complaining about anti-Semitism in those countries. All those countries have a history of anti-Semitism of course. If you live in France, expect good wine. If you live in Spain or Poland, expect the characteristic specialties of those countries.

In my view, living in Spain and complaining about anti-Semitism is like eating ripe Camembert and complaining about the taste. Often, these claims are clearly exaggerated, as happened in a hoax letter circulated about French anti-Semitism. Is anti-Semitic persecution a part of the "Jewishness" of these folks?

Roi is entitled to his opinion. The question is, why Ha'aretz wants to publish it.

More interesting is the question of why Sara Miller of Ha'aretz, as well as Roi Ben Yehuda himself sent me letters trying to tell me what I can and cannot write about Roi Ben Yehuda and claiming that what I wrote was 'libelous.' Of course, Ha'aretz would be justifiably upset if someone tried to censor them. What I wrote can scarcely be libelous unless there is indeed a major Nazi revival in Barcelona, which no other journalist has reported. Nor did anyone else report that everywhere they looked in Barcelona there are Swastikas. And if it is "libelous," what are we to make of the writings of Gideon Levi, Amira Hass and Yitzhak Laor about Israelis and Zionists? Is Ha'aretz prepared to guarantee that every accusation they make is absolutely grounded in fact and provable in a court of law?

As I have no desire for legal problems with Ha'aretz, the article is duly altered, but the message is the same.
Ami Isseroff

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