by Noah Efron
September 29, 2014
A New York Times op-ed suggests that a right-wing cabal has shut us Israeli leftists up, and we can do little do about it. But we haven’t been silenced. We’ve just failed to make our case.
As I write this, the most-emailed post on the New York Times website is a short piece called “How Israel Silences Dissent,” by Mairav Zonszein who, like me, moved to Israel from America where she was born. And like me, she is a leftist and a political activist. Zonszein describes a small group of thugs who mixed it up with Tel Aviv peace demonstrators at the start of the Gaza war, a death threat phoned into a theater against a renowned 75 year old stage actress, Gila Almagor, after a newspaper reported that the grotesque murder and immolation of a Palestinian teen in Jerusalem left her embarrassed to be an Israeli, the cancelling of an endorsement deal for a gifted comedian, Orna Banai, after she expressed sympathy for Gazan kids, and threats against a Haaretz journalist, Gideon Levy, who described Israeli pilots as war criminals. All these, Zonszein wrote, demonstrate “the aggressive silencing of anyone who voices disapproval of Israeli policies or expresses empathy with Palestinians.”
The thing is, they don’t.
Don’t get me wrong; they’re terrible. I took part in the Tel Aviv peace demonstrations during the war, and I saw the handful of young, right-wing bullies angling for a fight. I saw Almagor on the evening news, and then the morning news, describing the anger she encountered on her Facebook page. On the radio, I heard Banai (whom I adore) telling how the feckless cruise company that she shilled for had told her she’d become a commercial liability. And I saw the Levy’s description of his heroic apathy about the public scorn on social media, in the paper and on TV. My stomach churned when I watched, heard and read all these things, just as Zonszein’s did.
But then, that’s the point: I watched, heard and read all these things. The criticisms reached me. The criticisms of the criticisms reached me. Discussion of the criticism and of the criticisms of the criticisms reached me. No one was silenced. The week after thugs punched three demonstrators, there was another demonstration, this one larger, and protected by more police. The actress, the comedian and the journalist received hours of airtime and hundreds of column inches. The murder of the Palestinian kid in Jerusalem was condemned by multitudes, including the parents of the three Israeli boys who were murdered weeks earlier.