Politics & Policy

Whitewashing Israel

Nahal Brigade soldiers in the Golan Heights. (IDF via Flickr)
The media portray Israel as an all-white colonialist state. What’s the real story?

Mainstream-media outlets in the West love to run photographs of Palestinians, typically looking sympathetic in the ruins of bombed-out buildings. On the rare occasions when editors include photos of Israelis, the images bear a striking similarity to one another: All the people in them are white.

In reality, Israelis — including thousands of soldiers in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) — are not uniformly white or even Jewish. Consider the commander of the Golani Brigade, one of the country’s elite infantry units, currently fighting in Gaza as part of Operation Protective Edge. Colonel Rasan Alian is an Arab Druse who has served in the IDF for over two decades. Recently wounded in the eye and hospitalized, he returned to the front lines as quickly as he could to lead his men. In Alian’s own words, quoted in the Israeli press, “I want to go back to Gaza, and get to as many terrorists as possible.”

Do you find it intriguing that an Arab abhors Hamas and has spent 20 years of his life defending the Jewish state? Well, CNN doesn’t. Its investigative journalists prefer to malign Israelis as “scum.” Apparently Rasan Alian just isn’t a compelling story.

Or what about Chief Warrant Officer Baynesian Kasahun and Staff Sergeant Moshe Malko, two of the Israeli soldiers tragically killed in combat? They are both black. In fact, peruse the entire list of those who have given their lives to stop Hamas’s reign of terror. There is a lot of diversity there.

From all the photos in the New York Times over the past decade, you would never know that more than 125,000 Ethiopian Jews live in Israel, and many of them have served in the IDF. Or that, in addition to the Druse, large numbers of Bedouins volunteer to join the Israeli army, even though they are exempt from conscription. Or that Israel and the IDF boast Jews of Middle Eastern descent.

Instead, much of the Western media carefully “whitewashes” images from Israel to give the impression that Israelis are all of European heritage. Why? Because whitewashing fits the post-colonial narrative the Left applies to Israel. In that mindset, the Jewish state is the “colonizer/occupier,” and the Palestinians living in Gaza and the West Bank are the “natives.” If IDF soldiers have the same skin tone as British imperialists or Christopher Columbus, the template is that much easier to apply.

Whenever the global Left sees a white Israeli guarding a checkpoint in the West Bank or fighting in Gaza, it knows what moral categories to assign to Israel and Hamas. No matter how many rockets are launched or civilians murdered, the terrorists in Gaza are the freedom fighters and the Jews are the oppressors — just like the French in Algeria and the cowboys on the Great Plains. One suspects that whitewashing Israel helps some Westerners assuage their post-colonial guilt. By decrying the Jewish state, they expurgate the sins of their own ancestors and clean their moral slate.

But when you see blacks and whites, Jews and Arabs standing side by side against Hamas’s terrorism, it becomes difficult to call Israel a colonialist oppressor or an apartheid state. Instead, we see the reality of Israel’s existence: It is built on liberal values of tolerance anathema to its enemy.

I don’t mean to suggest that there is no friction or disparity between different ethnic groups in Israel. Israel is not a “post-racial nation” by any means, and outright discrimination certainly exists — as it does in many countries. Nor does the fact that the IDF boasts soldiers of every color relieve Israel of its obligation to fight morally — which it does, at much cost to its men and women in uniform. But seeing how our media twist themselves into a post-colonial pretzel only further highlights their consistent bias against the one democracy in the Middle East.

— Nathaniel Zelinsky, a 2013 graduate of Yale College, holds an M.Phil. in history from the University of Cambridge, where he studies as a Yale–Clare Mellon Scholar.


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