Saturday, August 29, 2009

American Narcissism

Just recently, on the net, I stumbled across an article, Jewish Blog-Con: A Zionist Love Story, by journalist and blogger Orit Arfa (, 12/8/09). It left me shaking my head and muttering to myself, but more on that later. First, some background on Orit: at she tells us that she was born and raised in Los Angeles, went to a private Jewish day school, eventually graduated with a BA in Jewish Studies and a minor in journalism from the American Jewish University, moved to Israel in 1999, worked there in PR, and wrote on "politics, society, lifestyle, travel, nightlife, and dining." Also in Israel, she completed an MA in Bible and Jewish Thought at the Schechter Institute of Judaic Studies and took up painting Biblical themes. In 2008, Orit moved back to LA and currently writes for The Jewish Journal.

At, I clicked on Ori's paintings, and was struck by a work titled simply Pinchas, based on Numbers 25. Pinchas, an athletic youth, was depicted thrusting a spear through the bodies of a man and woman engaged in sexual congress. Ewww! Orit's caption being a tad too sketchy for me (not being acquainted with the relevant Biblical fairy tale) I decided to go directly to Numbers 25: "And Israel abode in Shittim, and the people [of Israel] began to commit whoredom with the daughters of Moab. And they [the daughters of Moab] called the people unto the sacrifices of their gods: and the people did eat, and bowed down to their gods. And Israel joined himself unto Baalpeor: and the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel. And the Lord said unto Moses, Take all the heads of the people, and hang them up before the LORD against the sun, that the fiece anger of the LORD may be turned away from Israel... And, behold, one of the children of Israel came and brought unto his brethren a Midianitish woman in the sight of Moses, and in the sight of all the congregation of the children of Israel, who were weeping before the door of the tabernacle of the congregation. And when Phinehas [Pinchas], the son of Eleazar... saw it, he rose up from among the congregation, and took a javelin in his hand; And he went after the man of Israel into the tent, and thrust both of them through, the man of Israel, and the woman through her belly."

In sum, the jealous deity of the Israelite tribe does not suffer those who mix it with non-Israelites gladly, and his anger will strike down both - even in flagrante delicto. Orit comments on her painting as follows: "My saddening experiences in Israel during the Intifada prompted my first politically tinged painting. Pinchas contains political messages associated with the religious camp while using erotic images palatable to more liberal, secular audiences. It asks the basic question: at what point is the use of force a desired and moral option?" I found this comment ambiguous: while she seems to be referring only to the division between religious and secular Israeli Jews, and its potential for Jew-on-Jew violence, there's also that reference to the Intifada. Her words can be read as suggesting that questions about the desirability or morality of the use of force only arise where Jews are concerned, and that force against non-Jews (whether Moabite/Midianite 'whores' or Palestinians) is a given. If so, Ori's moral perspective would seem to be in complete agreement with that of the tribal god of Numbers.

My worries about Orit deepened when I clicked on the hyperlink in the first paragraph of Zionist Love Story (don't worry, I'll get there!). It took me to The Land of Hollywood - Eretz Hollywood (14/8/08). Orit describes how she was taking "headshots" in the Hollywood hills - no, not quite in the way Palestinians take headshots - because she's hoping to embark on an acting career. Still, her mind can't help wandering back to Eretz Israel, which she finds herself comparing with the equally beautiful Eretz Hollywood. Except that, in the case of the former, she just "couldn't fully relax to its physical beauty. I'd see much more than earth. I'd wonder who lives in those homes and if they are happy. I'd wonder if they lost anyone to wars or terror. I'd wonder how they came to this land, where they trace their Jewish history. I'd wonder how many fought and died for the earth. Who sowed it? Who wants it?" And you just know how exclusive that wondering is! "In the Hollywood hills, I don't ask those questions. I see pretty homes and foliage and feel confident people are generally content, living their lives without too many existential fears, without too much historical baggage. My mind doesn't go into a deep place where I think about the fate of the Jews and humanity."

Of course not, Orit's is an exclusive, tribal wondering. The Hollywood hills carry no historical baggage for this Hollywood hopeful. I guarantee Dee Brown's Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee is nowhere to be found on her bookshelf: "California Indians were gentle as the climate in which they lived. The Spaniards gave them names, established missions for them, converted and debauched them. Tribal organizations were undeveloped among the California Indians; each village had its leaders, but there were no great war chiefs among these unwarlike people. After the discovery of gold in 1848, white men from all over the world poured into California by the thousands, taking what they wanted from the submissive Indians, debasing those whom the Spaniards had not already debased, and then systematically exterminating whole populations now long forgotten. No one remembers the Chilulas, Chimarikos, Urebures, Nipewais, Alonas, or a hundred other bands whose bones have been sealed under a million miles of freeways, parking lots, and slabs of tract housing." (p 220) And I can't see Ori hearkening unto the voice of Chief Seattle after a night on the town wining and dining: "And when the last Red Man shall have perished, and the memory of my tribe shall have become a myth among the White Men, these shores will swarm with the invisible dead of my tribe, and when your children's children think themselves alone in the field, the store, the shop, upon the highway, or in the silence of the pathless woods, they will not be alone. At night when the streets of your cities and villages are silent and you think them deserted, they will throng with the returning hosts that once filled them and still love this beautiful land." Wrong tribe, baby!

Orit goes on to recall the view from her Jerusalem apartment: "... the walls of the Old City straight ahead, the villages of East Jerusalem to the right, the Knesset building to the left. It's a stunning cityscape, but there too, I could never just enjoy it. The white, tubular solar heaters on the rooftops disrupt some of the organic beauty of the golden Jerusalem stone and pointy tips of the cypress trees. But I also look at the heaters in wonder though. They are symbols of the modern achievements of the Jewish State. The trees don't know it but they started as a seed planted into a Jewish dream coming true - lining paved roads named after great Jewish sages and thinkers." Ah, but then there's that proverbial fly in the ointment: "Then I'd look to the less tended landscapes of Arab East Jerusalem, and I remember how some unenlightened people living there are trying to kill me for wanting to live that dream, for recognizing it." Can you believe it? Some unenlightened Ayrabs wan't to off little old me just for wanting to live my Jewish dream. How very dare they! Why can't they clean up their 'hood instead, so's I've got a better view? Better still...

And so to A Zionist Love Story. Orit says she "divorced Israel in September of 2008, about 9 years after making aliyah... I often liken Israel to a lover. Anyone who makes aliyah is essentially embarking on a marriage with the Jewish state." How so? "It's easy for Diaspora Jews to fall madly in love with Israel. Israel is so very seductive, especially during the first dates, whether they be educational trips or summer vacations. Just touching the soil revived by the Jewish people after 2 millenia causes butterflies. Jews experience intoxicating romance with the land while taking walks along the Tel Aviv shore at sunset; they revel in the land's beauty at getaways in the plush North; they get frisky on the beach of Eilat and at Tel Aviv nightclubs; they delve into their past and dreams at Masada, the Golan Heights, and the Old City of Jerusalem. Most of all, they engage in heart to heart talks about life, humanity, and the Jewish soul while praying at the kotel. But once the Jew ties the knot with Israel by making aliyah, the honeymoon quickly fades and the reality of married Israeli life kicks in." And that reality? There's communication barriers, government bureaucracy, lousy jobs, but no, that's not it. "We simply went through too many crises: the Intifada, the Disengagement, the Lebanon War - all so saddened me, like miscarriages that set me back from truly focusing on my creative output. I felt infertile." Those bloody unenlightened Ayrabs again, ruining my beautiful Jewish dream! Thank God for good old dependable America: "He was the shoulder I cried on when I felt jerked around by Zion. He was there for me when I needed him - understanding my language, spoiling me with cushy malls and fabulous spas, entertaining me with great TV shows, and allowing me to focus on my self-development and dreams."

I was intrigued about Orit's reference to Sharon's 2005 disengagement from Gaza, so I googled Orit Arfa/Gaza and hit upon Orit Arfa: I burned a book at "To summarise, the novel [which she'd written in Israel but decided to burn before leaving] followed the migration of a 21-year old Gush Katif expellee from Gaza into Tel Aviv where she acted out her rebellion against religion and the State of Israel in the country's hottest nightclub. It spoke true of my own experience as someone who protested in Gaza during the Disengagement - an event that completely shattered my admiration and belief in the Zionist entity as such. They didn't burn books in Gaza, but the IDF demolished thousands of Jewish homes. They let the Palestinians burn the synagogues - and whatever holy books got trapped inside."

So Orit wasn't/isn't too happy because she believes Israeli settlers should be able to set up camp on the range wherever they please, just like in the good old US of A, where these days there's barely an unenlightened Redskin anywhere to spoil the view or scalp you just because you're living your American dream. Her novel, she went on to explain, was her "attempt to make Israel more like America, a land of the free and home of the brave. A place where people aren't judged by their race and religion (ideally), but by their character and creativity... Now that I've expelled myself from Israel I'm living out her quest for individualism in a country that still honours this value." You simply couldn't make this stuff up. Orit wants Israel, the Jewish state, to be "a place where people aren't judged by their race or religion"?! Talk about having your cake and eating it too.

For American Jews like Orit, it seems, one country is simply not enough. Israel must exist as a Jewish state so that she may come and go as the whim takes them. Or, as she puts it in A Zionist Love Story (when she tells us that Nefesh B'Nefesh (NBN) have invited her to blog on the progress of a batch of "newlyweds" making aliyah): "When I'm back there, my 'ex' and I will probably have a fling and remember the good times - easy without the pressure of commitment. Yet even as I'm beginning to fall in love with my best friend (America), I wouldn't mind if Israel swept me in his strong, sexy arms for a few weeks."

Nice work if you can get it, Orit, but here's the rub: Orit and her American "newlyweds" can come and go, like the settlers in the Israeli-occupied West Bank (a significant proportion of whom seem to be Americans), because Israel, as a state for all Jews, has a Law of Return which accords all Jews full citizenship rights should they care to take up the offer and live their dream. Only trouble is, Orit's dream is the Palestinian's nightmare. To indulge her right to have two homes and dream her dreams, millions of Palestinian refugees must remain stateless in camps in neighbouring Arab states, while millions more must live under a settler-friendly military occupation in the West Bank, under cannon fire in Gaza, or as barely-tolerated, second-class citizens in Israel itself. But then, they're just unenlightened riffraff whose dreams are of no consequence whatever, right?

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