With a pinch of salt
I find it a very interesting phenomenon, that Haaretz.com could boast yesterday of a minimum of four front page stories on Iran! From my humble, unscientific and distant perspective of Israeli society, and of the rather sizeable Haa’retz reading chunk of the Israeli populace, I feel I can tell so much: The protests have re-humanized Iranians to the eyes of many Israelis, and many Israeli news observers are somewhat elated by their own mind shift in this process. More interesting still is how temporary and flighty this new perception of Iran is.
The true giveaway is the rather eery editorial by Zvi Bar’el (“Which Iran would Israel bomb?”). Statements such as that “Suddenly there is an Iranian people” presumably do not express the author’s own surprise, but instead constitute an ironical enumeration of the surprises many Israelis feel with regard to the events.
Even so, this is an intriguing insight into an Israeli view of Iran. The notion that there are neither one nor two “but rather a number of Irans” is of course elementary to anyone with a vague knowledge of Iranian society and culture, yet perhaps not so in Israel. The notion that Khameini and Ahmedinejad are a monolithic projection of Iranian public opinion is ludicrous, a notion too ridiculous even to refute in a serious paper, yet we are told that “it was not the son of God who spoke on Friday, but a politician who needs to preserve his system of rule as well as his own legitimacy.” A closer observation of the Iranian elite and great parts of the middle class, may more than just surprise Israelis. To that one might add that Iran is a country whose student population is considerably more diverse in its ideological make-up than is Israel’s (it has been so for a while – this phenomenon certainly doesn’t date back to last week).
I must confess that I am heartened by the following:
“most interesting and important is that the commentary on what is taking place in Iran is not being brought to the public by senior intelligence officers, but via images transmitted by television.”
Indeed, the riots may not have toppled anyone in Iran yet, but they have revolutionized Israeli information channels, ushering the country into journalistic normalcy (If I may, where the bloody hell does every other public get its commentary on Iran from? From the back of the label of a Mickey Mouse doll that self-destructs on a park bench?).
Now, the bombing question. Admittedly, it is far harder to bomb someone once we have acknowledged they have a human face, even if we do so to “save them from tyranny”. Once we see their face, we will also have to imagine what it looks like, singed and bleeding under a heap of rubble. But what if we haven’t seen their face? That is precisely why I felt queasy about this part:
“For goodness’ sake, who is left to bomb? Until one week ago, the path was well-lit.”
I am not quite sure what it’s supposed to mean… But I think I can distinguish one rather ill-omened implication, which I will now explore.
Let’s just assume that the “path” is “well-lit” once again (the ease with which the prospect of a tremendously barbaric operation is dismissed using such a singable term has to be one of the hallmarks of militarized cultures); let’s assume for a moment that the protests suddenly stop, that Ahmedinejad stays where he is, that the Israeli public loses interest in Iranians, and that (God forbid!) the university of Tel Aviv publishes a new poll PROVING that most Iranians are three-nippled, terrorist, anti-semites hungry for the blood of young Jewish children… Would the path then once again be “well-lit”? Let’s assume for a moment that every Iranian woman were portrayed to Israelis as that Wildersian pastiche of a human being, the domestically abused, ‘clitoridectomy-ed’, vitriol-singed wretch, both victim of and accomplice to the project of her own plight. That is presumably a far less appealing image to the Israeli public than that of the handsome, poetic, Sorosian fantasy of a student ‘democracy worker’ (I find this term rather abhorrent, but that’s just me). Unless they are that, then they are not really “of us” any longer, and do not deserve our sympathy or support. I have some serious reservations about this Walzerian notion of solidarity, the one that proclaims that I am morally obligated to help another if he or she is like me; the notion of solidarity that is exclusively directed at those whose views and habits we share (see Walzer’s ‘Spheres of Justice’, published in 1984).
But Iranians are protesting, and Israelis are identifying with this, and whether or not we like Walzer, the moment is ripe, and a mental ‘gap year’ for Israelis in Tehran probably won’t go wasted, even if that means that they will see in Iranians what they want to see. In Bar’el’s own words, the events are “a mark that should… be seared into the minds of the West in general, and the United States and Israel in particular”. If a flighty infatuation with Iranian students is what it takes, then we might have to settle for this, and it may do more than we think to prevent Israel’s destruction of half of the Middle East. On a final note, I apologize about the excessive use of neologisms.