In March I gave a guest lecture at the University of Arizona in Tucson, entitled: “Israel and Palestine in the Gilded Age.”
As I explained, the term “Gilded Age” was coined by Mark Twain, and refers to an earlier epoch of US history: the last few decades of the 19th century. In his novel of the same name, Twain makes a metaphor of gilding – an external coating that gives the appearance of solid gold, but which actually consists of only a thin layer of the expensive metal, concealing other materials that are a lot less desirable just under the surface.
While Twain leveled his critique at the America of the late 1800s, I contend that his imagery also adequately describes Israel under the almost decade-long rule of Benjamin Netanyahu, especially in the last year.
Israel may invest great resources in efforts to present itself to the world as a light unto the nations, an exemplary state that deserves to be supported and even emulated. But as I reveal in the video, with words and images, the exact opposite is often the case.
I survey some of the seediest scandals that plagued Israeli society in 2016. Many of these were covered extensively by The Electronic Intifada and by this writer specifically, but otherwise received little attention from other media outlets.
The talk focuses on top Israeli leaders who blame their society’s ills on indigenous Palestinians, African refugees and leftist Jews, on the violent vigilantes that this hate speech inspires and on the large swath of the general public that embraces these racists, inciters and attackers.
But this not merely a retrospective of 2016. Focusing on Israel’s misconduct, the lecture also includes original analysis and hopefully a fresh perspective on the situation.
While mainstream media often frame the debate as a zero-sum game in which there are just two warring sides – Israeli Jews versus Palestinian Arabs – in this presentation, I propose that by breaking down the country’s political options into not two, but four, we might better make sense of the situation on the ground.
Equal rights for all
I compare the vision of Netanyahu to those of two of his ideological rivals in the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, demonstrating that they are at least as racist towards non-Jews as he is – if not more so. I also observe that, as opposed to their American counterparts, Israeli millennials – those coming of age in the 21st century – are likely to be even more racist than their parents, and that this has frightening consequences for the country.
Admittedly, watching the entire 90-minute lecture all in one sitting can be somewhat exhausting and even deeply depressing as it contains a list of horrific crimes and the human suffering they cause.
But I recommend watching the video to its conclusion, as I end with an inspiring story about a recent effort to roll back the advances of the racist right, and to reinforce an alternative trajectory, one that insists upon equal rights for everyone living in the land.
I thank fellow contributor to The Electronic Intifada Dan Cohen for filming the talk, and Professor Matthew Abraham at the Department of English at the University of Arizona for hosting me in Tucson.