Moral posturing as serious thought: Context-Free essay on migrants in Israel by Seth Freedman

Gidon Ben-Zvi, in a guest post on these pages yesterday titled “Growing pains: The birth of Israel’s illegal immigration crisis” made a few important points:

  • Israel’s illegal African immigration challenge is a recent phenomenon, going back to 2005, after the Egyptian police attacked Sudanese refugees who were camped out in Cairo, demanding asylum. Jerusalem proved generous and word spread that migrants would be greeted hospitably and provided with job opportunities upon arrival in Israel.
  • Since Hosni Mubarak was swept up and out of power during the ‘Arab Spring’, government authority has all but collapsed in the Sinai Peninsula. One by-product of this lawless state of affairs has been a spike of illegal immigration to Israel from Africa. Over the last several months, Israel’s southern border with Egypt, by way of the Sinai, has turned into the primary point of entry for thousands of work-seeking migrants (economic migrants, as opposed to political refugees).

Ben-Zvi was responding to a May 20th report by Harriet Sherwood titled “Israeli PM: illegal African immigrants threaten identity of Jewish state” which was characteristically devoid of such context – instead playing the ‘Jewish state should be held to the higher standard’ card, ending thusly:

“Amid the anti-immigration clamour, some Israelis have argued that, in the light of Jewish history, their state should be sympathetic and welcoming to those fleeing persecution.”

Seth Freedman’s piece – Israeli politicians are fanning the flames of anti-migrant tension – includes fair criticism of some unnecessarily hyperbolic rhetoric from a couple of Israeli politicians but, true to form for many Israeli Left commentators on the pages of CiF, Freedman’s rhetorical excesses are numerous and include the following:

  • Framing Israeli policies he finds disagreeable in the most extreme, unserious manner 
  • Imputing anti-black racism to Israel
  • A  failure to offer a concrete policy alternatives to a vexing political problem
  • Transparent moral posturing (Freedman is ‘the good Jew’) 
Framing Israeli policies he finds disagreeable in the most extreme terms:
The first dynamic is apparent in the opening passage, which quotes a counter protester at an anti-immigrant march in Tel Aviv on Tuesday, May 22nd, which tragically turned violent. 

“In 1936 my grandfather stood against the fascists in Cable Street. Today I did the same in Tel Aviv.” After five years on frontlines, Nic Schlagman is used to untrammelled hostility towards the African refugees and migrants with whom he works, but he says the situation has never been as critical as it is at present.”

The comparison to Blackshirts in London (circa 1936), in the context of a growing Nazi-inspired fascist movement throughout Europe, is morally, historically and intellectually unserious. It represents one of those rhetorical perversions which says more about those advancing the analogy (or those uncritically repeating it) than the analogy itself.  (See CiF commentator Mya Guarnieri hysterically advancing the narrative that Israel is moving in a “fascist” direction, here and here.)

Imputing racism: 

 There was this passage by Freedman:

“The climate of fear amongst the African community is at fever pitch,” [Nic] Schlagman said. “Mothers pulled their kids off the streets in anticipation of the marchers arriving, and everyone’s saying it’s only a matter of time until someone gets killed.” The spectre of such violence is hardly unfounded…[and] has revealed the level of hate coursing through the veins of Israelis furious at the influx of non-Jewish Africans into their country.” [emphasis added]

The accusation of racism against Israelis is of the most facile and lazy arguments employed in the anti-Zionist arsenal.  Israelis, like people in many states in the world, are of course struggling with the dilemma of balancing humanitarian concerns with the requirements of national cohesion and economic security. Concerns about unlimited immigration do not suggest that Israelis have “hate coursing through their veins”.  

Twenty percent of Israelis are Arab and among Jewish Israelis, roughly half are ‘Jews of color’ – that is Jews from the Middle East, North Africa (or Ethiopia). So, there is simply no rational reason to believe that the reaction to the influx of illegal immigrants would be any different in they were not from Africa.

A  failure to offer a concrete policy alternative to a vexing political problem:
In 900 words of criticism, Freedman fails to include anything resembling a concrete suggestion regarding how Israel should deal with the influx of immigrants. Freedman doesn’t even acknowledge the scope of the problem, nor is there a single policy proposal or a passage devoted to what he believes should be done by the Israeli Knesset in order to develop a codified series of laws and regulations to handle the influx of African migrants.  Such journalistic Israel critics are continually defined by their failure to offer real-world alternatives in addition to their scathing and often scurrilous critiques of the state, and its foreign and domestic policies.
Transparent moral posturing (Freedman is ‘the good Jew’):
Freedman is an Israeli Jew, and leverages that fact to opine at ‘Comment is Free’ quite effectively. His critiques of Israel are leveled, ostensibly, as is the case with so many other CiF commentators, ‘As-a-Jew’.
Indeed, a necessary corollary to the former principle (Israel’s critics’ failure to offer any specific alternatives to the government policies they’re admonishing) is the dynamic I’ve expanded upon previously: the vanity and moral posturing of placing oneself above the fray; beyond the day-to-day real life and necessarily imperfect decisions of a modern democratic nation-state.
To be clear, those Israelis using irresponsible, incendiary rhetoric against illegal immigrants should rightly face social opprobrium and, if the facts warrant it, even be arrested under Israel’s anti-incitement laws.
However, the Jewish state need not be held to a higher standard than other states similarly dealing with the moral dilemma of economic migrants crossing its borders.  
Finally, commentators like Freedman (and his Jewish fellow political travelers at the Guardian) need desperately to see Israel through a more mature, sober lens, and avoid the endless hyperbole, clichés and posturing. 

Ultimately, they fail to recognize a vital political and moral truth: in responsible statecraft rarely is there the luxury of making choices which will lead to perfect justice for all concerned.

Rather, with every serious decision in front of her, Israel (like all nations) must carefully weigh the costs and benefits of various possible actions and try to make the decisions which are most likely to result in a positive outcome for as many of her citizens as possible.  The perfect will always remain the natural and mortal enemy of the good. 


27 replies »

    • Joe Mills, right? Either way, you won’t be allowed to smear Jonathan Hoffman on these pages, nor defame the Jewish community with the laughable suggestion that there’s anything resembling a relationship with between the UK Zionist community and EDL. “Real Zionist”…please!

  1. When Freedman is the best it can offer I know that Comment is Free, like the Guardian, is circling the drain. Someone should put it out of its misery.

    “..Finally, commentators like Freedman (and his Jewish fellow political travelers at the Guardian) need desperately to see Israel through a more mature, sober lens, and avoid the endless hyperbole, clichés and posturing…”

    Spot on, but it’d be too much like hard work for such a one as Freedman to offer a “mature, sober” analysis of anything. He lacks the intelligence and his immaturity (like that of his colleagues) is evidenced by emotional thinking and presenting thoughts as facts to his gullible audience. Posturing is all he has ever been good at. It’s a mistake to expect anything else from such a one.

  2. Adam, good work, but by what criteria can you define this noch-schlepper as a journalist?

    To have Freedman commenting on such matters as if he has the gravitas, knowledge and authority to do so is rather like having him explain the ins and outs of the theory of relativity as if he actually knows what he is talking about.

    You are absolutely right that

    “…In 900 words of criticism, Freedman fails to include anything resembling a concrete suggestion regarding how Israel should deal with the influx of immigrants. Freedman doesn’t even acknowledge the scope of the problem, nor is there a single policy proposal or a passage devoted to what he believes should be done by the Israeli Knesset in order to develop a codified series of laws and regulations to handle the influx of African migrants. ” but why on earth should we be surprised? This is Seth Freedman we are talking about not a Pulitzer prize-winning journalist!

    Sadly, Israel is having to face this crisis as had the UK before it. Let’s hope that the Israeli government makes a better fist of dealing with it than successive UK governments which, because of their consummate ignorance and failure to face facts about unfettered immigration, have nurtured Islamism in Britain.

  3. Real Zionist. Do you have fantasies about Jonathan Hoffman?

    Seems to be somewhat of an obsession with you.

    • Ruby Rivlin anti-semitic?! Are you sure that you didn’t forget your pills today?

        • I got it first time, but you would do better to copy and paste a relevant snippet so people understand you better!

          Freedman is so over the top it is ludicrous – check his comment referring to this demo as a “pogrom”.

          I guess every now and again, when all else fails, the Guardian stirs him out of his weed-induced torpor to bring in the punters, as they say in the UK. Harriet is a bit of a lame duck, it seems – or lame chicken, in her case – and is being relegated to such harmless areas as sports or, soon, no doubt, home cooking, so they are looking deep into the barrel to find a replacement of equal – ahem – “quality” and found good old Freedman lurking down there.

          • It’s interesting that wherever Sethele Freedman rears his silly head his friend, Alex Stein, feels the need to defend his stupidity.

            Alex, a good friend doesn’t collude with stupidity even though he himself might agree with it, but instead has the courage to try to prevent the stupid one from making the thoroughgoing horse’s backside of himself.

            What happened?

        • Your so called irony is simply idiotic Alex. Adam Levick didn’t accuse Freedmann with anti-semitism but bad journalism, distortions, omissions of facts and lack of any context (he conveniently forgot to mention that 17 demonstrators have been arrested by the police for example). These racist goons and their political supporters won the condemnation of many politicians and opinionmakers from every directions of the Israeli political map including the prime minister himself.
          Have you ever thought that Freedmann should have voiced his criticism on an Israeli or Israel-friendly forum and not on an openly Israel-hating rag like the Guardian? I have a feeling CIF is one of the many places where every moron can vent his hate of the Jewish State irrespective his/her literal talent and intellectual/moral capabilities – a perfect place for as-a-jew nobodies like your buddy.

    • This is another of Sethele’s friends come to defend his honour. You can be sure that our ci-devant author is breathing heavily down our necks thirsting for a bit of praise to be surly about.

      Incidentally Nic you wave flags, you don’t waive them

    • leonidas/realzionist/whoever – have you ever considered the possibility to accept the fact that your lack of success in your life is not because Jonathan Hoffmann but due to your disgusting self? Anyway please take your frustration to somewhere else – I can suggest the Guardian, the Electronic Intifada, R. Silverstein’s blog, Mondoweiss, the Aryan Nation – the web are full of Jew haters who happily will give you a forum…

    • Leonidas I have clicked on your link and read the piece attached to it.

      You are over estimating your own importance.
      Why would anyone, whoever ‘they’ are, not want anyone to see a collection of playground insults and childish invective?

      I understand the message you don’t like Jonathan Hoffman.
      You claim in your piece that Mr. Hoffman is the elected co-Vice Chair of the Zionist Federation, although you add in a sneering fashion that it was because he was the only candidate.
      Well if you believe in the truth of what you say why don’t you stand as a candidate against him when he comes up for re-election?
      To put it in the same style as your piece, “Put up or Shut up!”

      For the record I have never met Jonathan Hoffman and I suspect that he and I support different political parties. My only interest is that you take your personal dislike somewhere else and stop polluting the pages of CiFWatch with your bile.

      • He can’t help it. He’s in the grip of an obsession which is not amenable to reason or control. He should be booted off here since he can’t control himself – it’d be a kindness.

    • I sincerely hope that is true.

      Helen Clark, former NZ PM, was once asked if if she was concerned about Kiwis immigrating to Australia. She responded that it raised the average IQ in NZ as a result.

      The same applies to Freedman, who may, for all I know or care, be binge drinking and selling dubious securities to naive investors as he did in the ’90s in London, lowering the average IQ there.

  4. The Law of Return in itself is good,but not when it allows discarded garbage like this Seth Freedman character to emigrate to Israel.Swap him for these illegal migrants.Send him back to that nasty racist Pommyland.Just when you thought that he has gone,he pops up again like a floating turd…….