Some Thoughts On Israel-Palestine, Instagram, And Zero-Sum Mentalities

Yinon Raviv
7 min readMay 14, 2021

Nobody cares about Israeli-Americans.

We have a special privilege. We’re afforded the comfort of a suburban American upbringing without losing that much of our Israeli identity. On one hand, we can articulate and emote in the public Israeli-Palestinian discourse with a sense of rootedness and skin-in-the-game, and yet, it’s our families and friends that actually have to fear rocket attacks.

Not us.

So nobody should shed a tear for us American-born-and-raised Israelis. Neither our Israeli side that values chutzpah and grit nor our American side that values self-reliance and hard work would allow us any self-pity. If our mothers weren’t yelling at us, our friends would roast us. We’re too damn lucky to complain about mean posts on Instagram.

But there is a lot to complain about. It’s a challenging discourse, to say the least. Everybody is a main character on social media, so our feeds are now flooded with thoughts and opinions. Like a good American, I did my part and posted, but like a good Israeli, I answered every message in response.

I posted this on my Instagram story and got a ton of responses!

Somebody messaged me saying that Israel is a nuclear power, with a well-funded military and American government support, while the Gazans are living in an open-air prison, suffering and having a much harder time than our friends in Tel Aviv posting about their brunch.

He wasn’t wrong. He was speaking facts.

But the same set of facts can lead to different interpretations. One of justification, the lens of “resistance”, and the other of humanism, the lens of, “Suicide bombers and lone shooters can still kill a lot of people, as they’ve had throughout history, where’s the empathy for their victims?”

Somebody else messaged me defending Gazan children dying because Hamas decided to shoot missiles out of nurseries.

He wasn’t wrong about Hamas being the Bad Guys who don’t care for Palestinians’ lives and well-being. From that perspective, it’s easy to put on the lens of justification and harder to put on the lens of “well, babies shouldn’t die and Israel should be held to a higher standard than Hamas, and if they haven’t stopped the rockets after getting revenge-bombed for decades now, how will this time be any different?”.

And you can go back and forth, arguing about the same set of facts, wrestling and scratching and clawing until one side submits to your intellectual dominance (or, more likely, shuts down and leaves the conversation). It’s why I’m not interested in “setting any record straight”. All I can really think about was that video of all those Jewish nationalists, shouting and chanting terrible things at the Western Wall as the Al-Aqsa Mosque seemed to burn. I later saw Yair Rosenberg, a fantastic and nuanced journalist, retweet the news report that showed that the “Mosque burning” was actually a tree that lit on fire from a wayward firecracker.

Link: https://twitter.com/JudahAriGross/status/1391813279559860228

Nobody cares that those kids were yelling about a tree. There is no persuasion possible when you have that jarring, visceral, memetic visual of a bunch of Jews waving Jewish flags losing their minds over a Mosque burning. You sound like the overly drunk guy at a bar that just got cut off, vehemently denying that you’re too drunk while falling over yourself.

As an Israeli-American that went to an American university, I know that we know drunk people much better than anyone in Israel. When you ask for a shot at a bar in Tel Aviv, they always tell you “ah, eetkavanta chaser?” and they give you what they call a “chaser”, a half-shot shot glass. We chase our shots and they shoot with their chase — we are not the same.

Look at them, thinking they’re too cool to black out

Anybody that’s had to turn their friends over to make sure they don’t choke on their own vomit knows that you need to let your drunk friends spiral. The worst time to get somebody to their senses is in the heat of the moment. Instead, you get them water, you tie their hair back, and you make sure that nobody gets hurt or drives home drunk.

But liver problems and student debt aren’t the only things we got from American universities. Those of us that had the privilege to go to college have been exposed to a massive variety of diverse perspectives, much more than anybody we know in Israel. Meanwhile, the vast majority of our American peers can barely locate Israel or Palestine on the map. We’re stuck between friends that we made as liberal college kids and friends that grew up with our cousins in Israel that taught us our favorite Hebrew swear word.

It’s a rocky transition scrolling past an Instagram slideshow about “Israel committing genocide” and then seeing videos of your family inside a bomb shelter with explosions going off in the background every ten seconds.

Israeli-Americans sometimes trend more “Sabra the hummus brand” than “Sabra the fruit”, but our complex, often-contradictory identities uniquely equip us to hold two different ideas in our heads at the same time. From a young age, we’ve had to navigate our multicultural lives by accepting that many things in life are true, all at once. This duality nourished us to the point where we have a much easier time getting to a place of nuance, empathy, and pragmatism.

Israeli and American society both need a lot more nuance, empathy, and pragmatism. Our incredible privilege means that if we don’t take the lead in creating those conditions for others to cultivate those traits, no one else will.

We know what it’s like to criticize a government without losing empathy for everyday citizens. Our upbringing makes it more difficult to extend that grace to Palestinians vis-a-vis Hamas, but it’s no excuse for not expanding our horizons beyond our backyards. When we see flaws in the places that made us, we must call them out so we can fix them as doggedly and as lovingly as our nagging mothers.

It’s a big reason why I think the American Jewish institutions have failed a generation of American Jews with their simplistic, shallow, and clumsy pro-Israel programming. “Don’t you people know that Israelis argues about this stuff, every day, openly?” I always thought to myself when I saw another discussion get shut down for getting too “thorny” for American tastes. I’ve seen woefully ill-equipped educators try to answer the “hard questions” with flimsy whataboutisms and desperate attempts to pivot to Israeli tech innovation and falafel recipes. This conflict-avoidance breeds a zero-sum mentality that is just as dangerous coming from StandWithUs as it does from the BDS movement.

Otherwise, why else would more than half of American Jews under the age of 30 feel no attachment to the state of Israel? I don’t blame them, and I get why there’s quite a few American Jews that “open their eyes” in college and swing hard the other way back. It’s a straight line from shutting down any discussion in Sunday School at age 13 to joining SJP at age 20. The only people responding to them are either the hardcore right-wing Ben Shapiro wannabes or their peers in the social justice spaces, who can see a very American oppression in this narrative.

Because for an American in this generation, there is nothing bigger than the conversation around anti-Blackness and systemic racism. It’s easy to get frustrated when American leftists apply the exact same lens of American society to the Middle East, equating Israeli policies with American white supremacism.

But let’s be real with ourselves. The analogy isn’t that far-fetched when there’s a serious anti-Black problem in Israeli society. While I bristle at the settler-colonialism narrative because it denies the Jews’ ancestral connection to the land, I also believe that settlements are abhorrent and shouldn’t receive another tax dollar from either government. The settlers’ buddies, the Kahanists, are the scum of Israeli society, our own version of the Proud Boys with a dash of Taliban-esque religious fundamentalism. When I see videos of the hilltop thugs doing terrible things to innocent Palestinians, I feel the same way when I see videos of white people being terrible to Black people for just jogging or bird-watching or driving or existing.

But my feelings don’t matter, not nearly as much as my Black friends that deal with this injustice first-hand. Similarly, in this particular conflict, my feelings as an Israeli-American don’t matter.

Israeli feelings matter. Palestinian feelings matter.

I don’t expect a Palestinian whose family was evicted from their village in 1948 to just naturally sprout empathy for an Israeli man they see on the street in America, nor do I expect an Israeli mother who lost her daughter to a suicide bombing to “be the bigger person” to somebody railing against Zionism.

That’s not on them. That’s on me and people like me.

Thank you to my friends Eli Flesch and Josh Kaplan for their invaluable edits and feedback.

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