I received a note recently from someone I greatly respect which reminded me of that all-critical, all-human facility that provides hope and meaning when things look dark (as it does for Jews in “enlightened” Europe these days). This same facility provides guidance (and occasional needed respite) when struggling to answer questions that seem unanswerable. It makes victories all the brighter and provides comfort when dealing with defeat. And yes, when needed, it can serve as both shield and sword. I’m speaking (as you might have guessed from the title of this piece) of joy.
I’m probably one of the few people who hasn’t previously pointed out the poignancy of the Israeli holiday schedule that places Yom Ha’Shoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day) and Yom Hazikaron (which commemorates the nation’s fallen soldiers) before Yom Ha’atzmaut (Israel Independence Day) and Yom Yerushalayim (which celebrating the unification of Jerusalem), a sequence that traces the joyful story arc of disaster followed by redemption.
In the world of pro-Israel activism, there is great debate whether celebrations of Israel’s technological prowess or contributions to life-saving medicine, scientific discovery and culture represents an effective response to negative programs like BDS or Israel Apartheid Week. And while I completely agree that events focusing on the good Israel does in the world are not effective in each and every situation, it says something about those who put them on that they choose programming which takes joyful pride in Israel’s achievements.
As I just mentioned, joy can serve as a sword as well as a shield, best exemplified by the efforts of pro-Israel activists in the UK who have used humor, good spirit, generosity – in a word “joy” – to quiet the shouted accusations and lies of Israel’s detractors. And here in the US, whenever I’ve seen student governments vote down this or that meaningless divestment resolution, one need only look at the smiles and quiet applause of pro-Israel students in the audience to realize the joy they take in a job well done combined with appreciation that screaming and chest thumping are unnecessary to confirm that victory is theirs.
Contrast this with the mayhem that has broken out whenever the BDSers win or lose a vote they force on an institution. I suppose that the wailing that took place when UCLA voted down divestment, or the shouting that erupted when Cornell did the same, or the tantrum the BDSers threw when the Methodists didn’t do what they were told was their only choice can be chalked up to the agony of defeat. But the equally hysterical screaming and chanting and banner waving that takes place on those few occasions when the boycotters get their way also has a joyless streak to it, given that it feels less like a celebration and more like a taste of the impending mayhem they plan to unleash on a civic organization they now consider theirs to do with as they please.
I’ll resist making comparisons between Israel’s holiday arc and one that begins and ends with a “Nakbah” and instead focus on a less metaphysical comparison closer to home.
Recently, some people I met found themselves in the crosshairs of the local BDS brigade for daring to sell E-V-I-L SodaStream pop dispensers. And, unlike many who confront such a situation, the folks I met tried to get at the bottom of what was going on at the SodaStream factory in Ma’ale Adumim (a manufacturing plant located in disputed West Bank territory which serves as the excuse for the BDSers to target the company worldwide).
For anyone familiar with the situation in Ma’ale Adumim, the SodaStream’s factory there employs over 500 Palestinians who work alongside Jews – each earning a fair wage. Labor conditions are similarly equitable, which is why Palestinians working at the factory have shown no interest in the anti-SodaStream boycott allegedly taking place on their behalf. In short, if peace were ever to come to the region, Ma’ale Adumim represents the kind of economic cooperation that could ultimately undergird a “New Middle East.”
Now a normal political movement would simply say that, regardless of whatever benefits the factory brings to its Palestinian workers and regardless of whether or not it might serve as model for peaceful economic development and co-existence, the political need to establish the location of the factory as illegal (vs. simply disputed, and thus subject to negotiations) must take precedent over the happiness and livelihood of the people working there.
But rather than go down a route that would require acknowledging reality and taking responsibility for the good and the bad associated with a real-world situation involving living, breathing Palestinians, the boycotters have instead projected their own dystopian fantasy onto the factory, painting an utterly bizarre picture of a Palestinian slave camp controlled by Jewish overlords which represents nothing but more of the Apartheid-y fictional narrative they project on all things Israeli.
Only a movement utterly lacking in anything resembling joy could so effortlessly manufacture such a joyless picture and one so utterly at odds with the truth. And within this fantasy landscape, one can begin to see the contours of the world the BDSers inhabit and/or secretly desire to live in (albeit one where it is their hands that gets to hold the whips).
Perhaps over the next decade we will discover that the aggression and hostility we see breaking out from Gaza to Vassar and the embrace of death boasted of by Hamas and Hezbollah are indeed more powerful than the joy of a redeemed people who have found the will to fight back from the brink to not only survive but thrive in an area of the world that is descending ever further into murderous mayhem. But if the last six decades of history is any guide, I’ll place my bets on the joyful over those who worship at the alters of deception, hatred, and death.