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The price of brainwashing
Daniel Ben-Simon - Haaretz - Thu 8th, July 2004
MONTREAL - Meeting with Jewish communities overseas nowadays yields quite a few surprises. They saw anxious and pained Israelis in the shadows of terror attacks and mourned with them. The years of intifada brought Diaspora Jews closer to Israel because they felt that the existential crisis for Israel was as great as it was in the days of the Yom Kippur War.

That's the reason they increased their financial donations and even sent their children to Israel on visits. There's nothing like a crisis to intensify solidarity between Israelis and Diaspora Jewry. "Whenever there's a terror attack," said Haim Musicant, secretary general of the CRIF, French Jewry's umbrella organization, "French Jews feel as if it happened to them. Everything that happens in Israel affects them and their lives. They feel like Israelis."

Ever since the failure of the Camp David summit of 2000, the Jewish communities have been absolutely to the right of Israeli governments, marketing the state's official policy that Israel has no partner for negotiations. As in Israel, the Diaspora communities regarded compromise as defeatism, and those in favor of dialogue and agreement with the Palestinians were condemned for bringing down the terrible intifada upon Israel. Ariel Sharon became a hero, and the Jews spoke of him as if he were King David. Even French Jewish intellectuals who were sickened in the past by his very name, embraced him. Bernard Henri-Levy praises him, Alain Finkielkraut rediscovered him, Marek Halter wanted very much to meet him during a visit to Jerusalem.

It seems that the Jews were caught unprepared when they heard about Sharon's disengagement plan. They read about the intention to quit Gaza and were particularly astonished by the plan to evacuate settlers. For years they had heard something different from official Israeli spokesmen, and they always adopted the Israeli policy as if it were Torah from Sinai.

Thus, while Sharon may have changed his spots, the Jews haven't. The man who raised the settlements onto a holy pedestal managed to convince Diaspora Jewry that Israel would not exist without the settlements, that Tel Aviv would not exist without Netzarim. Nearly every Israeli ambassador bent to to those policies and blindly recited the chapter and verse on how important the settlements - all the settlements - are to Israel. The Jewish Agency was so identified with the settlement vision that it named a settler, Menachem Gur Ari, to head its fiefdom in France. The years of brainwashing turned the organized Jews of the Diaspora into loyal soldiers enlisted in official Israel's cause.

Now they are being asked to change their views - and they don't know what to think. I lately visited a Jewish radio station in Paris. Nine out of ten callers spoke with adulation about Sharon and his refusal to give in or concede anything. That was before the disengagement plan. "Sir, those Geneva initiative people must be hanged in the central square of Tel Aviv," one caller fumed. When he was asked why, he said they went behind the government's back. Another caller, no less angry, described the left as traitors. He said anyone who gives back any settlement is a traitor. Asked what would happen if Sharon gave back settlements, the caller called Sharon a traitor.

A week ago, hundreds of Jews gathered in Montreal to hear speakers from Israel. It seemed that many refused to digest the changes that had taken place in Sharon. One woman spoke to the Israelis with tears in her eyes. "You can't make a mockery of us," she lamented. "For years you filled our heads against the Palestinians and told us no concessions can be made to them. You told us that the settlements are protecting you. That's why I contributed money, despite my economic situation. Now you are doing the exact opposite. How am I supposed to feel? It's not nice, what you are doing."

Another Jew wondered how "all your prime ministers told President Clinton that they were ready to give up the Golan - after they told us that the Golan served as the eyes of the country?"

One Montreal Jew demanded that Israel treat the Jews of the Diaspora seriously, and not like puppets. Another spoke against truth and transparency and argued that the Jews must always believe that Israel is in distress, so they remain close to it. "Even if you tell us the situation in Israel is not troubled, we'll continue to think it is," he explained, not even trying to hide his smile, "because we need to think that."

Prof. Ze'ev Sternhell, who took part in the discussions, was shocked by the hostility directed at him. Whenever he spoke in favor of a peace agreement, he was interrupted and heckled. Whenever he spoke about how Israelis need peace, he was shut up by the audience. When he dared to say the Palestinians are also human beings, hecklers whistled to drown him out. "Have you gone mad?" he asked the hundreds of Jews who gathered in the luxurious community center. "Women and children are being killed in terror attacks, our young boys are being killed in the territories, and you make a farce of the entire thing, as if we are living in some stage production for your sake!"

One of the community leaders buried his face in his hands in utter embarrassment. "This is the price we are paying for the brainwashing you did to us," he said sorrowfully.
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