September 18, 2019

In Tel Aviv, a lesson for Charlottesville

Whenever an ugly display of racism or bigotry occurs in America, it’s commonplace to hear politicians and leaders say things like, “This has no place in America.” Even President Donald Trump, in his infamous reaction to the Charlottesville, Va., clashes, said, “[T]his egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence … has no place in America.”

Really? No place for hatred and bigotry in a free and open society?

During my visit to Israel last week, I saw how this somewhat naïve and utopian view is so far from the Israeli approach.

On the free and open streets of nighttime Tel Aviv, the atmosphere was like Burning Man meets Greenwich Village meets the French Riviera. It was hard to imagine a more visceral celebration of life.

What really got me was the utter absence of fear. How could that be? Here we are in a country that is under the constant threat of terror, and everybody just wants to party.

Since Sept. 13, 2015, according to the Israel Minister of Foreign Affairs website, Israel has suffered 184 stabbing attacks, 129 attempted stabbings, 161 shootings, 60 vehicular ramming attacks and one bus bombing, resulting in a total of 55 people killed and 812 injured. In terms of casualties, that’s the American equivalent of a few hundred Charlottesvilles.

And yet, Israelis are living it up. Are they that reckless?

Actually, I think they’re just hard-nosed realists who love life. I doubt you’ll ever hear an Israeli say, “There’s no place for hatred and bigotry in a free society.” They know the truth is quite the opposite — the price you pay for a free society is that there will always be space for the dark and ugly.

This sober realization was evident on the government website that listed the terror attacks: “The recent series of attacks is the direct result of incitement by radical Islamist and terrorist elements, calling on Palestinian youth to murder Jews.”

Yes, it seems there’s always space for some Jew-hatred, especially in Israel’s neighborhood.

In a global poll commissioned a few years ago by the Anti-Defamation League, 12 percent of Americans said “Jews had too much power over the global media.” In Gaza and the Palestinian territories, that number was 88 percent.

What really got me was the utter absence of fear. How could that be? Here we are in a country that is under the constant threat of terror, and everybody just wants to party.

Anti-Semitism of any kind is serious business, whether it comes from the left or the right. There’s no need to argue about which is worse: Neo-Nazis have a lineage that puts them on a whole other level of evil. On college campuses, Jew-hatred comes mostly from the left. In Israel, it comes mostly from Islamists. The point is: We need to fight it all, without politics, without hysterics and with smart policing.

Smart policing was missing in Charlottesville. There was a report on that described the tragic police failure to prevent the violent clashes, even though local authorities had plenty of time to prepare. As I read the report, I couldn’t help wonder how Israeli police would have fared under the same conditions. Actually, I didn’t wonder. I knew the answer.

Maybe it’s not fair to compare the two countries. After all, since its birth, Israel has been obsessed with security. By now, it probably knows all the tricks. But if we’re not going to compare, let’s at least learn some lessons from Israelis on how to deal with the violence that comes out of hatred.

One lesson is not to let fear dominate our consciousness. That’s what the haters want. They want to take over our conversations. The neo-Nazis of Charlottesville must be delighted to see the near hysteria in the Jewish community since they so nakedly revealed their evil colors.

On the security front, it’s imperative to have policing that anticipates and prevents dramatic clashes, not just to save lives but to deprive the bigots of the media coverage they so crave.

This craving for attention is the craving of losers. The more hysterical and fearful we come across, the more we embolden those losers. Conversely, the more we can suffocate their striving for public attention, the more we’ll shrink their place in society.

By all means, let’s expose the haters and isolate them, but let’s not glorify them. Let’s fight them the Israeli way — with ice in our veins and fire in our hearts.

David Suissa is president of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal and can be reached at