The debka is a vigorous Meditteranean dance, heavy on the footwork, described by www.debkafantasia.com as a “community stomping ritual” which originated with the need “to compact the dirt roofs on stone homes.” Having grown up in a Zionist youth movement, seeing a debka – danced by Arabs or Jews – makes me feel nostalgic and affirms the common cultural roots that should unite Arabs and Jews more than a century into the Middle East’s Zionist revolution. Unfortunately, recently, while visiting York University in Toronto, I witnessed a menacing debka, an intimidating debka, a totalitarian debka that violates the spirit of the university and illustrates one of the ongoing obstacles to Middle East peace.
I was meeting with York Hillel students on the first Canadian stop of my book tour promoting Moynihan’s Moment: America’s Fight Against Zionism as Racism. Even before my talk began, I witnessed what some of our students endure when I passed the offices of York’s pro-Palestinian group. There, instead of a sign affirming their Palestinian national liberation movement – which would not offend me – was a poster calling Zionism – our national liberation movement – “racism.” The continuing need for Palestinian nationalists – be it PA President Mahmoud Abbas at the UN or Hamas in its charter or campus groups – to spend so much energy knocking Jewish nationalism down rather than building Palestinian nationalism up perpetuates the conflict.
That violent, self-destructive, spirit, blaring music interrupted my nearly-two-hour discussion, with the York Hillel heroes caught on the intellectual front lines of this ideological struggle. Using super-charged loudspeakers, violating the student union building’s rules, members of the Palestinian group started dancing a debka in the middle of the atrium. As they danced aggressively, menacingly, some comrades unfurled anti-Israel banners. The Jewish students watched in cold contempt, disdainful of the Palestinians’ aggressiveness and dismayed by the university’s failure to police public spaces effectively.
This need to negate Israel, to turn even benign cultural expressions into edgy political confrontations, is the great Palestinian tic, the pathological Palestinian Achilles heel. These moves make them feel powerful, but it is the pathetic bully’s expression of insecurity. It reflects their obsession with Israel and their hatred of Jews. Their all-consuming contempt curdles the soul, individually and collectively.
These students should be dancing a debka of love not hate, a debka of affirmation not negation, a debka of democracy not totalitarianism. The very subject of my talk that day, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, the American ambassador to the UN who fought the “Zionism is racism” resolution in November 1975, identified the totalitarian mentality that sacrifices everything to achieve its maximalist goals.
It thus views students as mere tools to be used to try to negate Israel, in the same way that it views Israeli children and Palestinian children as pawns in a war to destroy the Jewish state. This totalitarian approach explains the cynical, bloodthirsty Hamas strategy of making a conscious effort to target innocent Israelis while making no effort to shield innocent Palestinians from the inevitable Israeli countertattack.
Moynihan taught that such totalitarianism must be fought dramatically, systematically and intensely. “Did I make a crisis out of this obscene resolution?” Moynihan would bellow, responding to criticism that he picked a fight at the UN in November 1975. “Damn right I did!” That’s the defiant spirit that motivates these Hillel students at York and elsewhere. That’s the democratic spirit that motivates Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird and other Canadian leaders who see a lynch mob at the UN and understand that standing virtually alone is a particular badge of honour. That’s the vital spirit that keeps Israel and the Zionist movement thriving, despite withering assault.
I sympathize with the Palestinian pawns whose own leaders victimize them and betray them, be they children suffering in Gaza, mothers mourning there, or students mis-educated and exploited at York and elsewhere. But my grieving heart does not short-circuit my brain or cloud my eyes. I reject the moral equivalences that we’re even hearing in the American Jewish rabbinate, not just the American Jewish professoriate. And I have tremendous pride, gratitude and solidarity with the Moynihans, Harpers and York Hillel students of the world who know right from wrong and do right to fight the evil they see perverting the world, corrupting the Palestinian movement, and threatening the fulfilment of our Jewish national dreams.