SSylvain Cypel’s new book is a violent indictment against the Jewish homeland, its growing adherence to apartheid, and its proximity to some of the world’s worst autocratic and also ethnocentric regimes, including Hungary, Brazil and the Philippines .
The author is a prominent French newspaper editor and foreign correspondent who lived in Israel for 12 years, was trained there to be a youth movement leader and even served in a parachute brigade after been enlisted.
Cypel writes with the passion of the convert: someone who believes he has been betrayed by the faith in which he was raised. His father was also a journalist, editor of the French Yiddish-language daily Unzer Wort, and the main leader of worker Zionism in France for a quarter of a century. Cypel was very close to his father, but Zionism eventually became the âunbridgeable hiatusâ between them.
âIt had been his whole life and it wasn’t mine anymore,â he wrote.
Cypel argues that the country originally seen as a besieged David threatened by a constellation of Goliaths has evolved since the Six Day War into something “no idealist could stand: a racist and intimidating little superpower.”
His accusations have particular force because of the nationality of his sources: almost all of them are journalists, intellectuals and Israeli activists. But there is one paradox that Cypel mainly slips on: the provenance of all of this criticism is also powerful proof of the continued vitality of Israeli democracy. It would be impossible to write a book like this, relying almost entirely on the testimony of resident citizens and especially journalists, on Saudi Arabia, Egypt or even Jordan.
This is one of the reasons why supporters of Israel still describe it as the only democracy in the Middle East – a description Cypel rejects.
Although the apartheid charge has grown in popularity over the past two years, nearly 20 years ago Cypel first heard his case. It came in an interview he conducted with Michael Ben-Yair, who was Israel’s attorney general in Yitzhak Rabin’s second government. Ben-Yair believed that the essential tenet of Zionism had been violated.
âThe object of Zionist thought has never been the domination of another people,â he said.
âWe commit crimes that go against international law and public morals. As soon as a power establishes two different legal systems, one democratic and liberal, and the other repressive and cruel, it is there that apartheid begins … Where an army defends the property of one and destroys that of the otherâ¦ there is no other term to define the situation except apartheid.
Cypel begins its lawsuits by citing an assortment of headlines spanning six months in 2018 and 2019:
Israeli border policewoman arrested on suspicion of shooting Palestinian for pleasure
Israel said a Palestinian was killed in clashes. Video shows he was shot in the back
The disabled Palestinian slowly walked away. Then Israeli troops shot him in the back of the neck
After shooting Palestinian teenager, Israeli troops dragged him and chased an ambulance
Headlines are bolstered by horrific statistics. Yes Din, a human rights organization, investigated 1,163 complaints lodged with the police by Palestinians claiming to be victims of violence at the hands of settlers. During the 12 years examined, the share of complaints referred to prosecution was 1.9%; 91% of investigations were closed without charge. Out of 1,163 complaints, three were tried.
Amira Hass, a Haaretz correspondent in the West Bank, wrote that by systematically shooting “unarmed young Gazans … Israel is carrying out a mass psychological experiment in Gaza.” But the âguinea pigs are really the Israelis. How far will their society go in its acquiescence? The experiment is about conformity and cruelty.
Hass compared the process to Stanley Milgram’s notorious experiments at Yale in the early 1960s, when subjects were asked to press a button that sent increasingly powerful electric shocks to a person each time they were touched. she was giving the wrong answer to a question.
All of these anecdotes explain Cypel’s relentless pessimism toward Israel, which he calls “a society blindly turning in on itself as it drifts toward disaster.”
âIsrael seems to have no idea what within it could prevent this disaster, or who would,â he wrote. âDoes Jewish society have what it takes to resist the current that carries it? The answer must be no. “
Cypel’s book is also full of voices from righteous Israelis who remain determined to put their country on a different path. But if the “ultras” who dream of expelling all Arabs “are not yet dominant in Israeli society,” he writes, “they are the most determined segment.”
In a long section on the Jewish Diaspora, Cypel points out that Israel’s turn to the right has produced a growing gap with the liberal traditions of American Jews in the reform movement. No one has written more powerfully on this subject than Daniel Boyarin, a Talmudic scholar in Berkeley who described the piercing pain of seeing Jewish tradition “disintegrate before my eyes.”
âIt has been said by many Christians that Christianity died in Auschwitz, Treblinka and Sobidor,â Boyarin wrote. âI fear – God forbid – that my Judaism is dying in Nablus, Dheisheh, Betein or El Khalil. “
Cypel says the words were “considered blasphemous” when they were written, in 2006.
“But more and more American Jews agree with them today.”