We’ve all wondered when NPR would investigate the bigotry underlying the Occupation and ever-growing colonization of Palestine. Yesterday, Morning Edition finally announced a piece on how groups of Israeli men roam streets, intimidating Palestinian and Jewish people who date each other. I looked forward to an expose’ of the thugs’ intolerance. Sadly, NPR spit out the opposite: a paean to the racism of those Israelis. Renee Montagne opens with the "news" that, "There is a new enemy for some Israelis: romance between Jewish women and Arab men, and vigilantes have banded together to fight it. The vigilante groups are walking the streets and towns across Israel. The largest and most notorious is in the Jewish settlements that have sprung up in and around traditionally Arab East Jerusalem."
What does Montagne mean, "Jewish settlements" "have sprung up" amid "traditionally Arab" East Jerusalem? Montagne misleads listeners from the outset, declining to mention either the illegal Israeli Occupation of Palestinian lands or its continual theft and violence toward the people of Palestine. Just yesterday, the Israeli government demolished yet more Palestinian-owned buildings in East Jerusalem, without a peep from NPR.
Montagne reveals that "Sheera Frenkel joined one of the groups on patrol." Montagne makes Frenkel’s participation sound like camaraderie–the same phrase one would use if Frenkel actually became a vigilante herself. Montagne’s only critical word is her label "vigilante" for people who are in fact vigilantes.Sheera Frenkel tells us that these vigilantes object to "Arab men dating Jewish girls." Frenkel’s terms treat her subject unequally in two ways: she opposes an ethnicity, "Arab," to a religion, "Jewish"– a racist formulation, for, unbelievably, Frenkel never once mentions the boys’ true identity: "Palestinian." Meanwhile, Frenkel’s whole approach is sexist, heightening the supposed "danger" posed by "Arab men" to "Jewish girls." If Frenkel were fair, she would describe the couples as "men and women," or, because they are "underaged," as "boys and girls."
Frenkel says that "’David’–who doesn’t want his name used" has a "mission" to "patrol," searching to "find Arab-Jewish couples and break up their dates." Frenkel shows no revulsion toward David’s interference. David avows: "My heart hurts every time I see a Jewish girl with an Arab. It’s extremely upsetting. I ask myself, ‘How did we get to this situation? How did we descend to this level?’ It is a serious step backwards in our eyes." Frenkel neglects to condemn or even question David about his hunger for segregation. She lets pass David’s bigoted claim that he and his ilk exist on a plane inherently "above" Palestinians and would be degraded by "falling" in love with them–literally plunging both down and behind.
Frenkel grants the vigilantes legitimacy: "In groups named ‘Fire for Judaism’ and ‘Love of Youth,’ 30 to 40 men…patrol the streets each night," without questioning their monikers or motives. "Officially, they’re on the lookout for any mixed couples," but a driver called "TS" "says the problem lies solely with Arab men dating Jewish girls." In other words, another layer of prejudice applies: the gangs aren’t just looking for any "mixed couples." Frenkel refrains from asking the vigilantes why Palestinian men in love with Jewish women is a bigger threat to their prejudices than Palestinian women with Jewish men.
TS says that the "Arab" men entice the girls with gifts: "These men approach the girl in a nice way. They buy her things. They build trust with the woman so that, given some time, the girls just blindly follow them. And–with time–one friend follows another, and soon enough, you have a commune made up of these types of girls." Horrors: a "commune," no less. How is such a conglomeration different from a kibbutz? Frenkel does not interrogate the self-appointed posse about its assumption that the Jewish women are saps–bribed into myopia. Instead, Frenkel tells us–without a glimmer of disapproval–that such Jewish persecution of Palestinian men dating Jewish women has actually become the official policy of one local government: "In…an industrial city in Israel’s center," the "municipality has formed a special division" for dealing with the "what it sees as the problem of underage Arab-Jewish couples."
Frenkel comments, "the couplings are an unforeseen bi-product of the growing number of Jewish settlements that have been built across largely Arab East Jerusalem." "Couplings"?–sounds as if Frenkel’s chatting about the matting habits of animals, rather than serious human beings capable of great devotion. "[U]nforeseen bi-product"?–naive inadvertence to the consequences of stealing others’ property and moving in next door, not a calculated exponential expansion. "[G]rowing number"?–an innocent increase devoid of larceny. "Jewish settlements"?–Jewish pioneers taming uninhabited land, instead of colonies pinched by invaders. "[T]hat have been built"?–simple construction on mysteriously bulldozed ruins, rather than obliterating others’ homes . "[A]cross largely Arab East Jerusalem"?–accidental spread throughout territory once inhabited by Arabs, never purloining the legal inheritance of Palestinians or dominating those who so tenuously remain. Frenkel conceals the Israeli breaches of International Law in its ethnic cleansing, revealing instead a sense of Palestinians as sub-human. Frenkel, like Montagne, condemns listeners to ignorance of the bloody Occupation and its ends by hiding every relevant fact.
Frenkel informs us that "Alona Levy, a 16-year-old Jewish teenager, says that she gets approached by Arab men every day," twisting the tale into the threat posed by lascivious aliens to virtuous damsels. Alona portrays her problem as predatory Arabs: "a group of Arab boys drove by and were yelling at us, ‘Hey, hot girls!,’ and we didn’t pay them any attention. We aren’t interested in them. This happens to us almost three times a day at least." Frenkel doesn’t question but rather validates Alona Levy’s bias about Palestinian boys, announcing, "But she [Alona] and her friends understand why some girls decide to defy local norms and date Arab men." Alona claims that "There are a lot of girls that go out with Arab men, because Arab boys are wild, they’re bad boys." Alona drives home her point, "I think they [the Palestinian boys] like us, because Arab girls are all conservative and wear the covering on their hair, and we dress normally." Frenkel doesn’t investigate Alona’s caricatures by actually interviewing either Palestinian boys or girls.
Frenkel reverts to David, for whom "mixed couples" are "a growing epidemic." Frenkel refrains from condemning David’s portrayal of romance among Palestinians and Jews. Frenkel doesn’t query David’s fear, let alone her own mischaracterization of such couples as "mixed." What has happened to our American press if an NPR "reporter" frankly implies that Palestinian-Israeli couples are mesalliances or miscegenation? What sort of paranoia sees intimacy among Palestinians and Israelis as a plague the way David does? What kind of "journalist" concurs with his categories of abuse? Frenkel instead announces that David and his fellow vigilantes target girls who are "known problem cases." Frenkel recounts David’s story of accosting one Jewish girl who refused to get out of a car with Palestinians, taking his word that the car sped off–after first hitting David’s leg–after which David chased the car for 30 minutes, quitting only after filing a police report.
David announces that: "Our goal is to talk to the girls and convince them that their place is with the Jewish nation, not with our enemies." Nowhere does Frenkel utter even a yip about so barbarous a belief: that Jews belong only "with the Jewish nation" and that Palestinians are inviolable "enemies." David brags that he and his group have "saved" four girls, declaiming that, "Even if we have rescued only one girl," "we have done a good deed, and we thank God for it." Frenkel remains mum about such fundamentalist zealotry. Frenkel instead affirms in her closing lines that "’David,"–the man who hides behind a pseudonym–wants publicly to humiliate his target: "He hopes that drawing attention to the incident will embarrass the girl and force her to leave her boyfriend. He says it’s one more girl he might save."
What a terrible end to a biased report. Frenkel shuts down her biased "story" of maniacal busy-bodies–mobs, even–with the fiction that David actually cares to "save" a girl. He merely wants to harass a person better than he is–or at least more open-minded. "David" craves nothing but hate, pursuing an eternal war based only on his own lethal animosity.
Sheera Frenkel never criticizes the racism of the vigilantes or compares it to traditional U.S. values of equality and kinship for all. We can’t excuse Frenkel’s omissions by the traditional alibi of "objectivity," for there’s nothing "fair" about her approach. Frenkel interviews no Palestinians who love Jewish people or Jews who love Palestinian people. Worse, Frenkel valorizes the vigilantes’ mania. Sheera Frenkel refuses to depict the affection among these young couples as the gift that it really is. The couples’ connection across a lethal Occupation is a hopeful, good sign that peace–amity–harmony are not only possible, but are truly happening right now.