The Poster War
What do Israel haters and Jew haters alike see in the face of Amelia Alony? Why must they destroy her image?
Thousands of miles from where Israeli troops are ferreting out and eliminating Hamas, another war is raging. This war is fought not with guns, tanks, and fighter jets, but with paper, staples, and Scotch tape. With fingernails and fists. No one has yet been killed in this war nor are there any wounded. And yet in many ways the two wars are identical. Both are about savagery, about hatred, and survival. Both are about truth.
For weeks now, on walls and telephone polls throughout America and much of Europe, volunteers have been taping and tacking posters with the photographs of the more than 240 Israelis held hostage by Hamas in Gaza. The glossy notices are uniform, such as this one of five-year-old Amelia Alony.
The text is jarring but cautiously non-political. The word “Palestinian” does not appear nor is there any reference to Kibbutz Nir Oz, Amelia’s home, a left wing community dedicated to peace. There is no mention of Israel’s ground war in Gaza, the 250,000 Israeli evacuees, or even a single Hamas rocket. There is only the Les Mis-like plea, “Please help bring them home alive.”
To the overwhelming majority of passersby, the poster is surely heartbreaking, but a startling number of others find it sick. To them, the mere sight of Amelia—blonde, lapis-eyed, smiling—is offensive enough to tear the poster down and crumple it into a ball, to cast onto it the street and stomp on it.
Why? What would drive so many individuals, people who are often young and educated and otherwise progressive in their outlook, to commit so savage an act of vandalism? What would drive any feeling person to rip down a photo of a kindergartener brutally torn from her family and forced at gunpoint into the subterranean spiderweb of Hamas tunnels? What would inhibit the desecrator from asking the most primally human of questions: What if Amelia had been my sister or daughter? What if Amelia had been me?
The obvious answer is anti-Zionism. But merely disliking Israel, believing its creation was a bad idea or even an injustice, would be an insufficient motivation for defacement. Amelia is hardly a soldier, armed and lording over harmless Palestinians or a wide-eyed settler stealing their lands.
No, this anti-Zionism is of a different, deeper stripe. It is doctrine drilled in by college professors, by social media, and peer pressure; a dogma still preached in too many mosques and in conspiracy theorizing churches. So, too, are there synagogues where Tikkun Olam—fixing the world—begins by disassociating the Jewish state from Judaism. It is a worldview in which Israel—not Russia, not Syria, not even North Korea—is the apotheosis of the planet’s darkest evils. White, racist, apartheid, colonialist, genocidal—there is no sin too demonic to assign to the “Zionist entity.” Its soldiers not only uproot and massacre the Palestinians—so online libels go—they systematically rape their women and gouge out and sell their organs. Israel, in the eyes of these believers, is a wickedness that simply must be expunged.
Imagine, then, the discomfort of such individuals when confronted not with a monster or a jackbooted thug but an adorable five-year-old girl? The mere sight of Amelia smiling at them is enough to upend their entire universe. No gun in the IDF’s arsenal could be more powerful in destroying Israel’s enemies. To restore that universe, to neutralize that gun, the pro-Hamas protesters must shred Amelia’s poster.
Yet, even the most virulent anti-Zionism cannot account for the vehemence of the poster war. Another explanation no doubt lies in the now incontestable interface between the hatred of Israel and the abhorrence of Jews.
As unnerving as Amelia’s image is for those who view Israel as a Nazi state, it is even ghastlier for the real Nazis. How much easier it would be for them if the photo were of some warted, beak-nosed Shylock straddling the earth with Stars of David for eyes and blood dripping from his fangs? The fact that Amelia epitomizes their Aryan ideal is to realize the worst Nazi nightmare of the undetectable, insinuated Jew. That threat would be exposed and eliminated, Hitler believed, if Third Reich were to triumph. The original Nazis had no problem shooting and gassing innumerable children like Amelia. Their pathetic descendants can only annihilate posters.
Anti-Zionists, anti-Semites, and yet much about the poster war remains a mystery. Could it be something more visceral still, more pathological? Perhaps what the vandals see in the photograph is not Amelia Alony but, glaringly, themselves. Perhaps it’s not a poster at all but a mirror of one’s ugliest self, the one that hates its own life, its own country, and civilization. The one that chants “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” in support of terrorists who never intended to liberate anything but merely to murder and flee. Maybe, by tearing down a poster, these self-haters are smashing that mirror and a reflection that is too hideous to bear.
Like Israel’s war in Gaza, the poster war is about survival. At stake is not only Israel’s existence but the vitality and freedoms it represents. It is a war of spirit and light versus horror and nihilism, a war between the lovers of life and death’s worshippers. A war between the lies those who tear down posters tell themselves and the truth of Amelia Alony.