The Folly of Egocentric Empathy: Derfner does it again

I have a friend who thinks the JPost keeps Derfner on as a columnist is because they satifsy two needs at once: they get a “left-wing” columnist and comic relief. I admit that Derfner’s writing provides a fair amount of amusement, and I’ve long ceased to take him seriously. (He did do a good piece on a Druze honor-killing in 2005.) Now he surpasses himself in combining the lamest kind of cognitive egocentrism which he then presents as a courageous challenge to the meanest taboos of Israeli society. (HT:ALG)

Rattling the Cage: A taboo question for Israelis
Dec 30, 2009 21:26 | Updated Dec 31, 2009 14:01

There’s a question we Israelis won’t ask ourselves about the Palestinians, especially not about Gaza. The question is taboo. Not only won’t anyone ask it out loud, but very, very few people will dare ask it in the privacy of their own minds.

However, I think it’s time we start asking it, privately and in public. If we don’t, I think there’s going to be Operation Cast Lead II, then Operation Cast Lead III, and each one is going to be worse than the last, and the consequences for Palestinians and Israelis are going to be unimaginable.

The question we have to ask ourselves is this: If anybody treated us like we’re treating the people in Gaza, what would we do?

We don’t want to go there, do we? And because we don’t, we make it our business not to see, hear or think about how, indeed, we are treating the people in Gaza.

I’ll let either masochists or humorists continue to read his article at the JPost site. I just have two major comments to make on his premise.

1) If we behaved towards other people the way that the Palestinians under the benighted leadership of Hamas and Fatah have behaved towards us, there would be no end to the Israelis — Derfner included — who would say we were getting what we deserved. (They say it anyway.)

(The idea that Israeli treatment is the cause of the Palestinians’ behavior, that somehow we need to understand their hatred and violence as a direct function of our deeds [rather than mere existence], is a nice illustration of masochistic omnipotence syndrome. We can change it all by changing our behavior.)

2) We know how Jews have behaved with those who treat them badly. Without sovereignty they were largely meek and mild; and when they did fight back (e.g., the Warsaw Ghetto) against things far more vicious than anything Israel has ever done to the Palestinians, they never targeted German civilians no matter how weak and desperate they were. Even Sharon, from a position of overwhelming superiority of force, when he took over at the onset of the second intifada and its staggering wave of suicide attacks on civilians, waited two years before striking back.

To make this comparison is already to misunderstand profoundly. To think it’s a brave and penetrating mental exercise suggests that my friend’s theory may well be right: the man is a (bad) joke… and one that doesn’t begin to fathom his own people, even himself. (As commenter 417 put it: “You can be compassionate without being stupid.”) Where’s the still-living Palestinian Derfner? Too smart to open his or her mouth?

19 Responses to The Folly of Egocentric Empathy: Derfner does it again

  1. […] Read some-more here: Augean Stables » The Folly of Egocentric Empathy: Derfner does it … […]

  2. Fat Man says:

    The number of attacks on Israelis in 2009 fell sharply to its lowest level since 2000, says the country’s intelligence agency Shin Bet.

    A total of 15 Israelis were killed compared to 36 the previous year.
    * * *
    Shin Bet said 566 rockets were fired from Gaza during 2009, including 160 since the end of the Israeli campaign. This compared with more than 2,000 in 2008.

  3. Margie says:

    According to two articles in today’s there were two demonstrations at the border of Gaza on New Year’s Eve.
    One consisted of Sderot children an Israeli Minister and Jewish students from various countries. They released white balloons and held messages that said among others, “Children for Hope, Not War.”

    The other, larger demonstration, consisting of Israeli and international leftists and Gazans chanting “Katyushas on Ma’alot, Kassams on Sderot,”

    Khaskia said she was aware of the Israeli demonstration taking place at the same time as theirs, but said the two groups could not cooperate.

    “They were carrying Israeli flags and for us it was clear it [what was needed] was a protest against Israel’s policies. We waved Palestinian flags, the children of Sderot were waving the flag of the country that committed war crimes a year ago,” she said.

  4. Michelle Schatzman says:

    I’d love to have a reference to the reports that you are mentioning, Margie. French media describe the Gaza demonstrators as pacifists, but I was pretty sure it could not be true. So, would you be kind enough to give your sources, so I can quote them?

  5. Margie says:

    With pleasure Michelle
    The first quotation is from
    and the second from:

    In addition to the above there is an announcement that far from wanting ‘peace’ Gaza launched a Grad missile at Netivot last night.

    My wishes for a peaceful New Year.

  6. Michelle Schatzman says:

    Thanks, Margie. I am specifically interested in tungsten strong testimonies about people (I have trouble calling them pacifists) chanting “Katyushas on Ma’alot, Kassams on Sderot,” on either sides of the Erez crossing.

    One of the articles says it has been written with the help of material from Associated Press. Is there a way to access this source? I am saying that because I know the reaction to anything written in the JP : “it’s in the JP, which is an extreme-right newspaper, hencs I cannot trust it”. Not that I consider the JP as an extreme-right paper, because I have a more exact idea of what an extreme-right paper is, but I am thinking of writing to my favorite radio netwrok and tell them that the abundance of reports on so-called pacifists demonstrating in Gaza and Cairo was a lie by omission (just forgetting the chanting) and therefore an active lie (calling these people pacifists).

    My guess is that Agence France-Presse gave all the material to the french media and they swallowed it hook, line and sinker. They are customary of the act, but it is not a reason for letting them go all the time…

  7. Margie says:

    Michelle below is the content I presume that they meant. Notice how they refer to the Israeli meeting as “mostly Arab”. The NYtimes seems to suffer from the pointed inaccuracy I have seen in many newspapers when discussing this region.

  8. Margie says: Perhaps someone who reads Arabic can tell us what the signs say and what the demonstrators were chanting?

  9. Zach says:

    People ask a lot about what Israelis would do in the position of Hamas. This is often tied with the question of what else Hamas is supposed to do when under a crippling blockade.

    My counter-question is always: Have the Palestinians (or in this case Hamas) taken *every* other realistic option to get what they want, and pursued it as far as they could, *before* resorting to violence? Somehow, I don’t think so.

  10. E.G. says:


    A very little contribution:

    (one thing left out is that Haniyeh “told activists” apparently via Israeli MK Zahalka’s cell-phone)

  11. sshender says:

    Indeed. My 5 cents:

    It was indeed an almost all-Arab demonstration with many Arab elders and youth cloacked in Qaffiyas.
    I’ve read about it in the weekend paper, and first a correction: it was MK Taled A-Saana who broadcast Hanias’s rant to the congregation via his cell phone.

    Another incident took place in the Erev Hadash (Israel’s Channel 1’s main news bullitain) studio broadcast live when MK Zehalka said that Barak was listening to Classical music while murdering babies (inferring to the Nazis) and was banished from the stuio while calling the Jewish host an immigrant and saying that this was Tel Rumeida (the area of the arab palestinian town that was destroyed during 48 which now constitutes part of northern Tel-Aviv)

    I think it’s high time somebody started an Israeli-Arab watch blog of sorts to document the outrageous behaviour of these MK hate-mongerers and their constituency.

  12. E.G. says:


    Yes, it was MK A Saana, but MK Zahalka was interviewed about the case on the TV-chain whose studios (like Tel Aviv University) are in that North T-A neighbourhood, and called the place by the abandoned Arab village name, Sheikh Munis.

    I posted a link to the interview on the “Freedom of Speech…Lessons from Athens” thread. It would be nice if you could translate some of the “pearls” for non-Hebrew speakers…

  13. elixelx says:

    Perhaps someone could ask Derfner to answer a question that has hung in the air for 518 years now:

    (This is a paraphrase of Isaac Abarbanel’s statement to the Catholic Monarchs of Spain who had just promulgated the Edict of Expulsion!)
    Derfner’s ludicrous question puts me in mind of a scene from Monty Python’s “Life of Brian” where the protagonist, Brian, is thrown in jail and spat on by the jailer. From behind him, in a whiny wheezy falsetto, a scarecrow, shackled to the wall, complains “You jammy bastard! You lucky lucky bastard! I’ve been here five years and he’s never so much a deigned to spit on ME! It’s favouritism, you hear, sheer undiluted favouritism…” and so on!

  14. elixelx says:

    The Abrabanel quote got lost, somewhere in the ether!
    Here it is again:
    “The years, decades, centuries of AFFRONT THAT NEVER STOPS that my people have suffered: When does it end?”

  15. Eliyahu says:

    The first neighborhood in the country whence the inhabitants were driven out was the Jewish quarter of Simon the Just [Shim`on haTsadiq] in Jerusalem, north of the Orient House and the American Colony Hotel.

    For more on this [inc. my contribution] see:

  16. sshender says:

    Oh man, I’ve screwed up almost everything.

    It’s TaleB A-Sanaa and not Taled.
    It’s Sheikh Munis and not Tel Rumeida. (dha)

  17. E.G. says:


    After this public shame, how are you going to restitute your honour? ;-)

  18. sshender says:

    Well, EG, you can deffinately rule Seppuku out. So…. any ‘disposable’ commenters?

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