Israelis see their nation as not just a Jewish homeland but as a bastion of liberal democracy and a defender of progressive cultural values. It is indeed all of those things. But it is also nation-state that has used its military and economic power to oppress the Palestinian people for decades: evicting them from their homes, settling their land, and walling them off from economic prosperity. And in addition to that, it is a country with a national baseball team that is 4-0 in the 2017 World Baseball Classic.
Yet it remains difficult for Israelis to grapple with these fundamental truths. A 2016 survey found that over half of Israelis think that the settlement enterprise has contributed to the national interest of Israel. Israeli sportscaster Gil Barak recently said of baseball that “No one knows anything about the game and this is entirely alien. It’s a sport that has no past here, has no future and has no present.” Worse still, Israel’s sport minister did not even know that Israel was even participating in the WBC, saying “I may be the sports minister but I don’t pretend to know every player and every team in detail.”
The urge to fight against conceptions of Israel as an oppressive state or as a state with a successful baseball team is understandable, but that does not make it morally defensible. Israelis must allow themselves to feel guilt when they look upon the houses confiscated from Palestinians in Haifa in the 1948 war, and to feel pride when they watch Josh Zeid pump his fist after striking out another hapless Cuban. They must recognize the injustice that neither Palestinians living in East Jerusalem nor catcher Ryan Lavarnway have the right to vote in Israeli national elections. They must consider the hypocrisy of spending money on a desert prison for refugees of Somalian genocide while memorializing the prisons where the British imprisoned Holocaust refugees – especially when that money could be better directed toward the national baseball program.
There are some reasons to be optimistic. While Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu still supports a significant expansion of the settlement program and shows no interest in making progress on a two-state solution, he did tweet in praise of the Israeli baseball team after the team’s second win in South Korea. We can only hope that the Israeli consciousness will follow suit and awaken to the horrors of the occupation and the endless joys of Jason Marquis’s mid-80’s fastball.