The UK is a deeply inherently anti-semitic country. The moments of philo-semitism in UK history (Balfour, Churchill) are historical anomalies.
Only in the fifth paragraph of this Guardian piece do we get any hint that its author doesn't agree with the characterization of Israel as autistic. The top four paragraphs are devoted to a detailed retelling of the case for labeling Israel this way. Most Guardian readers will not read far enough to get to the refutation. They will just read the first few paragraphs and think that the Guardian is agreeing. What kind of refutation doesn't give any indication that it is a refutation until the piece is almost over? What game is the Guardian playing here?
If we accept Israel is metaphorically autistic we lose all hope of change The Guardian, November 1, 2013
Given its history, explaining Israel as a loner that won't play with others is understandable. But nobody can go it alone forever
This week the Israeli government announced final approval for 1,500 new apartments in East Jerusalem. Much of the rest of the world – even the US – complains vigorously about all this highly contentious settlement building. But it makes little difference. Israel doesn't listen. It just keeps on doing its own thing, indifferent to the calls of the international community. The impression given is that Israel doesn't give two hoots what anybody else thinks.
It is, claims French academic Diana Pinto in a recent book, a form of national autism. Back in 2009, French Europe minister Pierre Lellouche called British foreign policy "autistic" for being introverted and self-absorbed. But Pinto's claim is different. She doesn't mean it as an insult – either to Israel or to sufferers from autism (though both may take it that way).
Her argument begins by noting that Israel is brilliant scientifically and technologically. Amazingly, for so tiny a place, it has more companies listed on the Nasdaq, the hi-tech stock market, than all of Europe combined. This start-up revolution has, she insists, replaced the kibbutz as Israel's "conceptual motor". Israel works fantastically well in cyberspace. Perhaps it always has. Zionism, until very recently, has long been a dream, a sort of virtual reality. Those who have, for centuries, been hounded as aliens in other people's lands, might have learnt to live more freely in the imagination than in the harsh reality of poverty and pogroms.
But the flip side of all this prodigy-like technological mastery is a lack of empathy, an inability to meet the gaze or to enter into the emotional reality of its neighbours. In this Rain Man caricature, Israel lives in an existential bubble, cut off (by a wall, both mental and literal) from its surroundings. Walking down the Tel Aviv boardwalk you could be forgiven for thinking you are in Santa Monica rather than the Middle East. This introversion Pinto links with Judaism's lack of interest in religious conversion. "Any attempt to convert others implies finding the best way to interact with them by penetrating into their deepest values and symbols … in brief, dialoguing. Autistic personalities rarely dialogue." In other words, Israel lives in its own little cyberspace, a loner that doesn't play well with other people.
In order to make some sense of Pinto's claim I went online and took an autism test, developed by Professor Simon Baron-Cohen at Cambridge University, imagining myself answering the questions as though I was Israel itself. This shows how curious Pinto's whole argument is. Questions about one's ability to remember dates and phone numbers, or fascination with patterns and categorisation, or desire for routine may suggest autism in a person but how does one answer as a country as a whole? I contacted Baron-Cohen to ask him what he thought.
"I find it unhelpful to use a psychiatric diagnostic term as a metaphor," he sensibly responded. "Unlike the neurological and genetic condition of autism, much of Israel's behaviour can be seen as a reaction to living in war conditions for much of its history." He goes on: "I could imagine a lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinians one day, and this will be because some basis of trust has been established between the two communities. If I'm right, then the idea that Israel has autism is even more absurd, since autism doesn't just vanish when trust is established. For those who actually have autism, it is a lifelong state of being."
So here then is the real problem with Pinto's metaphor. It is fatalistic, without the possibility of change. History teaches the current situation cannot be permanent. One day, surely, the walls will fall.