Are Israeli backpackers jerks? Why do people think so?

I recently attended my first Jewish wedding (Debbie and Alex, if you’re reading this, congratulations again).  It was great fun, the bride was resplendent and I even got to keep my kippah!

While I was there, I went out for some celebatory drinks a couple of nights before The Big Day and one of the fellas, himself an Israeli-American, threw out this question-pair:

Why does everyone hate Israeli backpackers so much?  Are they really such jerks?

Never one to let cultural sensitivities or personal ignorance get in the way of a good conversation, and having met the odd Israeli in my backpacking travels [*], I threw myself at this with a level of gusto that some of the more boring people in society might have labelled “ill advised.”  Luckily enough for me, I managed an answer that somehow managed to avoid me swallowing my foot or somebody’s fist.  Here it is:

Firstly, the vast majority of Israeli backpackers are doing their travels just after finishing their (mandatory) stint in the military and no matter what your views on Middle East politics, that is a tough job.  I cannot think of another force where the chances are as high that people will actively try to kill you or that you will be required to actively try to kill other people.  You’re going to see death, and not just of an accidental nature.  These guys are coming out with a genuine nugget of pain that they need to deal with.  I’m only guessing, but I reakon that backpacking for an Israeli is the ultimate combination of soul searching and letting off some steam.  They probably want to spend a month or two (or six, or twelve) pretending that the entire Middle East doesn’t exist, or at least doesn’t exist for them.

Secondly, you’ve got the fact that everyone else on the backpacking circuit is curious and debate-prone.  Part of the reason for going backpacking is to meet and talk to people from other places, so they keep asking about it.  It makes sense.  If you meet an Israeli, you want to know what they think about the Palestinians, about the Syrians, about the Iranians, about The Wall, about the settlements, about, about, about …  But that’s the last thing the Israeli backpacker wants.  They’re happy – eager, even – to talk about anything outside of the Middle East, but nobody will let them.  Everyone keeps poking, not realising that they’re pushing and pulling at an emotional scab.  Nobody’s doing it to be an arsehole, but that doesn’t matter because even the friendly questions grate.  So the Israelis close off, become insular.  They only travel with other Israelis.  They become defensive and arrogant, while the other backpackers, who just see them acting like jerks, resent them for it.

[*] The first person to mention “sample size” gets a clip ’round the ear.

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