(October 6, 2021 / JNS) I can understand people who want to see the Palestinians’ lives improve, Israel withdraw from the West Bank and the establishment of a Palestinian state. What is both incomprehensible and contemptible, however, is a refusal to recognize or acknowledge the threats Israel faces from the Palestinians, the history behind the conflict and the implications of their proscriptions.
The problem is certainly not new, but it has gotten worse. In 1958, former Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion described the Zionist movement in America as confined to the older generation, charging that “it is a movement that does not know what to say to the younger generation.”
It is not only Americans who are at sea. Following the signing of the Oslo agreement, Aharon Megged wrote in Haaretz:
Since the Six-Day War … and at an increasing pace, we have witnessed a phenomenon which probably has no parallel in history: an emotional and moral identification by the majority of Israel’s intelligentsia with people openly committed to our annihilation.
Menachem Kellner, chair of the Philosophy and Jewish Thought Department at Shalem College, has a similar view about American intellectuals:
To accept Israel as it is, as opposed to what we would like it to be (and as opposed to Israel as it was presented to us as children), demands a dose of realism not often found in faculty lounges. Those of us who work to build an Israel as we would like it to be, and as we are convinced it can be, are all too often faced with critiques that propose no reasonable alternatives to Israeli policies and practices. Israel appears to be the only country in the world held to such a messianic standard, perhaps because the messianic strains within Judaism became part of the inheritance of the secular Western left.
The danger of such views was expressed by French philosopher Jean-François Revel when he said, “A civilization that feels guilty for everything it is and does will lack the energy and conviction to defend itself.”
The trend towards self-flagellation has continued in Israel and characterizes American Jews on the far-left who have joined groups such as Students for Justice in Palestine, IfNotNow and Jewish Voice for Peace, or hold similar views. The majority of American Jews are liberal, but most do not fall into this category as reflected by their support for AIPAC.
Israeli author and journalist Yossi Klein Halevi has called liberals’ inability to understand the daily reality of Israelis’ vulnerability “appalling.” He observed that “too many American Jews speak of ending the occupation as if Israel were an island in the South Pacific and not a minuscule country surrounded by some of the most lethal terrorist groups in the world.”
Golda Meir explained the reality in a way you would think liberals could understand, but they refuse to accept it:
We are the only country in the world whose neighbors do not say, “We are going to war because we want a certain piece of land from Israel,” or waterways or anything of that kind. We’re the only people in the world where our neighbors openly announce they just won’t have us here. And they will not give up fighting and they will not give up war as long as we remain alive. … Therefore there can be no compromise. They say we must be dead. And we say we want to be alive. Between life and death, I don’t know of a compromise.
Occasionally, some do get it. Uber-liberal Sarah Silverman, for example, took “The Squad” to task for trying to defund Iron Dome. “All the Iron Dome does is protect civilians from getting hit by missiles and bombs,” she said. “What do you think might happen if you take away the one thing that protects people from missiles in a place where missiles are constantly flying at you?”
Silverman imparted a dose of reality on “my girls.” She said, “Why do none of them even mention Hamas? A group that until just a few years ago had a mission statement that said, ‘Kill all Jews.’ A group that just congratulated the Taliban for taking over Afghanistan. You are kidding yourself if you think that Hamas is good for Palestine.”
No Middle East expert, Silverman mistakenly believes that Hamas changed its charter, but what is important is that she is someone with the right street cred to take them to task. Conservative critics might as well as talk to the wall.
Some Jews believe if they join in the condemnation of Israel they will be accepted by the progressives, but they never really can be either because they are among anti-Semites or because of their “white privilege.” They are viewed as useful idiots that allow the anti-Semites to say, “See, even the Jews agree with us.”
They should listen to Jean-Paul Sartre who said, “I cannot approve of the policy of the Israeli government, but I also don’t want to condemn it, because I do not want to find myself in the same camp with the anti-Semites I detest.” The BDS proponents and other progressives have no such compunction.
Some liberals who understand Israel’s predicament still fall back on left-wing dogma. Journalist Anshel Pfeffer, for example, acknowledges, “No one who has any true historical consciousness can claim that the acquisition of Jewish power was anything but necessary and justified.” But he goes on to adopt the leftist narrative that Israel is abusing that power to “perpetuate the subjugation of another nation” ignoring Israel’s repeated peace offers and the Palestinian agenda of creating a state from the river to the sea.
Daniel Gordis observed that liberals have turned reality on its head. He noted that American Jewish progressives ask the wrong questions: “When will Israel end the occupation” or “What can we do to pressure Israel to end the occupation?” He says the right question is: “When will the Palestinians declare an end to their desire to destroy Israel, so Israelis might be more willing to consider making territorial and security concessions?”
“Why,” he asks, “would any sane Israeli depart the West Bank without guarantees that Hamas will not take over that territory, too, turning it into another Gaza … ?”
Gordis also correctly diagnoses what has become the essence of the problem, particularly on college campuses, “American Jews look at Israel’s relationship with the Palestinians as a civil-rights issue. Israelis see it as a survival issue.”
Ayaan Hirsi Ali observed that Islamists have exploited the left’s view of social justice:
They have succeeded in couching their agenda in the progressive framework of the oppressed versus the oppressor. Identity politics and victimhood culture also provide Islamists with the vocabulary to deflect their critics with accusations of “Islamophobia,” “white privilege” and “insensitivity.” A perfect illustration was the way Ms. Omar and her allies were able to turn a House resolution condemning her anti-Semitism into a garbled “intersectional” rant in which Muslims emerged as the most vulnerable minority in the league table of victimhood.
While the left proudly claims to be anti-Zionist, Pfeffer argues, “There’s no such thing as anti-Zionism, because unless you’re a genocidaire, you can’t will an existing nation or state out of existence. People who claim today to be anti-Zionists, and are younger than ninety and therefore were not around when the argument was still relevant, are either ignorant, charlatans or anti-Semitic. Quite possibly all three. It’s the equivalent of flat-earthism … .”
As Gordis noted, even some rabbinical students don’t get it. They published a letter attacking Israel while it was defending itself against Hamas rockets. “Neither the UAE nor Bahrain, which recently signed normalization agreements with Israel, recalled their ambassadors or said anything nearly as critical of Israel as did these rabbinical students. … The United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, and even Egypt—are far more sympathetic to Israel than are significant swathes of American Jewish life.”
Etan Nechin celebrated the violence for producing “a sea-change in American public opinion, spearheaded most prominently by writers and activists on the Jewish left, towards a clearer understanding of the occupation, how to pressure Israel and what alternative political configurations of the region could look like.”
Nechin’s problem with American Jews is that “they dismiss realities on the ground in Israel and Palestine entirely, and instead offer high-minded ideological critiques.” They are also “sitting somewhere where you’ve never had to juggle between ensuring personal safety for you and your family and standing against injustice for someone else.”
Even more disturbing for him, however, is that they don’t talk to the Israeli left. As a leftist, he can’t acknowledge that Israeli society has left him and his comrades behind as evident from the total absence of any discussion of the Palestinian issue in any of the four recent elections. Interestingly, Nechin is an Israeli writer pontificating from Brooklyn, N.Y.
Double-standards are the stock-in-trade of the left. As Kellner put it, “To be a good progressive, it is necessary for Jews to reject Israel, just as they must reject the United States—or else their progressivism becomes suspect. Yet no one in progressive circles seems to require Italian progressives to reject Italy, or American academics of Swedish origin to denounce Sweden.”
The far-left will not be satisfied with anything short of Israel’s destruction.
What would happen if Israel ended the “occupation” tomorrow? Does anyone seriously believe the progressives will be satisfied? Israel got no credit for withdrawing from Gaza and is now attacked for defending itself from terrorists there. The same thing would inevitably happen if Israel evacuated the West Bank and that became the launching pad for rockets into Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.
Gordis discusses a book that a reviewer summarized as advocating foregoing the Jewish state to “save liberal Zionism.” Gordis notes that it could have been written in Hebrew but there would be “exactly zero audience for it in Israel.”
It is a reminder that American critics of Israel are talking to themselves. Israelis are interested in making the country better, not committing national suicide to assuage Western liberal consciences. As Gordis put it, “we have are two communities, on two sides of the ocean, both of which know that Israel—like every country on the planet—faces profound challenges, has made grave mistakes, has much work to do if it is to become the society it needs to be,” but one is “devoted to ending the Jewish state” and the other is “working to reimagine the Jewish state and the greatness to which it can still aspire.”
Rhetorically, Gordis asks, “Which conversation do we imagine has a greater chance of actually effecting change—those who keep harping about the need to end the state, or those who roll up their sleeves and work to improve it?”
Mitchell Bard is a foreign-policy analyst and an authority on U.S.-Israel relations who has written and edited 22 books, including “The Arab Lobby, Death to the Infidels: Radical Islam’s War Against the Jews” and “After Anatevka: Tevye in Palestine.”
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