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March 25, 2016 7:33 am

Why I Don’t Criticize Israel More

avatar by Jeremy Rosen

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The Temple Mount in Jerusalem. Photo: Wiki Commons.

The Temple Mount in Jerusalem. Photo: Wiki Commons.

Once again, I feel the need to defend my position on Israel.

I do not identify with the political climate in Israel today nor with its government. I do not approve of occupation or discrimination. I find extremism of any kind repulsive and offensive. I believe that risks need to be taken for peace, though not irrational ones, and that Palestinian rights should be validated. I also believe that if there can be Christian countries, Muslim countries, and countries of other religions, there can be nothing offensive in having a Jewish state. But I find the rising tide of anti-Israel condemnation excessive, unobjective, ideologically animated, and undermining our rights as Jews to exist within the safety of our own borders.

As in the US and Europe, in Israel there are right-wing and left-wing extremists. There is discrimination that must be combatted, irrational hatred, and dysfunction, and gross materialism. These things do not necessitate delegitimizing a national entity.

I find much of the critical attacks on Israel offensive and unbalanced. One-sided hatred is an offense to intellectual honesty. As often has been said, much of the bias comes from within. I do not for one minute impugn or dispute the genuine pain that a lot of critics feel at both the occupation of the West Bank and the often aggressive behavior of Israeli soldiers. Neither do I like to use such indefinable and vague slurs as “self-hating.” My issue is balance and objectivity.

The New York Review of Books (not quite as shameless as the London Review of Books) regularly publishes articles by retired Hebrew University professor David Shulman, a well-known activist and critic of Israel. I read them because I want to know the other side. My argument is not with his citation of examples of bad Israeli behavior, but with the fact that his pain and justifiable anger leads him to feed people misinformation.

In this month’s offering, he writes in support of the Palestinan authority: “No one has been executed in Palestine in the last ten years.” This is patently not true, and a quick Internet search will show that. I guess he also thinks there is no corruption, either, or if there is it must be Israel’s fault.

And, “[Israel’s] goal is ethnic cleansing.” Really? Perhaps he can explain why there are still Israeli Arabs living in Israel and millions of Palestinians still living on the West Bank and why the Supreme Court is challenging Netanyahu’s desire to expel certain families of terrorists to Gaza? If Israel was really trying to ethnic-cleanse, how come they are still there after all this time? If Israel is such a powerful and evil adversary, it is clearly a highly incompetent ethnic cleanser.

To use such a loaded expression as ethnic cleansing is a libel. All governments sometimes move people from certain areas for security or development. This is not ethnic cleansing any more than confining citizens to their own quarters until there is a peaceful settlement is apartheid. The only ideological apartheid is the Palestinian authorities insistence that it wants no Jews at all in its territory.

“In September it looked as if Israel was about to change the status on the Haram Al Sharif.” “Looked” to whom? There is no documentation of any such “look” on the part of Israel. It is true some fanatical activists tried to pray on the Mount in defiance of Palestinian wishes, but there was no government support even for something as innocuous as that. It was entirely a myth whipped up by pseudo-religious agitators to cause trouble.

“Blacklist of books that are to be banned from the curriculum.” Another lie. The minister ordered that certain books that paint Israelis in a negative light should not be subsidized by government funds and should be removed from the compulsory curriculum. Now, I do not agree with this, but it is certainly not the same as banning, say, in the way that Hitler or indeed the popes used to ban literature they disapproved of and burn books. There was no ban on children reading whatever they wanted to.

“The persecutor of millions of Palestinians entirely without rights.” Really? What about those millions of Palestinians who are under Palestinian control? Who is responsible if they have no rights or if their leaders corruptly misuse funds and feather their own nests?

He complains about treatment of suspects in Israeli prisons. Indeed he should. Prisons anywhere are ghastly institutions, and abuse of all kinds is endemic throughout the world. In Israel, the Right wing complains just as much that their members detained and imprisoned for terrorism are treated just as badly. My point is that both sides have a legitimate claim, but why only attack the abuses of one side? Attack them all.

Then there are anti-Israel canards like Jews and Muslims cannot marry. It is true that Israel has no civil marriage (along with tens of other countries). I deplore this myself, but if that is the choice of most Israelis, that is their business. The only marriage for Jews, Christians, and Muslims in Israel is religious, a system continued from Ottoman days. If a Muslim and a Jew want to marry each other, one of them has to join the other’s religion. Then they can marry in Israel. Indeed, each year many Jews (mainly women, interestingly) do marry Muslims and Christian Arabs in Israel. The people who suffer most are secular Israelis who have to go to Cyprus for a civil marriage (which is then recognized in Israel). But that is an internal political issue that every country has the right to decide for itself.

You might argue that such discrepancies or inaccuracies fade into insignificance compared to the evils of occupation, and that may be true. But occupation itself is only the result of a failure to reach an agreement, of which both sides are at least equally guilty (although I do believe the Palestinians are more to blame for holding out for a better deal).

There are ideological battles. There always have been between different worldviews. Israel itself has always been riven between religious and secular, left and right, and they fight each other with all the intellectual and political tools at their disposal. That is what makes Israel so great and so frustrating. For those of us who seek honest objectivity, the struggle is to maintain balance and the middle ground. That is why I refuse to allow either extreme to pull me towards it.

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  • Gnomercy9

    Anyone who claims “occupation” is not Middle Ground.

  • rbockman

    Jeremy Rosen, Do you understand French? If so, “kish mir en tuchas”.

  • You say “There are ideological battles.” Actually the word you want is “illogical”. We understand ideology as the root of all strife and suffering, as the Third Reich so amply demonstrated, so no need to belabor that point. However — when logic gets thrown out, what is left? This needs addressing and falls by the wayside.

  • Larry

    Plain and simply said,Jeremy Rosen is nothing more than a “Self-Hating Jew”

  • stevenl

    Perhaps you, JR, should check with an expert if the term “occupation” is just PC!!!

  • Dave

    I liked how you concluded this piece with “that’s why I won’t let either extreme pull me towards it”
    I think it is representative of the majority of us in America who disdain extremes and would like to see a negotiated, peaceful solution. But we do not want to see Israel singled out as the eternal bad party. The Palestinians can share a lot of the blame, even if they are the underdogs!

  • Allan Pogrund

    Very well said. Sadly, the act of inserting moderation into a fanatical debate, on both the right and the left, does itself provoke hysteria. Let us hope for reason and loyalty as Jews.

  • Julian Clovelley

    The diversity of opinion in Israel is the reason many of us who are not Jewish recognise the plight of Israel’s people – both Jew and Arab – and are deeply sympathetic

    But what is not acceptable is a religion obsessed Apartheid State occupying territory clearly not its own for nearly three generations since the war that caused the Occupation to exist. Nor can I ever find the Settlement policy acceptable

    Israel will always be only truly recognised as a small country living in defence mode and not aggressive mode. I would dearly like to see a genuine recognition of the mythical nature of Biblical documents – a recognition there there was no Divine Donation of land – no Chosen People – that it is all nationalist myth

    I would also like to see a recognition of what science is showing – that the “seed of Abraham” the inheritance of Middle Eastern Ancestry, is almost universal amongst Europeans and people in surrounding territories. Assimilation and conversion blurred the genetic lines long ago. Jewishness is just as much a fantasy as Judaism itself.

    I can support Israel’s people because I know that realisation exists amongst many people there and – as in the rest of the world, the religions are fading – not before time

    One day people of a common(sic) heritage will find each other – will understand they are no different – do we all not bleed ? – I hope one day, sadly long after we have all passed on, that truth will be celebrated where it belongs – In Jerusalem – I like to think my spirit too would dance in the streets.

    We are one people who likely came out of Africa tens of thousands of years ago – in our cultures we lost each other – We need to find that common thread of Humanity once again

    In the meantime we must allow defence against violence and terrorism and sympathise with those fired on by terrorists using mortars, rockets and suicide attacks

    If you want to truly help Israel help it to return to and defend its original borders. Close the Settlements and end the blockade and occupation.

  • Kenny kaechele

    The increasing criticism of Israel is a result of its forcible subjugation of Palestine. The marketing strategy employed by Israeli politicians is no longer as effective in spinning the narrative. A few days ago a Palestinian, wounded and unable to stand, was executed without a trial by an Israeli soldier. The Jewish people have contributed so much to humanity. It is profoundly sad that Israel will destroy this legacy.

  • Dr Rob Lee

    Beautifully written and nicely laid out article.
    But there’s absolutely no point in arguing with a self-loathing Jew.
    Today there’s a small robust industry built around
    them as they peddle their wares to The Guardian,
    BBC, the Daily Beast etc..
    The likes of Beinart, Shulman, Chomsky and Giddy Levy make a
    nice living selling their enthusiastic self-loathings to
    those eager to “prove” they aren’t Jew-haters themselves.
    Ha’aretz, which can barely stay afloat in Israel, receives income
    selling its endless Jew/Israel-hate articles to European outlets eager to roll out
    Jews who support the destruction of Israel; the ultimate
    prize they all seek. Short of that prize they sadistically enjoy make Jews squirm in pain
    by calling them Nazis or Israel Apartheid as they pour acid onto our bleeding wounds.

    When it comes to collecting pay checks and being showered with accolades
    at cocktail parties while rambling their Jew-hate, intellectual arguments
    become worthless and won’t away them in the least.

    Jew-hate has always & will continue to trump all. And for a self-loathers capitalizing
    on their betrayal, payday trumps everything else.