A call for left-wing responsibility

The critical voices that emanate from elements on the Jewish Left in the US lack any sense of balance.

By DAVID FORMAN
November 29, 2005 00:11

I recently concluded a lecture tour in the states. My topic was "Living with terror - morality versus security." How do we protect the body of Israel and, at the same time, safeguard its soul? It is clearly a delicate balancing act, not given to black-and-white answers. Throughout my talks I encountered one recurring question: "Even though I disagree with your liberal views of Israel, at least you present a balanced picture." And then came the but. "But what about those who support your efforts, and who, in their unrelenting criticism only of Israel, give aid to Israel's fiercest detractors? You know who they are: the Boyarins, the Waskows, the Lerners and the Ellises." They were referring to Daniel Boyarin, professor of Near Eastern Studies at the University of Berkeley; Arthur Waskow, director of the Shalom Center in Philadelphia; Michael Lerner, editor of Tikkun; and Marc Ellis, director of the Center for American and Jewish Studies at Baylor University. All have expressed critical views on Israel, particularly in its dealings with Palestinians. Most of their criticism of Israel is valid, and their rhetoric is not singularly directed against Israel, although language can betray one's intentions. I prefer their willingness to take Israel to task for some of its aberrant behavior to the Dershowitzs and Krauthammers, who have become undiscerning apologists for any and all Israeli political and military policies. As for the critics' words being exploited by Israel's enemies, whenever one speaks out one risks the possibility of someone lifting statements out of context and using them against Israel in a grotesque manner. This must not prevent us from expressing our opinions. However, I understand the nature of the question that continually dogged me on my travels. Some Diaspora critics speak in the most strident terms imaginable about Israel and its occupation, often sounding like unadulterated Israel-bashers. When we Israelis speak critically about the country, there is a natural resonance of credibility and authenticity. After all, we live here. Diaspora Jewish audiences are more willing to hear our criticisms of Israel than they are those of someone who sits safely in California, Pennsylvania or Texas. This may be unfair. These critics may speak the same truth those of us in Israel claim to speak, but it is a harsh reality. Therefore, it makes tactical sense for our overseas critics to take into account the geographical locale from whence their criticism derives and moderate their rhetoric, as well as display a measure of humility - that is, if they want to be taken seriously. Yet this sensibility seems to have escaped many of them, calling into question not only their commitment to Israel but to the idea of a Jewish state. THE CRITICAL voices that emanate from elements on the Jewish Left in the US simply lack any sense of balance. They operate in a vacuum, not sensing the genuinely anti-Semitic forces that are out there. The anti-Semites are not just the voices that sound forth from Iran or the jihadists elsewhere, they come from too many university campuses throughout the United States, and from international bodies and organizations. While we Jews must always judge our behavior against the ethical standards we have set for ourselves, we must acknowledge the hypocritical double standard that is mercilessly hurled upon us. It is easy to maintain one's moral integrity in peacetime. But try to hold onto your moral well-being when you're afraid to get on a bus or go to a restaurant or an open-air market. Given our reality, Israel's response to terrorism is quite restrained compared to other nations which face threats that are far less substantial. We must not lose sight of the sources of light that abound in our country. One of those sources is the Supreme Court, which has altered the route of the security fence, forbidden the use of human shields and torture - all rulings that should warm any liberal's heart. Similar pleas by US lawmakers to match Israel's latter two rulings are being spurned by the Bush administration in its war on terror. The fact that our press is so relentless in covering the territories - just read Amira Hass or Gidon Levy of Haaretz - should be a source of Jewish pride, particularly compared to the American press coverage of the war in Iraq, which is so tightly controlled. Those who presume to be social prophets of Israel, especially those who sound a rancorous alarm from thousands of miles away, must be careful of one thing: not to be perceived as either contributing to or supporting the despicable attempts by those who would question Israel's right to exist. Sadly, they do contribute to such a perception when they paint only a black picture of Israel's behavior, devoid of any light. My questioners were right. It is difficult to discern whose side some of these people are ultimately on. In their public proclamations they portray the occupier as the exclusive villain and the occupied as the sole victim. But we Jews have also been victimized. Empathy for Palestinian pain cannot outweigh identification with Jewish suffering. One must acknowledge a Jewish narrative, not just a Palestinian one The writer is founding chair of Rabbis for Human Rights.


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