Israel has emerged not only as a political lightning rod, but increasingly as a Rorschach image. Everyone sees in it what they choose to, infusing in it all of one’s hopes, fears, admiration and loathing.
As an investment manager and adviser I had hundreds of clients, virtually all of whom professed to live “a modest lifestyle.”
What I came to appreciate over the years was how wide that definition was. For some, having three homes and hot and cold running help was the essence of modesty.
So it is today with Israel. Seemingly everyone is pro-Israel, but this in and of itself tells us nothing of what it is exactly that they support, or why.
As befits a Rorschach image, Israel is not only the image of a place, a nation and a national center, but also the idea of all of those things. And therein lies the variation among those who profess to be in the pro-Israel camp.
Basically, there is the difference between those who appreciate and support the reality and actuality of Israel, with all its warts, complexities and problems, and those who support the idea and promise of Israel, while having little patience or empathy for the policies, practices, perhaps even the people who happen to be part and parcel of the place.
This dichotomy exists to be sure in Israel, but in Israel the latter group is largely reflected in what I call the “Promised Land syndrome.” Named for Ari Shavit’s lament about his lost Israel, it focuses on an idealized past that has given way to a bastardized, highly flawed present.
This is the lament of much of the Left, particularly those of an earlier generation, and it strikes many of us as a somewhat narcissistic elegy for lost power, prestige and control.
As the Left has become something of a political vestigial organ in Israel, this group, while still vocal and visible, is getting smaller all the time, as it displays an increasing out-of-touch-ness with the reality of present- day Israel.
By and large, most Israelis relate to the actuality of the place, and their support or criticism is focused on what is actually going on here.
By contrast, Diaspora attitudes toward Israel, even ones depicted as pro-Israel, are often divorced from the facts on the ground, and rooted in a view of what Israel means to the beholder, what it should represent.
This state of affairs is aptly embodied in Alan Dershowitz’s query as to how J Street can be a pro-Israel organization when it has never espoused one pro-Israel position.
For progressive and left-wing Jews in the West, Israel has fallen far short of what it should be. Israel fails in a “tikkun olam” view of the world, where respect for downtrodden Palestinians, Beduin and Arabs is as important as maintaining the security of the state (actually even more important, for the security of the state is taken as a given).
So their support for Israel is more likely to focus on the idea and ideal of Israel in spite of its current state of affairs. This is not unlike biblical prophetic attitudes toward the Jewish people, in which an unsparing mirror is held up to the people for behavior that falls short of what it should be. Of course, the prophets were part and parcel of their society, not making judgments from afar.
This removed judging leads many Israelis to perceive such “support” to be either highly conditional or even fictitious. Conditional support is disdained as being solipsistic, meaning only present when the nation is doing right in the eyes of its skeptical supporters.
However sincere the love of the idea and ideal of Israel might be, it exists more to justify an unremitting, indeed increasing hostility to the reality of Israel than it does to provide aid and comfort to real-world Israelis.
Like so much else in our rapidly evolving world, we are entering the world of virtual support for Israel, an idealized support which can easily co-exist in the same person or organization with continuous criticism of Israeli reality.
Of course, Israelis prefer a variation of parental love: unconditional, though not without constructive criticism. We look very much askance at support that is basically moralistic preening encased in obligatory- sounding empathy.
Why should any of this even matter, if most Israelis can see what “support” really means? The reason has to do with the great majority of people who have a basic sympathy with but no strong convictions about Israel, and are likely to be influenced by what they see around them.
When being pro-Israel means supporting the Israel that I want, whether Israelis share that vision or not, we not only stand to inevitably lose the “support” of the toughlove crowd (no great loss there), but also the good will and implicit support of those who are not paying close attention to the matter, and are taking their cues from vocal “supporters.”
As we enter a new year, with a new US administration indicating a dramatic shift in American attitude toward Israel, we are likely to see a greater disparity in the views of those professing support for Israel. Above all, it will be interesting to see if idealized and conditional support can survive a greater amount of real-world empathy and support.
My advice is not to count on it.The author is an executive board member of Im Tirtzu.