Counterpoint: A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds

Those of us on the political Left are slowly becoming mirror images of the ideological certainty of those on the political Right.

By DAVID FORMAN
August 13, 2009 16:34
The Jerusalem Post

1408-forman. (photo credit: Bloomberg)

One of the most distressing aspects of Israeli conservative ideologues is their inability to think in broad terms. They view most issues through a narrow lens, rarely capable of forming alternative opinions to suit varying circumstances. Consistency is their trademark, even if such consistency makes little or no sense. For the large part, right-wingers have a rather parochial worldview, principally those who are religiously inclined toward Orthodoxy. Such narrow-mindedness is dangerous. With God on their side, their theology allows them to trample the democratic nature of society, wreaking havoc, to wit - the reckless behavior of the haredim and violent actions of religious settlers, as they both take the law into their own hands. Unfortunately, those of us on the political Left are slowly becoming mirror images of the ideological certainty of those on the political Right. We too have adopted a one-dimensional approach to virtually all matters on Israel's agenda. We have become moral absolutists. It is only our causes that are righteous, and therefore one is either "with us or against us." We have confused issues, connecting what we believe are consistent dots between one subject and another, when there may not be much of a relationship at all. We no longer distinguish between varying concerns. We have lost our ability to compartmentalize matters of importance. The logic of the progressive holds that if one is an opponent of settlement building or home demolitions, then one must be a proponent of an investigation into Israel's conduct during the war in Gaza. We tend to see everything in black and white, not realizing that there are many shades of gray, especially as they apply to the Middle East conflict. Like our rightist counterparts, we refuse to acknowledge a possible middle ground. We have discarded the art of nuance. We seem to evaluate every situation in a vacuum. But, all things equal to the same are not necessarily equal to each other. For example: Is the construction of the security barrier as devastating as the suicide bombs that brought it into being? Both are related, but certainly not equal. WE HAVE become stuck in another time frame, when matters of right and wrong were clearly defined. During the first intifada, abuses of Palestinians warranted a definitive condemnation and response by Israeli human rights groups. But since those days, we have witnessed seismic changes in the local and international landscape: a murderous intifada, the rise of Hizbullah and Hamas and the wars they provoked and the advocacy of genocide against Israel by the leader of a soon-to-be nuclear Iran. Reacting to present realities in an anachronistic fashion flies in the face of logic. Our counterparts in North America try to peddle our views as being representative of the Diaspora Jewish world, as is the case with J Street, the political alternative to AIPAC. Like in Israel, J Street and other like-minded organizations have failed to make distinctions among differing issues affecting Israel. The largest organized Jewish community in North America is the Reform Movement. Its rabbis are mostly liberal in their political views. They and the constituency they represent (1 million) are in agreement with the Obama administration's stance against Israel's settlement policy. However, it would be faulty reasoning to therefore extrapolate from this that American Jews have lumped together all "liberal" political causes regarding Israel. On the contrary, like the majority of Israelis, they are almost uniformly supportive of the incursion into Gaza and sympathetic to the defense wall. Indeed, when it comes to the war, Diaspora Jews feel that Israel has been unfairly and hypocritically maligned, especially when compared to the devastation wrought by so many other countries in their wars, including the toll on innocent lives exacted by the US's carpet bombing of Najaf and Fallujah during the incipient stages of the Iraqi war. Presbyterians call for divestment from Israel, the International Solidarity Movement attacks Israel's policies in the West Bank, and the board of the Rachel Corrie Foundation highlights supposed atrocities of the IDF during the war in Gaza. And yet they have no words of condemnation of the 300 Fatah members mercilessly killed by Hamas at the height of the war, or the countless number of Gazans gunned down by Egyptian soldiers when they attempted to cross the border into Rafah, or Hamas's indiscriminate firing of rockets at Israeli civilians for over eight years, terrorizing the populace in the region. BECAUSE OF the double standards in judging Israel, Diaspora Jews overwhelmingly oppose the UN Goldstone Commission investigating allegations of war crimes during the Gaza war. (Referring to the war as the war in Gaza is a misnomer. It should be accurately referred to as the war in Gaza and southern Israel.) To assume that leftist groups in Israel or Jewish lobbying organizations in the US like J Street represent the vast majority of Diaspora Jewish opinion on Israel is not only self-serving, but simply wrong. It also indicates a total lack of sensitivity and understanding of the siege mentality that has justifiably gripped the North American Jewish community. Additionally, there has been a troubling development within the Jewish human rights world: its almost unabashed support for organizations that have a clearly defined political agenda. By doing so, human rights groups politicize themselves, compromising and weakening their work. By assuming political positions, each more radical than the next, they play to the periphery of the Jewish community, thus sacrificing their influence, as they are perceived as extreme, devoid of the capability to analyze with a discerning eye each situation on its own merit. Should human rights groups automatically support the agenda of the Breaking the Silence organization, which has gathered anonymous testimony of soldiers who fought in the war in the South, testifying to alleged violations of the IDF's code of conduct? Should human rights groups sponsor a J Street conference? This is not to say that there is no measure of truth to what each organization claims, but to support them without a full examination of their goals (which I suspect is the case) and with little concern for the public relations fallout within and without the Jewish community - and the fodder they provide to Israel's detractors - makes one guilty of knee-jerk support for any and all leftist attitudes toward Israel. If we in the liberal/human rights world wish to be effective, then we must exercise balanced judgment. We need to cultivate the mainstream, not wander around the fringes of the Jewish world. Flexibility and adaptability to ever-changing circumstances and times must be taken into serious consideration. We must shed ourselves of the foolish view that consistency is the hallmark of a sane policy. Quite the opposite, it is the "hobgoblin of little minds" (Ralph Waldo Emerson).


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