Israelis have always prided themselves on the wide range of views you can find on any issue. The words “vibrant democracy” are far from an empty expression when it comes to Israeli society.
Therefore, the deterioration in discourse among Left and Right, religious and secular, and Jewish and Arab segments of our population in recent years is all the more disturbing.
It is commonplace to hear slurs such as “smolanim” (“leftists”), “mitnahalim” (“settlers”) and “dossim” (“haredim”) used to describe – and dismiss – proponents of a certain viewpoint, as if their categorization disqualifies them having valid opinions and beliefs.
This knee-jerk labeling only serves to widen the gaps in society and alienate the already polarized citizenship. This alarming trend has been rearing its head more frequently when dealing with people and organizations – both Israeli and foreign – who are critical of government policies.
Whether it concerns opinions about the future of the area beyond the Green Line, the migrant situation, or civil rights issues for non-Jews in Israel, far too often and quickly the “anti-Semitic” or “anti-Zionist” flag is pulled out and waved frantically around any remark that is perceived as criticizing the government or not strictly falling in line behind a “nationalistic” policy.
Of course much of the time the criticism is indeed the result of deep, inbred animosity – the kind that nothing short of Israel disappearing would satiate.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, in a column for The Jerusalem Post last week, correctly singled out cases of criticism of Israel’s policies that have clearly crossed the line into anti-Israel, anti-Zionist and perhaps anti-Semitic territory.
Citing actress Emma Thompson’s 2012 call for the Habima Theater to be disinvited to Shakespeare’s Globe Theater Globe to Globe festival, and musician Roger Waters’ ongoing campaign to demonize Israel, Boteach rightly stated that such policies and accusations must be condemned vociferously and frequently, as part of the ongoing defense of Israel.
However, in a similarly themed essay last week in The New York Observer titled “Hollywood’s War on Israel,” Boteach seemed to have cross a different line when, in presenting examples of “anti-Semitism and anti-Israel hatred,” he cited the 2010 Caesarea concert cancellation of singer Elvis Costello and the 2012 decision by Stevie Wonder to back out of a Los Angeles gala benefit for Friends of the Israel Defense.
While both moves may smack of insensitivity, ignorance of the facts or just the cumulative effects of the relentless and venomous “boycott Israel” industry, there is simply no evidence in any statements made by either of them of anti-Semitism or hatred of Israel.
Lumping all criticism of Israel into the “We slam Israel because we hate Israel” pool is likely to do much more harm than good in the battle to defend Israel against its real enemies.
Can one vocally favor giving up large swaths of Judea and Samaria for the sake of a two-state solution and still be pro-Israel? Absolutely. Is it possible to oppose the government’s policy on migrants and still be a Zionist? Of course.
The owners of such views are among the most ardent Zionists. Their passionate philosophy derives not from self-hatred of their Judaism or a post-Zionist vision, but from a love of Israel and a belief that those policies are the only ones that will ensure a strong, democratic Jewish homeland.
When a classic anti-Zionist bigot such as Waters continues to rabble-rouse and make idiotic public statements against Israel, all troops need to be brought on deck to combat the libel and the hatred.
But we need to differentiate between those inciters and the thoughtful, educated individuals – both Israeli and foreign – who may respectfully disagree with Israel’s policies.
They are not necessarily anti-Israel or anti-Semitic. The most you could accuse them of is being naïve or misinformed.
We should focus our energies on the enemies of Israel whose campaigns and statements mean to cause us harm.
They are more than enough to occupy our innate need to defend Israel.
However, within the spectrum of reasonable viewpoints, both for and against Israel and its policies, we need to establish a more tolerant attitude and ensure that the phrase “vibrant democracy” does not become empty words.
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