Counterpoint: A liberal's lament

Reconciling my ideology and social philosophy with the harsh political realities of the Mideast.

By DAVID FORMAN
July 19, 2007 14:03
4 minute read.
Counterpoint: A liberal's lament

daivd forman . (photo credit: Rabbis for Human Rights)

 
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Having grown up in a home of diehard New Deal Democrats, with a wider family circle that included hard-core socialists and communists, and having come of age in the United States during the turbulent 1960s, every fiber in my body is filled with political and social liberalism. Throughout the years, I have tried to maintain a universal outlook on life, no matter the winds of change that continually blow across the international arena, relentlessly testing my ideological worldview - especially over the 35 years I have lived in Israel and, particularly, the last 10. Since the onset of the second intifada, the rise of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Hamas's takeover of Gaza, the encroachment of Hizbullah, I am fighting forces within me that are edging to the political right - all the while desperately holding on to a progressive philosophical mindset. In the deepest recesses of my being, I am finding it difficult to maintain my usual equilibrium. I am constantly doing battle with two competing inclinations - one to preserve my body (my physical well-being) and one to preserve my soul (my moral integrity). And, right now, the urges of my body seem to be getting the upper hand. I feel my corporeal self under siege from all sides. I ache with the historical burden of persecution knocking at my door every minute of the day, fired by forces like those that engulfed us during the Crusades - read Hamas - and expelled us during the Inquisition - read Hizbullah - and led by the warriors of anti-Semitism like Chmelnitski - read Hassan Nasrallah - and those who slaughtered us mercilessly like Hitler - read Ahmadinejad. HOW DO I maintain a sense of justice for Palestinians whose freedoms have been compromised under Israel's 40-year occupation and continue to advocate for their human rights, when I know they are being swept up by a pan-Islamism characterized by Islamist extremism? No wonder the Israeli Left has gone underground. Many of our cherished values have gone up in smoke. We hate the security barrier because it steals Palestinian lands, divides villages and separates families, but we sleep better knowing our children no longer play Russian roulette with their lives when they venture out in public. We deplore targeted assassinations, but when the IDF kills terrorists on their way to fire rockets into Sderot, we breathe a sigh of relief - even if innocent Palestinians are caught in the cross fire. Has the Right read the political map better than we have? Everything that those who opposed the unilateral withdrawals from Lebanon and Gaza predicted would happen has happened. Hizbullah in the north and Hamas in the south are squeezing us and, at a moment's notice, could wreak havoc upon the country. The internecine fighting in Gaza, where Palestinians killed each other with impunity, proved a harsh reality: These Muslim fanatics are out for anyone's blood that gets in the way of their ultimate goal - spilling the last drop of Jewish blood. SO, WHAT'S an Israeli liberal Jew to do - turn to our leftist sympathizers abroad to gain some perspective and objectivity? Who are they - the American Center for Constitutional Rights that has issued warrants for the arrest of Moshe Ya'alon and Avi Dichter for war crimes; the International Solidarity Movement or the Christian Peacemaker Teams whose Web sites are veritable wellsprings of anti-Semitic drivel? You see why I feel besieged - even my natural allies put me on the defensive. We activists for decency and fair play for the other can no longer bury our heads in the sand. We must find a way to reconcile our ideological liberalism with the harsh political realities of a bellicose neighborhood and an indifferent at best, hostile at worst, world community that allows the UN Human Rights Commission to single out Israel for permanent scrutiny. (Silent complicity strikes the Jews again.) Only America has consistently stood by us. So as not to further darken the gathering storm hovering above, we liberals will have to temper our views and moderate our behavior. Does this mean that we limit self-criticism and curtail what we say and what we do because our words and actions can supply ammunition to our detractors and to those who decry our legitimacy as a state? Does it mean that we sacrifice our moral conscience on an altar of fear? No! But, it does mean that we must carefully weigh the possible consequences of our rhetoric and activities. It also means that we who are sympathetic to Palestinian suffering cannot become mirror images of our right-wing adversaries - abandoning any sense of balance, thus discounting Israeli pain. More so, even as we concede Israeli offenses, we must acknowledge Palestinian violence and, more importantly, its global implications. With the radicalization of Gaza, surely to be exported to the West Bank, Palestinians are part of a growing Islamist threat to Western stability, and we stand at the forefront of its eventual onslaught. For those of us born with a liberal spoon in our mouths, the challenge is formidable - almost frantic. Painful memories of our history, presently reflected in the mirror of a dangerous new reality, compel us to examine and reexamine, evaluate and reevaluate our deeply held principles - even as we resolutely cling to our ideals, steadfastly advancing a social agenda that impels Israel to be a "light unto the nations."

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