One of the perks of my job is that I get to read – a lot – during office hours, without feeling guilty. It’s not an unmitigated pleasure, however. Along with opinion pieces that I enjoy for both their style and sentiment, there are plenty with which I don’t agree. In some cases, I’ll just appreciate the writing and move on. Others have no saving graces.
Such was the case of an article by David M. Gordis published in Tikkun magazine under the heading “Major American Jewish Leader Changes his Mind About Israel.”
The piece itself was titled “Reflections on Israel 2016.” I felt like I was looking in a cracked mirror.
David Gordis (not to be confused with his nephew Daniel Gordis) ended his reflections by saying, “Sadly, after a life and career devoted to Jewish community and Israel, I conclude that in every important way: Israel has failed to realize its promise for me. A noble experiment, but a failure.”
It wasn’t the word “failure” that riled – it was so demonstrably incorrect. It was the “experiment,” noble or otherwise.
In my own reflections, influenced by just having celebrated Israel’s 68th birthday, I concluded that this indicates the real problem – the problem for Israel’s detractors, that is. Israel is not going away. It’s not an experiment. It is a homeland.
It is no more a failed state, as has been pointed out, than the US is a failure for not being able to successfully spread its idea of democracy.
The State of Israel was born in 1948, roughly the same time as, among others, India, Sri Lanka (Ceylon), Myanmar (Burma), Pakistan and, of course, Jordan. How many other sovereign countries nearly 70 years old are told they should give up because they’re not what some people thought they should be?
In his introduction to the article, Tikkun editor Rabbi Michael Lerner wrote: “...We publish it with the same sadness that Gordis expresses at the end of this article, because many of us at Tikkun magazine shared the same hopes he expresses below for an Israel that would make Jews proud by becoming an embodiment of what is best in Jewish tradition, history and ethics, rather than a manifestation of all the psychological and spiritual damage that has been done to our people, which now acts as an oppressor to the Palestinian people. For those of us who continue to love Judaism and the wisdom of our Jewish culture and traditions, pointing out Israel’s current distortions gives us no pleasure, but only saddens us deeply.”
It saddens me too – not only because it is based on a false narrative, but because it also provides fodder for the campaigns of Israel’s many enemies, thus feeding the violence, not ending it.
The knife attacks, car rammings, roadside ambushes, and the mortar shells and rockets launched from Gaza are not the attempts by Palestinians to break out from unbearable oppression, they are the cause of the checkpoints, restrictions and security fence, better known in some circles as “The Apartheid Wall.”
The apartheid imagery is another falsehood.
The obvious concept behind it is to brand the Zionists – Israeli Jews – as colonialists with no place in the Middle East. Delegitimize them, boycott them, threaten them enough and they will either leave or hand over the reins to the Palestinians according to the White versus Black South African model.
Such thinking is both a mistake and more fuel for violence.
While there is a flow of “refugees” from the region seeking sanctuary in Europe, Israel still serves its original purpose as a Jewish homeland, taking in thousands of Jews being pushed by growing anti-Semitism in all its ugly forms and attracted by the life in what is far from a failed state.
Israel is not a foreign body in this land and, as I have often noted, it is was no more founded because of European guilt over the Holocaust than any other country formed as the British Empire crumbled post-World War II.
Incidentally, when the government was formed a year ago I was asked repeatedly about the country’s reported swing to the Right. I noted that the one far-right party had failed to pass the electoral threshold and there are now more Arab MKs than in any previous Knesset.
Mosques and migrant centers are frequently torched in Sweden. Masked anti-immigrant thugs parade through streets in places like Finland, Norway and Germany. Greece has its very tarnished Golden Dawn.
Does anyone suggest these countries should just call it a day? Last year I read a short news item on an immigrant woman burned to death in an apparent hate-related arson attack in Paris.
Search as I may, I have not been able to find her name. If you can’t blame the Jews, it ain’t news.
This in no way is a defense of hate crimes anywhere, in any form. They’re despicable, regardless of who is the perpetrator and who is the victim.
I WON’T dwell on David Gordis’s writing style (but if I ever use a phrase like “probing Jewish interiorities,” feel free to poke me back). It’s the substance, or substance abuse, that bothers me. Even Gordis, while complaining “the bottom line for me is that it has gone terribly wrong,” has to admit: “On the positive side, Israel’s accomplishments have been remarkable. Israel has created a thriving economy, and has been a refuge for hundreds of thousands of the displaced and the needy. Israel has generated a rich and diverse cultural life and its scientific and educational achievements have been exemplary.”
Not an abject failure, then. His definition of failure is different.
“Present-day Israel has discarded the rational, the universal and the visionary. These values have been subordinated to a cruel and oppressive occupation, an emphatic materialism, severe inequalities rivaling the worst in the Western world and distorted by a fanatic, obscurantist and fundamentalist religion which encourages the worst behaviors rather than the best.
“And most depressing of all for me, is that I see no way out, no way forward which will reverse the current reality. Rightwing control in Israel is stronger and more entrenched than ever. The establishment leadership in the American Jewish community is silent in the face of this dismal situation, and there are no recognizable trends that can move Israel out of this quagmire.”
Daniel Gordis (who received a flurry of concerned emails from those who confused his name with his uncle’s) later wrote in Mosaic magazine something that I also thought when I read the Tikkun piece: “In an article that makes not a single mention of the Jewish people – or of its enemies – the word ‘I’ appears 14 times, and ‘me’ a few more.
Setting aside the narcissism of this exercise, may one point out that Israel was not dreamed of or founded in order to realize its supposed ‘promise for’ any one of us, let alone to soothe the moral disquiet of Jews living in American suburbia? It was created to transform the existential condition of the Jewish people – and, despite its many failings (like the failings of America and other decent countries), it has done just that, and brilliantly. It takes a willful blindness to Jewish history and an astounding commitment to the supreme value of self-gratification to conclude anything different.”
The “failed experiment” rhetoric is a worn-out refrain.
For example, in March 2003 (a month in which more than 20 Israelis were killed in Palestinian terrorist attacks), Kirkpatrick Sale wrote a piece in CounterPunch titled “Time to End the Israel Experiment.” The opening paragraph was: “Now that Ariel Sharon has been returned to power and his regime endorsed in its brutal occupation of Palestine, it seems to me that the time has come to ask whether the 50-year-old experiment known as the state of Israel has proven to be a failure and should be abandoned.”
That would be the Ariel Sharon who two years later uprooted every last Jew from Gaza in what could be considered a failed experiment – the hope that by transferring the Jews out of the area, the Palestinians would stop rocket attacks and build up their own successful state instead of trying to destroy ours.
Even more ironically, Israel’s response to the three mini wars launched by Hamas-controlled Gaza has only increased the anti-Israel vitriol.
A decade ago, during the Second Lebanon War, Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen began an op-ed with the line, “The greatest mistake Israel could make at the moment is to forget that Israel itself is a mistake.”
The response led him to write the book Israel: Is It Good For The Jews? I’ll answer that: While not perfect – what country is? – Israel is not only good for the Jews, it is good for the world.
The biggest mistake is to use double standards to judge it.