Flag of Israel.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
‘Why do you hate your country?” is the most common comment I get on any article or interview (so long as the subject is Israel), or in one way or another is the underpinning assumption. This question is rooted in our prime minister’s equation which he has very successfully planted in the minds of Israelis and Israel’s supporters around the world.
The equation goes like this: The State of Israel = the government of Israel = the prime minister of Israel. Any criticism of one is responded to as criticism of all. Hence, if you criticize a government policy, you must hate Israel, which means you’re a self-hating Jew and a traitor if you’re Jewish, or you’re an antisemite. Interrogate the prime minister on corruption suspicions? The police must be left-wing conspirators. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s son Yair recorded boasting about his escapades with strippers and prostituted women, accompanied by his state-funded personal detail? “Redlines were crossed,” responds the father, not by his son – God forbid – but by those sinister powers who seek to undermine him, the government and the country.
This type of soldering of leader and state is a well-known phenomenon of totalitarian, especially fascist regimes, and it continues to surprise me how, when it comes to Israel’s current government, so many people who otherwise consider themselves free-thinkers, allow themselves to be led along this way.
Here’s an example of our government’s pattern of response: Say a Palestinian nine-year-old child is shot and killed by an Israeli soldier in the occupied territories, and this is filmed by B’Tselem or by Amnesty International and sent out to the world. Israel will typically do two things: First, explain how in the right the act was (there were stones being thrown by someone, for example) and second, swiftly move on to attack the human rights organization for trying yet again to make Israel look bad. This, even though making Israel look bad was not the intention of the human rights organization, but rather to seek accountability for that child and make human rights violations stop. But at no point will Israel stop and say: “Hmmm, maybe what made us look bad was actually that the soldier shot the boy. Maybe putting the soldier and the boy in that situation to begin with wasn’t such a hot idea. Maybe maintaining human rights, or heck, maybe ending this 50-year-long occupation altogether is what would make Israel not look so bad.”
Let me dumb my point down even more. Say there’s a school classroom being tested, and at one table are Judy and David. Judy studied for the test, David didn’t. David tries to copy from Judy. Judy notices, raises her hand and tells the teacher that David is trying to copy from her. David is now in trouble.
Now you be David’s parent. How would you talk to him about his trouble? Would you tell him:
A) It’s his fault for not studying and for trying to copy, or
B) It’s Judy’s fault for not letting him copy, and for tattling. And she’s probably antisemitic, too.
I LOVE MY country, and its people, which is why I have dedicated my life and career to improving it. Criticizing one’s government is not just a right, but a civic duty. Some would also say a mitzva.
Here’s an example of what I love about Israel: In the past two weeks since my last column, in which I described Israel’s plans to forcefully deport its 40,000 asylum-seekers to likely torment or death, much has happened. Some 470 of Israel’s academic elite have written to the Knesset and the president, calling to stop the deportation. As did 35 of Israel’s leading authors and poets. As did 400 medical staff, including 300 doctors. As did 51 school principals. As did scores of Holocaust survivors. As did many El Al pilots, who announced that they will refuse to fly refugees to their death.
These are the people with whom I am most proud to build a society, and whom I get to have as role models for my children.
(Shout out to Yael Satt-Reshef, the principal of my son’s school – the Kehilla Democratic School in Jaffa, who bravely signed the principals’ letter.) I am writing this column in Amsterdam, a city engulfed in the history of its inability to provide a safe haven to its persecuted, where the Amnesty International office now sits overlooking the Anne Frank House. We are the country who coined the term “Righteous Among the Nations” for those few brave individuals who risked it all to try and hide Jews from the Nazis, as Miep Gies did for Anne Frank’s family.
Yet, the next time the title “Righteous Among the Nations” is given, it will likely go to Rabbi Susan Silverman, who founded the Anne Frank Sanctuary Movement, in which hundreds of Israeli rabbis have agreed to hide asylum-seekers in their homes, and to call upon their congregants to do the same. To hide people from Israel.
This is what Israel has come to, and changing its course is the most patriotic thing I can imagine.The writer is the director of Amnesty International Israel, and formerly worked for the Jerusalem Open House for Pride and Tolerance, Greenpeace and the Masorti (Conservative) Movement in Israel. The views expressed in this column are those of the writer.