Whacking Israel as a one-dimensional piñata isn’t ‘nuanced dialogue’

Israel shouldn’t be radical Jews’ favorite “constant” target. It’s a rich, complex, sometimes flawed, ultimately wonderful democracy filled with amazing people pulling off everyday miracles daily.

Jerusalem from above  (photo credit: REUTERS)
Jerusalem from above
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Last week, I committed a thought crime. I dared to attack the left-wing lobby J Street for its reprehensible campaign, supposedly launched in the name of the Jewish people to demand that Democratic candidates blackmail Israel with US aid.
The Jewish Left keeps demanding an honest, nuanced dialogue about Israel, which includes criticizing Israel. I agree. But why does “nuanced dialogue” mean Israel bashing? Where is the nuance in J Street’s occupation preoccupation, crying for “peace” without mentioning Palestinian incitement, delegitimization or terrorism? What kind of honest dialogue is so one-way, with Israel’s critics showing zero-tolerance when anyone dares to criticize them – especially an Israeli?
If anything, I was too polite. I subsequently read about a leading rabbi and senior New Israel Fund leader who spoke on a J Street panel about Israel in terms that would delight anti-Zionists – in fact, an anti-Zionist website spread her words. “I think for many of us, it’s about despair, it’s about averting our eyes, it’s about misalignment of values,” she lamented. American Jews, she claimed, are “constantly disappointed, experiencing a lot of shame about this place – always hoping that it will rise to the occasion, be something that it’s not.” Then, this rabbi justified “rabbinic colleagues” who prefer “to just not talk about Israel. It’s too divisive, it’s too complicated,” alleging they’re under “tremendous amount of pressure and intimidation to talk about Israel with less intellectual rigor and curiosity than almost everything else we talk about from the bima [altar].”
I have the opposite complaint. Bash-Israel-firsters hijack their pulpits to whack this one-dimensional piñata they call “Israel” simplistically – as this rabbi did, as most J Street speakers did and as this obnoxious strategy of harassing Democratic candidates to denounce “the occupation” seeks to do. Healthy eyesight requires peripheral vision – not tunnel vision. Defining Israel solely by “the occupation” is like defining America solely by racism. Honesty entails addressing without exaggerating.
Demonizing “this place,” with its “misaligned values” shaming, disappointing, never “rising to the occasion,” reflects such a distorted, superficial view, that I’m ashamed and disappointed that no one rose to the occasion and refuted this rabbi.
Israel shouldn’t be radical Jews’ favorite “constant” target. It’s a rich, complex, sometimes flawed, ultimately wonderful democracy filled with amazing people pulling off everyday miracles daily.
Why would any Jewish leader besmirch, then abandon Israel, this essential Jewish identity-building tool, to perpetuate Yasser Arafat’s big lie reducing Zionism to anti-Palestinianism? Their Israel is neither real nor nuanced.
But if rabbis don’t want to talk about Israel – let them do it right. Delete all references to Israel while praying – no Torah coming forth from Zion, no Shema Yisrael warnings of agricultural – land-based – penalties for straying.
Go for it! Abolish all Israel-inspired rituals and traditions. Blow no shofars, lest we recall the ram’s horn that facilitated Abraham’s non-sacrifice of Isaac on Mount Moriah, in Jerusalem. Don’t dip those apples in honey – that all-purpose sweetener our biblical ancestors used when they lived, ahem, “over there.” By the way, great news – more work days, no “walking festivals” of Sukkot, Passover and Shavuot celebrating the pilgrimage to that Holy Temple, in that capital. And don’t you dare mention the violent holiday of Hanukkah, which left a trail of blood and oil (not presents and jelly donuts) throughout the, ahem, Promised Land.
CUTTING ISRAEL out of Judaism – or only defining Israel through its political problems – is like cutting freedom out of Americanism: You destroy our story, you violate our integrity, you ditch many values, you lose soul. And ignoring the world’s largest Jewish community in all its dimensionality – neglecting modern Jewry’s greatest collective adventure, joint accomplishment and identity-building inspiration – is an insane price to pay for advancing some reductionist partisan view. It might yield a false, cowardly, deeply ignorant congregational quiet – until the next politically incorrect subject is banned.
Ultimately, my column sought to raise the question of Jewish patriotism. In an age of fanatic partisanship and political extremism, we should debate the limits of dissent, constructive patriotism and what’s disloyal, not just controversial. Instead, some Twitterdummies claimed I was saying Christians and Muslims can lobby candidates regarding Israel-related issues but Jews can’t.
I have no problem calling out the thugs in Yitzhar as unpatriotic, when they attacked Israeli security forces trying to arrest a fugitive last week. I have other names for them, too, but there is something particularly perverse – and disloyal – about supposed Jewish nationalists attacking Jewish soldiers and Jewish police officers. Similarly, I have no problem calling J Street’s thuggish approach to Democratic and Israel politics foolish, harmful and self-defeating, as well as extra perverse because it’s unpatriotic. Jews bullying mostly non-Jewish candidates to bully the Jewish state by holding back American assistance unless Israel withdraws from all the territories immediately is particularly offensive.
The most powerful thing about being part of a people is that we agree to look out for one another even if we don’t know each other. The most disappointing thing about being a part of a people is when we don’t look out for one another, just because we disagree with each other. Jews have long excelled in the solidarity that supports, but the disloyalty that betrays as well. This isn’t Left-Right red-versus-blue, but black-and-white – perhaps a blue-and-white – question: Are you with us or against us, a constructive critic when necessary, but a proud partner always, avoiding sweeping attacks only seeing “misaligned values” rather than overlapping ideals, too?
The writer was recently designated one of Algemeiner’s J-100, one of the top 100 people “positively influencing Jewish life,” and is the author of the newly-released The Zionist Ideas, an update and expansion of Arthur Hertzberg’s classic anthology The Zionist Idea, published by the Jewish Publication Society. A Distinguished Scholar of North American History at McGill University, he is the author of ten books on American History, including The Age of Clinton: America in the 1990s.