Loving Israel too much

People often confuse those who love Israel and those who hate it.

A baby sits in front of an Israeli flag (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
A baby sits in front of an Israeli flag
Two weeks ago a protest in Tel Aviv gave people another reason to bash Israel for the actions of a handful of its citizens. People posted a video titled, “Israelis shout n---ers and hold ISIS [Islamic State] flags.” Reactions were furious. “Shame on you Tel Aviv,” one person wrote on social media, and others suggested the marchers should be arrested and imprisoned. Many progressive Jews abroad expressed outrage. They were ashamed of Israel – again.
People often confuse those who love Israel and those who hate it. They misunderstand the motivations of these groups. Bradley Burston’s recent Haaretz column articulated the problem well, when he claimed “On a scale of 1 to 10, how much do I love Israel? A 10... I know many, many people who truly love Israel, and most of them are leftists.”
This is a common refrain among those who want to show Israel some “tough love.”
“Love” is the lens through which one’s interest in Israel is so often measured. Joshua Muravchik writes at Thetower.org about “why the Left should stop carping and love the Jewish state again.” The reason, he writes, is that “by every conceivable standard of liberalism” Israel is doing well. At another blog Michal Brull takes a corollary view: “If we love Israel, then why are we not fighting for its morality?” When “love” is the approach, the choices one has are stark. Columnist Shmuel Rosner wrote recently, “It would be natural for Israelis to expect the unconditional love of their non-Israeli Jewish kin.” Similarly Debra DeLee claims that, “I love Israel and I’m worried sick about its future as a democracy and a Jewish state. It is because of my love for Israel that I don’t buy products made by companies that are located in West Bank settlements.”
When Israel is loved too much it is also hated too much.
Consider the case of the racist march in South Tel Aviv and how some in the Diaspora felt “ashamed” of Israel. When neo-Nazis march in the US, these individuals don’t claim to be ashamed of America; it was the ACLU and Jewish lawyer Burton Joseph who fought for the Nazis’ rights to march in Skokie. When a policeman shoots an unarmed black teenager in the US they are not nearly as “ashamed” as when an Israeli policeman shoots a Palestinian.
Israel has a way of provoking shame among those who claim to love it. The country is subjected to a public honor killing, stoned as it were, just like women in Pakistan, Iraq or Egypt who are killed to protect the “honor” of the family.
But we must not forget: in stoning Israel, these lovers of Israel are being honest – they really do love the country.
But they love it too much. They are obsessed with it.
Consider the breakup of Hillel into two camps, Open Hillel and Hillel. It was over Israel. One group ostensibly became open to all debate on Israel and the other didn’t.
At a recent Open Hillel confab the voices ranged from Peter Beinart to the radical BDS Left. Some attendees wore shirts saying “another Jew supports BDS.” This is an intensely Jewish-Israel group.
Martin Federman, former executive director of the Hillel Foundation and now member of Jewish Voice for Peace and co-chairperson of American Jews for a Just Peace-Boston, writes, “Should those who love Israel but worry for its future and are therefore led to support, for instance, a so-called ‘one-state solution’ be excluded from participation in Hillel?” Hillel broke up over love for Israel, not hate. You’d think that for hundreds of thousands of Jewish American college students there might be other things they want out of Hillel besides another Israel debate, another Breaking the Silence lecture, but for the “lovers” there isn’t much. When I was at University of Arizona we had “Jewish extremists” – a hiking club. That was healthy. Today’s Hillel has gone through an unhealthy love affair and break-up over Israel.
The rhetoric says it all. “I love Israel more” and “those who really love Israel” are the catch-phrases of the lexicon.
But love is the problem. It is an abusive relationship.
Think about it. Some people love their partner so much they smother them. People stalk those they “love” and some sickos have been known to lock loved ones up at home, to keep them all to themselves. And that is what has happened here. Israel is in an abusive relationship with its loved ones. It goes beyond tough love. It is domestic violence.
Richard Cohen’s love poem to Israel, “Is Israel good for the Jews,” was yet another example of the abuse. He asks, “What will happen when Jews from Islamic lands, already nearly 50 percent of the population, become a healthy majority and change the face that Israel presents to the world, particularly America? What happens when you add to that the Arabs of the former Palestine and a healthy quotient of the ultra-Orthodox?” What will happen, Mr. Cohen? Who knew that the ethnic diversity of Israel was a threat to American Jewish support? Jews in the Diaspora don’t have a problem identifying with an African-American president. Maybe it’s like the Skokie problem; what’s acceptable in America is not acceptable in Israel.
The love that is poured into Israel is akin to parents who don’t want their children to grow up and be independent.
When you sift through the books by the Beinarts of America what you come across is a melancholy nostalgia for the “good old days”; they frequently flout their “Zionist” credentials of going to youth groups and camps and visiting Israel in the “old days.” And like Peter Pan, they never grew up. They can’t figure out if they are the parents or the kids, but what they do know is they don’t want Israel to grow up. Israel must not be free from their guiding wisdom, like the prophets of the Bible, who rained hell-fire and brimstone on their erring brethren. But unlike the prophets, this group does not commune with God.
In order for children to grow they must make mistakes.
Israel has made mistakes. But being “ashamed” of it isn’t helping. The “lovers of Israel” voices need to be understood as a group, for the most part, negotiating its own identity as Jews in the Diaspora. They foist their internal battles onto the state, which pays a price for their insecurities.
They see themselves rebelling against their parents’ generation, who they accuse of being too enthralled with Israel and not critical enough. It is an immature relationship.
It isn’t “tough love” to love Israel so much you hate it.
Give Israel the respect of being an independent country, 66 years old; judge it by the standards you’d apply to your own country, and give it a reasonable benefit of the doubt.
Israel as well as the Palestinians will benefit from such a mature relationship.
Follow the author on Twitter @Sfrantzman.