Criticize, yes. Demonize, no

It wasn’t that the NIF criticized its government for moral lapses that angers its critics. That it criticized Israel at all provoked the venom.

cast lead 190 (photo credit: AP)
cast lead 190
(photo credit: AP)
I always thought it was the Arabs who had the most extremist fanatics screaming at everyone in my community who dared utter something “moderate” or “middle of the road.” In recent months, though, it seems that Arabs and Jews really have more in common than we think.
The Goldstone Report on the Gaza Strip has been a lightning rod for propaganda and hypocrisy on both sides. Authored by a Jewish jurist of the highest caliber, the report details the excesses that some – I repeat some – in Israel’s military engaged in last year against Hamas. It also details war crimes by Hamas against Israel.
If we could ever strip away the political layers of this issue and tune out those who scream that Israel is a “Nazi state” or those who call Israel’s critics anti-Semitic, we might get to a truth that is good for everyone.
Innocent people died in the conflict. The response from Israel was excessive and did not always show concern for the well-being of civilians. Of course, Hamas rockets fired wildly across the border did no better in caring for  civilians’ well-being.
Some 1,387 Palestinians and 13 Israelis died. Maybe had the number of deaths been more equal, both Palestinians and Israelis might have taken pause to see this conflict not for the political points that could be scored, but rather for the humanitarian toll it involved. Maybe the debate would not have provoked such tragic hyperbole from both sides.
ON THE Arab side, I can say much of the debate is not about the war crimes or provocations of Hamas, but rather about blaming Israel. I happen to believe Israel’s government made a conscientious choice to attack Hamas even though the data compiled by reputable Israeli institutions showed that for the most part, Hamas was abiding by the summer “lull” agreement of 2008. I think some Israeli generals and government officials were playing politics, and the attack against Hamas had another purpose besides disabling its rocket-firing capabilities. But to the extremist Arabs, the Goldstone Report is a gold mine of hatred.
Tortured images of children mangled by bombs and fire are casually distributed on the Internet, not with condolences to the relativesbut with fiery words of hatred toward all Israelis.
Not saddened by the deaths, the Arab activists are moved to near glee to have finally caught Israel in a mistake, even though mistakes have been made consistently by all sides. The dominant Israeli response has been the same, but focused more on rejecting the criticism. How could a Jewish state founded in the wake of the Holocaust engage in such brutal behavior? It’s a dilemma few Israelis want to address. Nor will they admit to a weakening of Israel’s morality in its assault on Gaza.
But there are a few who recognize that addressing faults is what makes a people strong. In other words, recognizing the excesses of the Israeli military, despite all the arguments of Hamas provocation, strengthen rather than weaken Israel.
Strong leaders are not those who outgun critics in rhetorical skills or PR spin. A leader who recognizes his own faults and seeks to correct them is strong and courageous. It is the correction of a failure, not the denial of that failure, that is the substance of great nations.
RECENTLY, ONE courageous group in Israel, the New Israel Fund, stood up and questioned the IDF’s conduct during the Gaza war. By Arab standards, the NIF critique hardly satisfied the “Down with Israel!” protests that characterize most Arab responses. But the criticism stings nevertheless.
It wasn’t that the NIF criticized its government for moral lapses that angers its critics. That NIF criticized Israel at all is what has provoked the venom.
Calling Goldstone “anti-Semitic” does not seem to bother right-wing fanatics who defend Israel by demonizing the NIF leadership with Nazi-like caricatures.
NIF calls the attacks despicable, as they are. One such assault screams loudly: “Without the New Israel Fund, there would be no Goldstone Report, and Israel would not be facing international accusations of war crimes.” Really? Without the NIF, the Goldstone Report would not have come about?
The criticism is ridiculous, of course. War crimes are not based on accusations but on facts. Ugly facts. Distasteful facts. Unwanted facts. But facts nonetheless. Facts mitigated by context and circumstance perhaps, but facts that must be unbearable to those who have embraced Israel’s dreams through blindness rather than principle.
The accusation, repeated by other hard-line groups, is the equivalent of a police officer who sees a fellow officer commit a crime and turns that colleague in. It’s not easy and in many countries, including Arab nations, it is taboo.
I know Israelis have a tough time acknowledging ugly truths. Arabs have a tough time, too.
I hope to one day experience this simple dream where Israelis and Palestinians, instead of pointing fingers at each other, look first within to acknowledge and correct their own misguided actions.
When a Palestinian can denounce the Palestinian murder of an Israeli, and when an Israeli can denounce the Israeli murder of a Palestinian, then we might have begun to restore the moral compass we need to lead us all to peace.
Yes, it’s just a dream, but I can be criticized for that.