‘Stalked-Homeland Syndrome’ distorts Left and Right

How can things seem so good in Israel while the conversation about Israel sounds so cranky?

A BOY wrapped with Israel’s national flag is seen during a parade marking Jerusalem Day last month outside the Old City Walls. Israel, the author argues, needs to assert more sovereignty (photo credit: REUTERS)
A BOY wrapped with Israel’s national flag is seen during a parade marking Jerusalem Day last month outside the Old City Walls. Israel, the author argues, needs to assert more sovereignty
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Jerusalem in August is lovely. Every evening, the breeze gently shoos the hot air away. Wandering around my neighborhood – not yet ruined by Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat’s idiotic Emek Refaim train project – I’m serenaded: birds chirp; rock stars rehearse a Sultan’s Pool concert; secular and religious Jews sing in the Shabbat together at the train station.
Alas, as I luxuriate in such loveliness, the “Israel Indignation Industry” is blowing hot air left and right. How many times must we read about a silly Stanford student-thug who threatened Zionists? Why do student politics make international headlines? And how many times must we hear that Israel has turned “apartheid” and “racist,” that Israeli democracy is dying – by people who evidently didn’t bother reading the Nation-State Law – or overlook Israel’s delightfully democratic shouting match over said law – and much else?
How can things seem so good in Israel while the conversation about Israel sounds so cranky?
In the 1970s, “Stockholm Syndrome” explained why the kidnapped heiress Patty Hearst robbed banks with her captors: She started seeing the world through her captors’ eyes. Similarly, consider our sick left-right hora.
Israel’s rightists are captive to their obsessions. They fear Israel’s delegitimization, justifiably. But overreacting fuels the delegitimization campaign. Beyond the PR damage, panicking sometimes emboldens the loud minority insensitive to Zionism’s fundamental democratic sensitivities. The result was a Nation-State Law that, while mostly symbolic and obvious – Israel’s flag is its flag – caused unnecessary hurt by not explicitly re-affirming Israel’s devotion to equality and democracy.
Meanwhile, Jewish leftists can’t escape their delusions. Craving acceptance in progressive circles increasingly hostile to Israel, many act as if you can keep the Jewish people alive or run a functional democracy by libeling all expressions of Jewish identity as “racist” and “apartheid.”
Beyond fueling the very right-wing overreactions they most detest, these lies are ignorant. Israel’s enmeshed in an ethnic, national, cultural, conflict, with some religious dimensions – it’s not racial, meaning biological. This isn’t just wordplay. The international consensus decrees that racist countries – practicing blood- or biologically-based bigotry or racial apartheid – deserve the death penalty. Anyone sloppily calling Israel by the A-word or the R-word – no matter their intentions – is essentially aiding and validating those seeking to destroy Israel.
Right and Left suffer from a “Stalked-Homeland Syndrome,” and this neurosis feeds the Israel Indignation Industry. Overreacting to the delegitimizers of the Left, the legitimizers of the Right risk legitimizing the delegitimization to the delegitimizers. (Alas, Israel’s enemies wouldn’t stop delegitimizing Israel even if it withdrew from all of Sinai, all of Gaza, the West Bank’s population centers – silly me, Israel already did!)
Right-wing fear-mongering is currently Benjamin Netanyahu’s political lifeline. But while denouncing Bibi’s demagoguery, it’s absurd to mourn the “death” of Israeli democracy. Such hysteria ignores the way Israel’s democracy has flourished – miraculously – for decades. Think about it: a country surrounded by enemies, populated by people mostly raised in dictatorships, has stumbled ahead so magnificently that Israel now is far more open, pluralistic, democratic, liberal and tolerant than most countries – and than it was when American liberals worshiped it blindly in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s.
Too many people judge Israeli democracy by the latest lapse, not by its continuing resilience. Most important, equality and liberty are now rooted in Israel’s DNA. Powerful countervailing forces resisting democratic deviations include the Supreme Court, the press, the incumbent president, the pro-democracy lobbies. Intense politicking stripped the Nation-State bill of its harshest provisions, making it more a tribute to Israeli democracy than demagoguery.
While it’s fashionable only to finger-point in Israel’s direction, anyone concerned with the Jewish people’s future should finger-point toward the rabid Diaspora critics, too. As an abstract “long distance relationship,” Israel-Diaspora dynamics mostly occur in a vacuum – lacking the democratic gravitational forces Israel enjoys as a real country. Decades ago, Zionists injected an artificial laughing gas into the vacuum, so most Jews viewed Israel through a happy blue-and-white haze. Today, many leading American Jews keep injecting the most toxic gases into the vacuum. True, such venom gets you published in the New York Times, but have these leaders thought about the damage they’re causing? What happens when you mainstream demonizing lies about Israeli “racism” and “apartheid,” echo exaggerations that Israeli democracy is collapsing and further reject the importance of identity and nationalism in perpetuating Judaism or maintaining healthy democracies – in America or Israel?
This year, students abandoning Israel will throw the demonizing language Jewish leaders have been using about Israel back in those leaders’ faces. These smears are also burning Diaspora leaders’ credibility with the Israeli leaders whose opinions they seek to change.
Clearly, American Jewish contempt for Netanyahu – and anything he does – is amplified by American Jewish hatred of Donald Trump – and of the Trump-Bibi lovefest. But note a dangerous tic. When America’s president does something they hate, most American Jews say, “There’s something wrong with Trump.” When Israel’s prime minister does something they hate, many say, “There’s something wrong with Israel.”
The Stalked-Home Syndrome violates Zionism’s core values. The Right shouldn’t be so defensive. Israel exists. That should make us feel more secure – and act more responsibly – toward all our citizens. The Left shouldn’t be so offensive – we built Israel and will improve it, sometimes thoughtfully, often fitfully. The Zionist lesson here is not to keep feeding the Israel Indignation Industry – but to keep defending, celebrating, critiquing and building Israel from C to shining C: calmly, creatively, constructively.
The writer 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, Troy is the author of 10 books on American History, including The Age of Clinton: America in the 1990s.