Thursday, December 22, 2011

Can you love Israel and still criticize it?

A central challenge has emerged in the American Jewish community's relationship to and support of Israel: How can we as American Jews, embodying an often secular and universalist worldview, support Israel without compromising our ethics or ignoring a complicated reality?

Many American Jews, particularly under 30, have solved this by simply ceasing their support.  Some have taken it upon themselves to prove their ideological credentials by actively working against the State of Israel through the BDS movement.  A middle ground, of sorts, holds that one can be 'Pro-Israel' without being Zionist, that is, that one can simultaneously support Israel and work for peace.  The recent move to the right by the Israeli government has challenged this view.

Jews have always had a sense of connection to the land and the people of Israel, but only in the past 63 years have we had a state as well. Recently, I came across a piece by a friend that recasts the issue in an interesting way.

Zoe Jick, who works with the World Zionist Organiztion and MASA, wrote an article in which she reframes the conversation by suggesting that Zionist means believing in the Utopian ideal of a Jewish homeland that is a light unto the nations.  Pro-Israel, she argues, is a measure of support for the government of Israel's policies.

AIPAC, the largest Pro-Israel lobby, claims that they support the relationship between the US and Israel and don't take political stances.  However, as the Israeli government's policies reflect an increasingly particularist view, and continue to empower the ultra-orthodox and settler minorities, it could be argued that an apolitical stance is still a nod in favor of the very political status quo.

Given this context, Jick suggests that we should reclaim the idea of Zionism, and use it as a base from which to criticize the policies and practices that are moving the very real State of Israel away from the ideals of the People of Israel.

Obviously, not everyone feels the way Jick does, and she was singled out in a recent opinion piece by Evelyn Gordon.  What you'll notice is that the author of this piece doesn't actually respond to Jick's ideas, merely takes quotes out of context to lament how terrible it is that even Jewish communal professionals can't be counted on to support Israel.  In doing so Gordon lays bare the rift between those who believe that there are legitimate areas for criticism, and that dissent is in fact the duty of those who truly love Israel, and those who believe that absolute support and defense of Israel is a responsibility of all Jews.

As the space for true dialogue contracts, ill-informed zealots from both sides of the isle are allowed to spin distortions, misinformation, and outright lies to an increasingly polarized consumer base.  Given this situation, is it a surprise that so many of us are simply tuning out?

Why don't we create spaces for REAL dialogue on these issues; safe spaces, with intellectual standards, in which we can discuss our feelings, our challenges, and our ideas without fear of recrimination?

In a Jewish world in which people have to take sides on issues of depth and subtlety, everyone loses.  We are too small of a people and the issues are too important to be co-opted by media trends of sound bytes and ad hominem attacks.  This Hanukkah, bring a little light into the world by studying the issues more deeply, withholding judgement in conversations, and engaging in real conversation.

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