As I wrote the title, “The problem isn’t just with Israel,” I realized that it could mean something other than what I am saying. It could have meant, “It isn’t fair to criticize Israel alone; other countries are as bad.” or “It isn’t fair to focus on Israel since problems don’t all stem from there or even historic Zionism.” But I’m saying neither of those things.
I think world Jewry needs to accept and deal with the fact that many contemporary wrongs in the world today are actually supported and spread by Israel, if not thought up by Israeli Jews. Furthermore, Jewish Americans, and notably most American Jewish institutions, refuse to criticize them in any meaningful or effective way. I don’t like people complaining about Jews since I sometimes feel wrongly included in their outrage. Still, is it unreasonable for them to name Judaism as an existential impediment to peace and justice? With terrible sadness and heartache, I must say that I don’t think so.
Who thought up the idea of creating skunk spray to spray on demonstrators and in whole Palestinian neighborhoods? Who thought it through and is implementing its use on civilians? Who would argue that this is somehow humane? Demonstrators don’t deserve this. Not sure what I’d think if it were used on actual troops on some military front, but it is being used as collective punishment of a most disgusting (if non-lethal) way…and its use is being promulgated by Jews first and foremost. We must not pretend that the truth is less stark than that, especially if it is used in the United States against people here. And Israel still expects the presumption that it is a paragon of democracy, even as it colludes with brutal, anti-democratic states and groups.
It was Jewish Israelis who deported African asylum seekers to be executed by IS. Is that racism Israeli only? Is not a generalized indifference shared by non-Israeli Jews? Is the mythic anti-racism of American Jews in the past overstated? Is it still used as a way of discounting charges of racism?
Israel doesn’t deserve all the credit for horizontal nuclear proliferation, but a fair amount. Certainly, Israeli hawks have emboldened US right-wingers and also Democratic hawks to oppose and undo the Iran nuclear deal. Efforts to create a nuclear free zone in the Middle East have singularly been torpedoed by Israel for decades, the one state in the region known to have 40 to 200 deliverable nuclear weapons. Israel talks like it is under nuclear threat when it actually is the nuclear threat.
Israel says it is the Jewish State, so why shouldn’t people of the world attack Jews for Israel’s crimes and indifference? It makes logical sense which distinguishes this phenomenon from outright, irrational, historical antisemitism. If we, as Jews, aren’t visibly, loudly AND EFFECTIVELY working to undo the wrongs of Israel, then we’re part of the offensive party and hence subject to condemnation if not defensive, even violent response. If this is antisemitism, well it is born of new and political affronts, not ancient or religious sins.
Doesn’t it seem like the United States Congress prefers and respects Benjamin Netanyahu and the Israeli right more than they respect our own government and people? Haven’t some of our leaders and prospective leaders made statements, even in the chambers of government, that put the presumed needs of Israel above and beyond our own constitution, laws and people?
I am not saying, like some of my presumed allies on the left do, that all problems stem from US support for, or fealty to Israel. What am I saying then? Israel demands to be seen and recognized as the Jewish State. Who are we as activists, even Jewish activists, to challenge that? If we only call out Israeli policies as though separate from our own, lingering racist tendencies, it feels like we’re letting ourselves off the hook, and that limits and undermines our work for truth, justice, human rights and international law as well as our solidarity work with Palestinians.
I don’t want to give up on liberal Zionists, moderate-thinking Israelis and other Jews who are mild, shy, hesitant supporters of Israel. We need them! Unless we are resigned to one side or the other prevailing and totally the eliminating the other, all people who reject vengeance as they stand for justice are needed. If someone is only now looking at (and hopefully past) J Street and considering Jewish Voice for Peace or other groups with even more strident militancy, we need to encourage and welcome them as new members of a global, anti-racist “minyan.” If we express sadness at the slowness of their (and our) awakening, we must watch that any disdain is overwhelmed by the welcome. We visibly need to reclaim the mantle of both secular and religious Judaism. Bewildered, avoidant Jews need to see that more and more Jews are crying out against brutality that is being funded and armed by yet other Jews and people claiming to love us as a people.
The need has been long present. I hope it isn’t too late to turn the tide. It is never too late to join.