What Israel Needs From American Jews (COMMENTARY MAGAZINE) Jonathan S. Tobin 04/27/12)
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Israelis are celebrating their Independence Day today, and itís not
likely that too many of them are spending their holiday worrying
about American Jewish efforts to save them from themselves. The
imbalance in the relationship between the two sides of the Israel-
Diaspora relationship lends a touch of comedy, if not pathos, to the
celebrated anguish of liberal American Jews who will spend this day,
if not every day, publicizing their angst about Israeli policies and
dramatically predicting doom for the Jewish state if it does not
listen to their criticisms.
We have been hearing a lot lately about the imperative for ďliberal
ZionistsĒ to speak out. Israel is a democratic country with a
bewildering array of political parties and ideologies (almost all of
which have some representation in its parliament), and if American
Jews wish to identify with a particular brand of Israeli politics,
thereís nothing wrong with that. I may disagree with some of the
political views expressed on the Zionist left, but I consider the
debate with those who are devoted to Israel but who wish to improve
it in various ways, arguments undertaken, as Jewish tradition calls
it, ďfor the sake of heaven,Ē which ought to be conducted with
civility and respect on both sides and mutual commitment to Jewish
peoplehood. Israel does not need blind devotion from its foreign
friends or from Diaspora Jews. Nor does it require anyone to pretend
that the Israeli state is perfect. Its democratic system, its
politicians and even its military are no more perfect than those in
the United States. But it does deserve a degree of respect that I
think is lacking lately from some who call themselves liberal
Much ink has been spilled and great deal of space on the Internet has
been wasted debating the dubious merits of Peter Beinartís The Crisis
of Zionism, but as off target as his views about American Jewry may
be in many respects, his ignorance of Israel has made it a symbol of
all that is wrong with the liberal Jewish critique of the country.
Itís all well and good for Beinart and other American Jews to wish
for peace or to argue that different policies might bring it closer.
Itís that they operate in an intellectual vacuum in which the real
world dilemmas of Israeli life and the realities of Palestinian
nationalism donít exist.
Thatís why, despite the fact that the vast majority of Israelis
desire a two-state solution and are no more enamored of extremist
settlers than Beinart, they support the government they elected in
2009 and are almost certain to return it to power when it faces the
electorate sometime next year. They do not see their country walking
off a cliff bent on suicidal policies as Beinart and others preach.
Instead, they believe they are undertaking prudent measures of self-
defense and asserting their right to exist in peace and freedom.
Israel has achieved much in its 64 years of existence, but it cannot
magically transform the political culture of the Palestinians that
rejects the legitimacy of any Jewish state no matter where its
borders are drawn.
This is a basic truth that most Israelis intuitively understand but
which continues to elude some of their liberal American friends.
Israeli Independence Day is as good a day as any for some of these
preening liberal Zionists to ask themselves why is it that the
average Israeli regards their impulse to save Israel from itself with
a mixture of humor and contempt? After a generation of territorial
withdrawals, peace accords and peace offers that have been
consistently rejected by the Palestinians, Israelis are right to view
those who act as if the history of the last 20 years never happened
as simply irrelevant.
Those American Jews who support Israel against the assault on its
existence are often accused by their foes of believing in a mythical
Israel and having no conception of the real place. But despite the
naivete of some who wish to hear no evil of Israel, it is those
liberals and left-wingers who believe that the Jewish state can
unilaterally create peace or in any way diminish the ideological and
religious opposition of the Muslim and Arab worlds to its existence
who are really living in a fantasy world.
Liberal Zionists and other so-called progressives should not feel
inhibited from putting forward their vision of what Israel can or
should be. But what they first need to do is to show some respect for
the people of Israel and demonstrate some understanding of the limits
to which their ideas can alter political reality on either side of
the security fence. Without that respect and understanding, Israelis
are to be forgiven for viewing American liberal Zionism as a thin
faÁade for self-righteous and ignorant claptrap.
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