I have discovered another evil aspect of the "Zionist conspiracy." The campaign of anti-Zionists to portray Israel as a villainous illegitimate state, and paint Zionism as evil, owes a great part of its success to the Zionists.
A dangerous and destructive dynamic has evolved within the Zionist movement, motivated by differences of opinion over the fate of the "territories," and differences of approach to solving the Palestinian problem. In the process it was forgotten that we are all Zionists. That is, we all support the national revival of the Jewish people and the right of our people to self determination, and we all will pay dearly for erroneous policy decisions, foolhardy risks and missed opportunities.
The average Jewish person in Israel or abroad may think somewhat like this:
"I love Israel as I love myself. If it were only possible, I would like to be smart, rich and handsome or beautiful. I would also like Israel to be safe, and to be as large as needed to comfortably contain all the Jews who want to live there and to include all the sites that are dear in the national memory of the Jewish people. However, I understand real-world constraints: the limitations of military force, the need to make peace with Israel's Arab neighbors, and the pressure of the United States and other countries. I am not happy about the brutality incidental to Israeli settlement and military presence in these areas. On the other hand, I fully appreciate the evil intentions of the Hamas, the Hezbollah, and similar organizations, as well as the obvious fact that given the choice, the Arabs, and especially the Palestinians would like a Palestinian state to replace Israel, in the same way that we might fantasize about a greater and greater Israel.
Therefore we must pursue a judicious and pragmatic policy, choosing the best course between often unappetizing alternatives, while at the same time upholding the right of Israel and the Jewish people to exist, and resisting racist anti-Zionist and anti-Semitic propaganda.
Unfortunately, the hypothetical average Jewish person is not well represented in the different Zionist political and action groups. On the one hand, there is a strident Greater Israel lobby, that discredits and excoriates "leftists" at every opportunity, and claims to speak in the name of "Zionism." Anyone who does not agree to Jewish presence in Hebron or Gaza finds themselves branded a traitor. This animus began by targeting the extreme left of Israeli and Jewish politics, a tiny minority of anti-Zionists. It is now often extended to include Ariel Sharon, Ehud Olmert and other Israeli government leaders. The Zionist right has alienated a sizeable number of Jews from Zionism by insisting that if you are Zionist, you have to support Greater Israel. In the United States, it often insists on being more "pro-Israel" than the Israeli government. For example, the AIPAC lobby lobbied against Israeli policy, trying to scuttle US aid to moderate Palestinians who are considered by the Israeli government to be essential allies against the Hamas. It is one thing to air policy differences in Zionist forums. It is quite another to try to intervene with a foreign government against the policies of the state of Israel. How can a "pro-Israel" movement be sabotaging the policies of the Israeli government?
On the other hand, there is a vociferous "anti-occupation" lobby that is in large part Zionist, but which constantly and single-mindedly inveighs against the "occupation" in a way that discredits not only the occupation, but all of Zionism and Israel, and sometimes Judaism as well. It echos and amplifies all the shibboleths of the anti-Zionist conspiracy. Occasionally, its adherents will wake up to reality and be horrified to find themselves surrounded in their struggle by "comrades" who are anti-Semites as well as anti-Zionists. The Zionist or "pro-Israel" left has alienated mainstream Jewish opinion by siding with the enemy on more than one occasion and using their slogans. Rabbi Lerner of Tikkun got himself arrested for advocating an "international force" at the height of the Intifadah. This policy was the policy of Yasser Arafat, who wanted this force as a shield that would allow terrorist violence to continue unmolested by the IDF. The "pro-Israel" Brit Tzedek v'Shalom group tried to lobby congress against the Israeli security fence, claiming it is a "land grab." These groups raise the banner of "compassion," but show little compassion for fellow Jews and Israelis. The net effect of their efforts is often to aid the propaganda of anti-Zionists, who are usually glad to accept their help. They have no effect on Israeli policy or mainstream Zionist thinking, because they have put themselves outside the Zionist movement.
When Israel and Zionism and their supporters were subjected to a vicious campaign of delegitimization, slander and intimidation in North American campuses, progressive Zionists and "pro-Israel" groups like Brit Tzedek VeShalom were almost nowhere to be seen. Nobody among them was willing to come forward and defend Israel against "one state" initiatives and fantastic claims that "Zionism" comes from the Hebrew word for penis. This task was left to small groups of rightist Zionist activists. One "progressive Zionist" student group offered a brochure for activists featuring a film lauding Arab MK Azmi Bishara. That was their contribution to support for Israel in its time of need. Not surprisingly, this ruined the credentials of that group among supporters of Israel and helped marginalize progressive Zionists. Laudable stands against anti-Semitism and blind hatred of Israel were taken by liberal and left groups, not necessarily Zionist or Jewish, such as Engage and the Euston Manifesto group, but the progressive Zionist groups were mostly silent or engaged in adding fuel to the fire, with few exceptions.
Most Jews did not remark on the problem, but an Israeli did. Ismail Khaldi, an Israeli Bedouin who is Israeli consul in San Francisco said,
How can Israel's voice be heard if the Jewish students don't have the facts or the knowledge to speak up? I don't take the mass of Jewish students to task for not agreeing with all of Israel's policies, but I do take them to task for not caring about Israel or what happens there. It is the apathy which allows the anti-Israel propaganda to strengthen itself more and more over time.
Surely. it is absurd when Ismail Khaldi has to remind Jews and Zionists of what we should be doing. Surely, something is wrong when Lebanese expatriate Brigitte Gabriel or Palestinian supporter John L. Strawson are more willing to defend Israel and Zionism in public than certain "Zionist" organizations.
With too few exceptions, moderate Zionists just weren't there to protest campus anti-Zionism, and in some cases they sabotaged the efforts of other groups. Progressive groups usually confined their criticism of boycott issues to bland statements on their Web sites. Only anti-Israel initiatives became action items.
On the other hand, right wing Zionist groups in Israel or abroad only very rarely speak out against excesses or even admit that there are ugly incidents and injustices perpetrated by settlers and the IDF, or problems in implementing the security fence. Checkpoints are regrettably necessary to stop terrorism. Rudeness and bureaucratic intransigence at the treatment of Palestinians at those checkpoints is not necessary -- it is harmful. Whether or not Jews should live in Hebron, stoning Arab schoolchildren and forcing the IDF to guard them is not helping Israel or Zionism. It is wrong. It is eating away at the fabric of Israeli society. Silence about these issues that are hurting Israel is not "patriotic." For concerned Israeli patriots, silence is dereliction of duty. It is we, supporters of Israel, who should be most urgently interested in stopping these evils, because they are sabotaging Israel and Zionism.
The original founders of the Israeli mass peace movement were IDF reserve officers. Nobody could question their loyalty to the cause of Zionism, which they had demonstrated over many years. The same credit does not necessarily accrue to U.S. Jews who never lived here and were never active in support of Israel. On the other hand, you will forgive me if I find it absurd when a "Zionist" in California or Indiana takes it upon themselves to be the arbiter of who is a "traitor" or an "anti-Semite" in the Israeli government.
The center, which most probably represents the majority of Zionists and supporters of Israel, may be uncomfortable defending Israel when excesses are publicized, but is equally afraid to speak out against the excesses and mistakes for fear of hurting Israel. However, knaves and fools step in where angels fear to tread. Instead of constructive criticism we are therefore left with the shrill cries of anti-Zionists and "compassion" yuppies. The public defense of Israel is too often entrusted by default to the extreme right, who paint Zionism in the image beloved of its detractors - an inflexible, aggressive, expansionist and "racist" movement.
I know that these words will not be received with equanimity. They strike at the core of the programs of left and right. Anti-Zionists and anti-Semites use the issues to delegitimize Israel and slander the Jewish people. The Zionist left wants to force a change in Israeli policy by embarrassing Israel and withholding support. The Zionist right wants to force its political agenda on all Zionists by insisting that anyone who doesn't support Greater Israel is a traitor.
Human nature being what it is, many readers may respond to this plea for unity by defending their particular political convictions, or the actions of their particular group. That is not the point. The point is to defend the legitimacy of Israel and the Zionist movement in the best way possible, and to unite the support of Jewish people everywhere.
It is not to be expected that all differences of opinion will vanish, nor should they. We do not need to all adopt the same policies in order to defend the right of Israel to exist. Likud members and Meretz people fight on the same side in the IDF. All sides have the right to present the political views and policy positions that they think are best for Israel. However no side has the right to represent themselves as exclusive spokespersons of Zionism or the Jewish people, and no Zionist or pro-Israel group should neglect the defense of Israel and the basic tenets of Zionism.
Regardless of political differences, all Zionist and pro-Israel factions have to remember our principles and adhere to them. Both sides must present the case for Zionist legitimacy and the right of Jews to self-determination. Both sides have to criticize what is inexcusable in a balanced and constructive way that will really bring about a change in policy. Both sides have to present a humanitarian and positive image of Zionism and Israel.
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Replies: 11 Comments
Like Brandi, I too have listened long and hard for the "radical settler" on Arutz 7 and found none. AT the same time, I have listened (read and researched) long and hard to the iSLAMic world; speeches, preaches, leeches. How can there be a "peace" with a iSLAM that knows no peace even without a Jew to vilify?
Accepting the lies of the ?alestinians can only destroy the legitimacy of Israel's argument, based in artifact, history and theology. How can the Jews "steal" Jerusalem??? Can the Germans "steal" Berlin?
Until iSLAM is seen as merely disguised as a "religion" and understood as the imperial ideology it is, Israel and the rest of the free world will be at war.
I don't need anyone to believe me. Ask the an imam or listen to a Friday sermon.
wharold, Wednesday, October 25th
From another Canadian Jew, who agrees with Joseph Klein: Mr. Iseroff paints a portrait of the Zionist right that sounds more like Channel 1 or 2 in Israel, or an Israeli government press release or Haaretz story, than it does like, say, Israel National Radio, Arutz 7, which surely stands as close as one gets to a mainstream voice of the religious right. I began listening a couple of years ago, and receiving missives from Nadia Matar of Women in Green among others, in order to hear for myself before judging the so-called extreme "settler" movement. At the same time, I gave some attention to Michael Lerner, through the pages of Tikkun, and kindred souls.
I have no doubt that the radicals among the religious right give the whole movement a bad name. But what I have discovered, as a secular-bred individual of mixed Jewish-gentile descent, is that the "violence" and irrationality attributed to the religious right is very fringe to the movement overall, while the assault perpetrated by the left upon the vision and values and character of the right, and of the legitimacy of Israel and Judaism overall, is quite mainstream. The broad brushstrokes Mr. Iseroff is determined to apply equally to both sides, just don't wash.
The "balance," the moral equation, that postmodern individuals, the left especially, inevitably seeks between Arab terrorism and Israeli defence, for example, is reflected in Mr. Iseroff's need to "balance" the so-called extremes of the Zionist movements. My strong feeling is that, when we are talking about right and wrong, about good and evil, such political correctness is counterproductive, or worse. The religious right is clearly on board with Mr. Iseroff's commitment to the Jewish nation; the left is just as clearly not. While I agree completely that unity is desirable, I fear that lovers of Zion have no choice but to take sides.
Brandi Dickman, Monday, October 23rd
My thought is that we need to focus on the human rights goals of Zionism - refuge, civil protection, and access to media to complain when mistreated. We can cohere on those goals, and get plenty of support from outside the Jewish community for them. That act of focus means resistance to having Zionism defined - by its adherents and by its enemies - as a Biblical project or a monument to British colonial ambitions. This means giving up a lot in theory, but little in the real world. This is a classic problem in management - surrendering the distractions of the things we want, so we can unify and devote our strength to securing the things we need. If we do that, we cannot lose. Keep getting your message out. You've got this right.
Jesse Freeman, Monday, October 23rd
As a Canadian Jew, born shortly before the modern State of Israel, it was very easy for me then, as a youth and still is now, as an adult to be an unconditional supporter of Israel. One did not have to do battle with Jewish anti-Zionists, as they had no presence in the press. It was a time when Israel, the David, fought successfully against the Goliath of the surrounding Arab nations. It was a time when our press and our Christian neighbours cheered the successes of tiny Israel.
For those born in the last 50 years the challenge is much greater. As Ami Isseroff's article points out, valid opinions come from all sides and from various special interest groups; each sharply focusing on a particular Israeli injustice, which resonates with them. These specialist groups often overlook the big picture and appear oblivious of the damage they can inadvertently cause to the People of Israel. Thus, for the younger Jew Israel no longer presents itself as David the Shepard boy, but rather as David the powerful king. Shepard boys are easily adopted as someone to defend, while typically kings are carefully watched and suspected of a tendency to tyranny. A strong Israel is no longer an underdog to be unquestioningly supported, but instead Israel is now a force to be analysed and guided towards behaviour befitting a moral Jewish power - behaviour with which we as Jews can proudly identify. However a King unsupported will soon lead his people to defeat, against a vigilant enemy.
What is easily forgotten is that for every Jew and Evangelical Christian who supports the existence of Israel, there are 100 Muslims and anti-Semitic Christians who unconditionally oppose the existence of Israel. Our public criticism of Israel provides nearly 2 billion people with ammunition which they leverage to create harm for Israel. What's worse is that the extent of the harm created is many times greater than the specific good being persued.
To the anti-Israeli World the words of Jews, who publicly declared positions against a particular Israeli policy or practice, are a goldmine of anti-Israel propaganda, while to the typical Jew, these political brethren create mostly confusion with an ever increasing Tower of Babel.
Even for those, like Ami Isseroff, with a good grasp of the issues surrounding this Tower of Babel, its complexity is difficult to express; making his article difficult to follow at the detailed level.
The message, as I see it, is that Israel remains at war with implacable and powerful enemies and that during this war Jews need to pull together in our public dialogue. Hopefully, there will be time for sorting out the niceties when the business of war is over - if it ever will be.
Joseph L. Klein, Monday, October 23rd
Dear Ami, Shalom!
Just as Robert,Thomas and Alan, I wish to laud you for your astute and correct article. All Jews, Orthodox, Reform Conservative and Israeli must realize there is no room whatsoever for divsion in our ranks. Just as the extreme left has to learn to deal with their Judiaism and the true message in anti-Semetism. Those in the extreme right must understand that Israel is a democracy and that the majority want peace and security. Judea and Shomron is part of Judiasm but it is not all. The Palestinians as all Arabs must learn that we are here to stay and no amount of violence will move us.
At Auschwitz Mengele and the crematoriums did not differ between what type of Jew you were. In the end we were all ash. Masada must not fall again!
Yakov Marks, Sunday, October 22nd
Yes, Ami, we can all agree that unity is important, and that there are divisive factors which fracture Zionism.
Here's another problem -- if someone is pro-Zionist and lives outside Israel (with the possible exception of the States), the country will probably be intensively anti-Zionist, extremely hostile to the state of Israel. (btw, I've never heard public statements made in support of a "Greater Israel.")
In other words, the atmosphere is hostile (to the extent that the slightest breath of criticism of Israel will be exaggerated into a major dilemma with the only "solution" being the destruction of the state -- consider the comment by "jomomma" -- this is par for the course -- if Israelis attempt to defend themselves, it's portrayed as the ultimate sin and a human rights abuse -- akin to some greivous crime -- that's if you have the audacity to wish to defend yourself.
As I see it, you either accept the arguments of a "jomamma" and allow yourself to be annihilated, or you say, "No thanks, we'll defend ourselves." Even though the latter decision will meet with all sorts of outrage and knashing of teeth.
J.S., Sunday, October 22nd
Your position is sensible, logical, and, even better, represents my view too! Let's argue amongst ourselves, but we must put up a united common front on basic issues, such as Israel's survival
Alan (Aron) York, Sunday, October 22nd
jomomma, what land grab? the fence is vital to reduce the murder of innocent people by bloodthirsty homicides. The Israeli justice takes great care to prevent flagrant acts of injustice. Land grab is what the enemies are attempting, not only land grab, but extermination of the Jewish people. Are you Jewish? If yes, shame on yourself.
Thomas Braun, Sunday, October 22nd
Dear Ami, a very lucid, succint call to reason and unity in these dangerous times. It should be published in mainstream Jewish press. One of the dangers Jews are facing today is the lack of unity against common enemies while squabling on political differences. Jew self-haters are also surfacing.
thomas braun, Sunday, October 22nd
damn, ami. you've described my position perfectly. well done.
Robert Honeyman, Sunday, October 22nd
The "pro-Israel" Brit Tzedek v'Shalom group tried to lobby congress against the Israeli security fence, claiming it is a "land grab."
shocking!! why can't they let Israel steal land in peace???
jomomma, Sunday, October 22nd
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