The view that American Jews supportive of Israel but critical of its policies are not “real Jews” is, however, widespread. Israel-right-or-wrong continues to be the core approach of major U.S. Jewish organizations, from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (Aipac) to the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.This doesn't happen only in the US. This happens in Jewish communities across the world. A Jew cannot utter one word criticizing Israel's policies without being suspected of self-hatred or antisemitism or both. I find this repulsive, offensive and untenable. And this is because (and it galls me to have to repeat it) I love and care for Israel very much and I want it to thrive in peace and stability with its neighbors and with the world. I want it not only to survive, which seems to be the basic goalpost of the "Israel Can Do No Wrong" camp, but to be the great nation it is meant to be: just, democratic, progressive, evolved, in keeping with the highest moral values of the Jewish people. Simple survival is not enough.
To oppose the continued expansion of settlements in the West Bank (“Zionists are not settlers”), or question growing anti-Arab bigotry as personified by Israel’s rightist foreign minister and illustrated by the “loyalty oath” debate, or ask whether the “de-legitimization” of Israel might not have something to do with its own actions is to incur these organizations’ steady ire.
Debate remains stifled, despite Peter Beinart’s important piece this year in the New York Review of Books describing growing alienation among young American Jews asked to “check their liberalism at Zionism’s door.” Oh, sure, you can find all sorts of opinions about Israel all over the place; America remains an open society. But Aipac has systematically shunned a debate with J Street, the upstart Jewish organization that supports Israel, opposes the settlements and attempts to reclaim the progressive ideals of Zionism by saying that the systematic oppression of the Palestinians undermines Israel.
“These organizations’ view remains essentially that any time you engage in an activity critical of Israel you are trying to destroy the state of Israel,” Jeremy Ben-Ami, the president of J Street, told me. “Here are all these Jewish kids being raised on great liberal values at Hebrew schools — walks for the homeless, Darfur, AIDS — but God forbid we talk about what’s happening in Israel! It’s a dynamic that cuts off discourse.”
The monolithic, unquestioning, cossacks-are-setting-fire-to-the-shtetl approach of the major Jewish organizations is not helping Israel in the least. It leads to increasing international isolation, to Israel's worrisome radicalization and I am convinced that instead of helping assure Israel's continued and hopefully peaceful existence, it leads to more violence and more strife, both inside and outside of Israel's borders.
Israelis are perfectly capable of ruining their own lives, as they have been demonstrating in the recent past. It is their prerogative to democratically decide if they want to continue fighting with their neighbors and building more settlements, giving more and more power to intransigent and obscurantist religious forces, or if they are going to get tired of the endless aggravation and try to look for a solution that secures their borders while it allows for Palestinian life to evolve as well.
But I'll be damned if I am asked to withhold my critical faculties and my sense of values in order to help Israel no matter what. Israelis don't have this problem. They scream at each other with gusto from all sides of the political and ideological spectrum. So why can't Jews in the Diaspora do the the same?
I refuse to help Israel become a theocracy. I refuse to help Israel become a right wing state. I refuse to help Israelis self-destruct. And those of you Jews that think that you are doing great by Israel by doing that should open your eyes, and smell the coming devastation. You are helping to make things worse.
I think Jews of a similar persuasion to mine would do well to leave our nagging fears of betrayal behind (you know you have them), to stop thinking that somehow if we criticize or question, we are undermining, and help a more rational, more forward thinking point of view that supports Israel gain a stronger voice.