Criticizing Israel

Why Should American Jews Be Quiet? The Time to Criticize Israel Is Now. 
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Aug. 11 2014 4:29 PM

Criticizing Israel

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Entry 2: As an Israeli, I found Rosner’s column patronizing, illogical, and infuriating.

140811_POL_IsraelPolicyGazaBlast
Smoke rises after an explosion in what witnesses said was an Israeli airstrike in Gaza on Aug. 10, 2014.

Photo illustration by Lisa Larson-Walker. Photo by Ahmed Zakot/Reuters.

Hi Emily,

Thanks for having me here! Like yours, my face reddened when I read Shmuel Rosner's op-ed, but I suspect for different reasons. As an Israeli, I found his article patronizing, illogical, and, frankly, infuriating.

Let's start with the one thing he gets right: It's true that a vast majority of Israelis, myself included, believed that the country was justified in forcefully reacting to Hamas' current acts of aggression. A reality of rocket barrages and the threat of underground tunnels leading straight into Israeli territory are not things that a country can, or should, be expected to overlook. But this doesn't mean that the government now gets carte blanche to pursue reckless and corrosive policies. Since when do we exclude any kind of critical reflection? Is the fabric of our democracy really so fragile that we can't accept pointed criticism?

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Rosner writes: “There’s no doubt that many liberal Jews feel uncomfortable with Israel.” But what he neglects to say is that there's a difference between being uncomfortable with Israel and being uncomfortable with the current Israeli government. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu doesn't represent all “the Jews,” or even all of Israel, for that matter. That's why we have a parliament, an opposition, and a vibrant democracy. Yes, there was overwhelming support for the current operation, but that doesn't mean that our prime minister's lack of vision for the future shouldn't be called into question. As the historian Zeev Sternhell said in a recent interview: “Those in power don't need more power. They need criticism. They need a mirror.”

In his conversation with you, Rosner said that the Israeli left has not come out against the operation. That is inaccurate: Meretz chairwoman Zehava Gal-On called the ground offensive a “big mistake.” As for “lefties” like Amos Oz? Oz called this operation “justified but excessive.” That, as far as I can tell, is the same line of argument being raised by the American Jewish liberals whom Rosner dismisses off-handedly. So is it OK for Israelis to bring up objections, but not for American Jews? Where do we draw the line?

Rosner seemed to backtrack somewhat from his article when he emphasized to you the notion of “bad timing,” saying that it wasn't the nature of the criticism that angered him but the fact that it had been voiced during a time of crisis. But I find this reasoning even more curious, especially coming from a journalist. When should we be “allowed” to voice legitimate opposition to government policies if not as these policies are being implemented? If we're really expected to wait for peaceful times when it comes to Israel, we may well be holding our breaths indefinitely.

But there's something else I wanted to ask you, and it has to do with his idea of a “gamble.” Rosner writes: “I would never expect Israelis to gamble on our security and our lives for the sake of accommodating the political sensitivities of people who live far away.” Reading his article, I couldn't help thinking that the one who's doing the real gambling here is him. Is he really suggesting that Israel turn its back on our one major ally in the world—the United States? Who was it exactly who invested in Iron Dome, the missile defense system that intercepted 90 percent of the rockets aimed at Israel in the current conflict, if not the Obama administration? There’s no doubt that Israel’s deterrence power stems, in large part, from the United States. Countries hostile to Israel know that in the case of a full-fledged war, the U.S. will always have Israel’s back. Is he really willing to sever this bond? Seems to me that by pulling this “We don't need you” card, Rosner is the one gambling away on Israel's security, and, in doing so, he certainly doesn't stand for me.

Do you think American Jews should be more careful in their criticism so that it might not be mistaken for a willingness to “gamble” with Israel's future? And what do you make of this idea that we're all one family and therefore American Jewish support of Israel should be unconditional?

Ruth Margalit is an Israeli writer based in New York. She is on the editorial staff of The New Yorker.

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