I had some interesting responses to my post on the “split personality” of American liberal Jews. One of them was from Rabbi Jason Miller from Detroit, Michigan, who posted on his blog some of his thoughts regarding this issue. Among other things, he refers to “the seemingly ironic position that so many liberal American Jews find themselves in concerning their views on Israel.”
Admittedly, I am in this category. I never criticize Israel or its government’s policies publicly, because, well, it’s Israel — my Israel, my homeland. The Jewish state has enough critics, I reason; it could use more people playing defense for the team. But when it comes to religious pluralism, I have no problem expressing my frustration for the control that the ultra-Orthodox wields in Israel. A monopoly by one denomination of a religion for all official religious acts is not democratic.
I think that Rabbi Miller is being very honest here about his views on Israel. In a different post, he refers to the acceptance of Gays and Lesbians by the Jewish community as one of the most important developments of the decade. This is another example of something that the religious establishment in Israel wouldn’t even consider doing – in fact, Rabbis and religious MKs here led the fight against Gay rights – and Rabbi Miller has no problems speaking against Israel’s orthodoxy.
I wonder, however, what is the difference, in the eyes of a liberal person, between Gay and Arab rights. I understand Jews’ hesitations to come out publicly against Israel on issues that involve national security, but when it comes to minorities’ rights, the current government in Jerusalem is far worse than any administration America had in the past fifty years, yet Jews – who took part in some of the great civil rights fights in the US – remain very careful not to criticize Israel on these matters.
Just recently, the Knesset passed a law which would allow Jewish settlements inside Israel (not to be confused with West Bank settlements), built on public state land, to forbid Arab citizens from purchasing a home within them. At the same time, the Knesset turned down a bill that was meant to make the state allocate land to Jews and Arab on an equal basis.
Doesn’t the fact that Rabbi Miller views Israel as his homeland only makes it more urgent to protest when this country is marching down the “separate but equal” road?
Going back to the national security issue, my question to Israel’s liberal supporters is if they can imagine a time in which it would be justified to come out publicly against Israel.
Naturally, this is something liberal Israelis ask themselves all the time – when does it become justified to speak against our country, even our community. Often I wonder how would a certain post or news item I might quote here be viewed, used, misused or taken out of context when people around the world read it.
Among leftist bloggers who write in English, we joke that after one raises a critical or controversial issue, you start by being praised by those fighting for peace and civil liberties, than by anti-Israelis, later on by anti-Semites, and finally by Holocaust deniers. Naturally, many of these responses are not exactly what we aim for, but still, we think that some of Israel’s actions – more and more lately – deserve to be criticized publicly. The truth – about the West Bank, or about Gaza, or about civil liberties in Israel – must be told, even if it occasionally leads to some unfortunate consequences.
Sometimes I get the feeling that many American Jews exempt themselves from this dilemma by simply accepting Jerusalem’s view all the time. So again, my question to them is this: Can they think of an event that will make them come out against Israel, both privately and publicly?
Maybe there are signs of change. Here is something I read at James Besser’s blog on The Jewish Week, And Besser is far from being anti-Israeli or a radical lefty:
…there’s something disturbing about the growing determination to stifle debate in an American Jewish community with a multiplicity of pro-Israel views. Israelis engage in vigorous debate about these issues all the time, but apparently our own leaders believe that support for Israel is so shaky here that we can’t raise issues like whether or not the Gaza blockade is in Israel’s long-term security interests.
Interestingly, Besser makes the same point I had: that some of the stuff written on the Israeli mainstream media would be unacceptable for American Jews had it appeared at their town’s paper. After quoting the Haaretz editorial calling to reconsider the siege on Gaza, he wonders:
Wouldn’t any American Jewish group making such an argument be tarred as a violator of the pro-Israel orthodoxy, shunned, called “dangerous” to the Jewish state?
What do you think?