Monday, November 19, 2012

OK, so I'll blog about Israel

First off, before proceeding, let me insist upon my lack of expertise when it comes to the play-by-play appropriateness of individual Israeli and Palestinian leadership decisions. Is Israel using disproportionate force, and if so, what would proportionate consist of? Do I have the miracle answer re: borders, meter by meter? There are, I promise, others writing about this.

But I do have thoughts on some of the bigger-picture issues. Specifically, the way this conversation tends to go within the Jewish community. I find that there are two stances, both born of a certain kind of parochialism (and for what I wish were the last time, everyone's parochial, not just/particularly Jews), that dominate. 

The first is the better-known - the think-of-the-Israelis stance. This is not - contrary to popular opinion - a belief that Israel can do no wrong, that Likud's the answer to anything. But these would be the Jews who, upon reading the latest Mideast news, think immediately of the Israelis under attack. Some then go on to think about the conflict in bigger terms - coming to any number of conclusions - and some not. It's totally parochial, and totally normal. As long as it's accompanied by an understanding that all life has value, which it almost invariably is, it's just the way of the world. If you're Italian-American and something horrible goes down in Italy, you're more shaken up than if the same had happened in Poland. That's just how it goes.

The second is the stance sometimes mistakenly referred to as Jewish self-hatred. These are the Jews who first feel responsibility or shame as Jews for what goes on. Their thoughts immediately turn to sorting out just what Israel's done wrong now. To Ending the Occupation. They see this in terms of a moral imperative to condemn injustices committed by/committed in the name of Jews.

Both 'sides,' as it were, tend to want give or take the same resolution to the crisis: two states. Neither tends to be pro-settlements. That's not where the difference lies. I have friends in both categories, and don't I know it these days from Facebook. (There are also nutty far-right and far-left Jews, who want Greater Israel or, conversely, an end to the Jewish state. These are fringe positions.)

Anyway. The second group-of-reasonables brings in a critical eye, which can't but be praised, but argues as if this debate is solely an internal Jewish one, as if their central opposition consists of Jews more rah-rah-Israel than they are. That may be who they're encountering in their day to day lives, so they see this as what they're up against. They have a tendency to forget the scale of this debate, and the extent to which many with no personal connection to Israel are utterly obsessed with this conflict, and generally not so sympathetic to Israel - to the Israeli government, or to Israelis, or to the very idea of Israel.

It's not, in other words, that they have it in for Israel, or are these traitors to their people. It's that they somewhat naively assume that everyone talking about the conflict is doing so in good faith, forgetting how much of the energy surrounding the topic comes from - to put it bluntly - anti-Semitism. Yes, there's plenty to criticize about Israeli policy, wrt Arabs and all the religious-Jewish stuff I'm not going to touch in this post. But if you're some random dude or dudette in Sweden or Vermont or whatever, not especially plugged into current events, neither Jewish nor Arab nor Muslim, and this is your cause, how exactly did that come to be? There's a heck of a lot going on in the world. Why this?

This, in my semi-informed opinion, is really important for liberal-leaning Jewish Zionists to work through. One must speak out if the state of Israel's doing something wrong, but one must be wary of the dangers of affiliating with Team Aha-Israel's-At-It-Again-Those-Bloodthirsty-You-Know-Whats. 


Moebius Stripper said...

There's some phenomenon whose name I'd know if I were a social scientist, whereby the people who are most confident about their knowledge of a certain issue actually tend to know the least about it. And so it doesn't surprise me that a post qualified with a statement about the author's lack of expertise is one of the more insightful I've read on this topic. So, thanks.

And something this post has really put into focus for me is why Israel/Gaza/etc tends to polarise even people who are in 99% agreement on the details. As someone sympathetic toward Israel, but often quite critical of Israeli policy, I find myself bristling when someone expresses even slightly more criticism than I do. And your last paragraph, I think, explains why I have this reaction, and why the whole subject can be so emotionally draining..

Petey said...

"These are the Jews who first feel responsibility or shame as Jews"

I'll (clouds in my coffee) take this as the category in which you're placing me.

And if I'm not so vain, I'll note that, in response to Israel-oriented events, I first feel responsibility and shame or pride as a self-proclaimed Zionist Jew.

Being a diaspora Zionist means taking some responsibility for the enterprise. And being an American diaspora Zionist means being someone with a much louder voice than normal.

Being an American Jewish Zionist is actually a bit more involved than the average Italian-American experience, I think.


"Neither tends to be pro-settlements. That's not where the difference lies."


The difference comes from a willingness to see the ballgame from a neutral POV. (And perhaps from degree of interest in the topic.)

You know the IDF fired at a European press installation in Gaza tonight and told the European press to stay away from telecasting infrastructure. And, of course, the IDF can overwhelm Gaza local broadcasts at will. So what's up with that? How do we see that? Should we focus and speak up on the meaning of that?

Separately, from my purely Zionist POV, in The Current Era, Israel has legitimacy from the unanimous 5 of the UNSC legitimizing the territory of 1948. Israel also has the unanimous 5 of the UNSC saying that the 1967 territories must be returned. (Not to mention that peace treaty with Egypt is conditioned on the 1967 territories being returned.) So, as defense oriented Zionist, I think legitimacy conferred by the unanimous 5 of the UNSC has profound value in our particular Westphalian era, and that good Zionists should speak out against the occupation.

And from my reform Judaism background that helps give me a Zionist outlook, the whole war crimes angle can't be overlooked. No pasta in Gaza? Starvation rations for the entire civilian population? Not to mention the whole, after 45 years, either give 'em the vote or give 'em liberty thing either. Like I say, I'd be firing rockets too if I'd been born on the other side.

At the end of the day, here's where the difference lies:

There's been a 'facts on the ground' game being played for over four decades. It's goal is permanently entrenching a pro-settlement polity in voting Israel. At some point, and perhaps 45 years might be that point, if you're not speaking out against it, you're morally culpable to the game that ends in a Greater Israel. (All only applying to self-proclaimed diaspora Zionists, of course.)


"But if you're some random dude or dudette in Sweden or Vermont or whatever, not especially plugged into current events, neither Jewish nor Arab nor Muslim, and this is your cause, how exactly did that come to be? There's a heck of a lot going on in the world. Why this?"

A few core sources: mostly Christian Evangelicals, anti-semities, and a smattering of social justice left-wingers.

Nick said...

Focus, Phoebe, focus:

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...


Flattering, but I promise that I really just don't read enough about this in military-strategy detail to offer more than general ideas.


You can consider this a description of yourself - I'd say more that you're among the significant number of Jews who'd fit the bill.

I think I addressed the value of criticism of Israeli policy. But what you don't address is the bigger-picture debate I refer to, or, for that matter, what, in practical terms, you believe End The Occupation would look like.

Nick, I'm on the case.