Criticizing Israeli policy is better for Jews and for Israel

Joseph Kushick, in his letter, thinks that he is illuminating the obvious when he writes that singling out Israel for criticism is anti-Semitic. This statement seems to me to be a gossamer syllogism. Someone, somewhere (who and where exactly, Professor?), has singled out Israel with anti-Semitic intentions: I have focused on Israel: Mirabilis, I am, innuendo unveiled, an anti-Semite. This is ridiculous. The reasons Israel receives disproportionate focus from the radical Left as compared to (say) China, are two-fold. For one, Israeli crimes directly endanger Jews by fomenting anti-Semitism. Secondly, this stems from what I think is a very basic idea: that we are responsible for the predictable consequences of our actions, and that if those consequences are horrid, it is our responsibility to change them. In this case, the U.S., “the boss-man called ‘partner,'” in Amir Oren’s formulation of the U.S.-Israeli relationship, subsidizes Israel’s depredations in Gaza and Judea-Samaria and thus exercises veto power over them. If mainstream opinion in America can assert itself in contradistinction to prevailing domestic power interests, no easy task considering the antiquated and mangled machinery of democracy in America, American complicity in Israeli crimes can end, probably-hopefully-simultaneously with the termination of those crimes. This exact critique also applies to Turkey and the Kurds and to Indonesia and the East Timorese, in both cases ethnic majorities slaughtering minorities and denying them the right to self-determination, with American armaments and approval. Kushick’s fear of anti-Semitism does not mitigate Israeli or American crimes. It only obscures them, enveloping those who raise the bloody blue-and-white flag in a nigh impenetrable aura of moral probity.

Justin Epner ’08, in his Feb. 9 letter, is not coy in laying about with this blunt instrument. He writes that my Feb. 2 opinion piece went “beyond anti-Zionism.” He then speaks of anti-Semitism in its worst forms, citing “the dank stench of death” and “Auschwitz[‘s] … crematoria,” but this cannot be the sort of which he accuses me, can it? It is easy enough to find a solvent for Epner’s phlegmatic farrago of slander and insinuation: Let me aver, if the reader is prepared to tolerate a bit of Noam Chomsky, that “the Zionist case relies on the aspirations of a people who suffered two millennia of savage persecution culminating in the most fantastic outburst of collective insanity in human history,” and that because of this the Jewish people-my people too-deserve a homeland within the geographical confines of Palestine. But this does not mean that a racist state is legitimate, that it is at all acceptable that Palestinian Arabs cannot serve in the armed forces and thus join civil society, that the Right of Return, which creates a juridical distinction between the Palestinian refugees of the War of Independence/al-Naqba and the Jewish Diaspora, is an ethical law. And then? Epner paints a kitschy portrait of “Jews of Ethiopian … and Middle Eastern descent,” walking “the streets of Jerusalem,” presumably holding hands and smiling beatifically. I suppose it would be bad faith to recall the harsh racism initially encountered by the Sephardic and Levantine Diaspora, as we utter benedictions about the saintly Israeli state.

In any case, any type of settlement founded on racism is the worst way to ensure Israeli security, something for which we should all care. Justice, not bellicose colonial militarism, is the best route to peace. Epner entreats us to remember “the history, the numbers,” and reminds us “Never again.” Before proffering his implications, Epner should wonder who else might have lost family in the charnel houses of Birkenau and Buchenwald. As one who is aware that anti-Semitism is a recurrent nightmare, I wonder, how is Israel made safer when the fact is that “if there were a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza, Israel would have just 200 kilometers of borders to protect,” while “Under Sharon’s plan, there are 3,000 kilometers of borders” as Drs. Mustafa Barghouthi and Jumana Odeh note? How is a situation in which “Israel’s economic resources will have to be devoted to the purchase of rapidly obsolescing advanced military technology and materiel, a crushing burden,” to quote the doyen of “self-hating Jews,” one of security?

It isn’t. And so we must effect change. What we need, in the short-term, is a two-state settlement, if the cycle of violence that fundamentalist jingoes seem to wish to whip into a murderous whirlwind can be slowed down and ultimately reversed. The Palestinian people are not crazed lunatics. Political settlement based, roughly, on the pre-1967 borders, will lead the way to a rapprochement, and hopefully, the shimmering utopia of cosmopolitan libertarian socialist binationalism. The obstacles are clear: the barbarism of Likudnik power-mongering justified by a politics of fear and the continued American support for those policies in order to maintain Israel-cum-America’s regional hegemony. Israel, I think-and America-was founded on better ideals, ones we should strive to reach.

Ajl can be reached at [email protected]